When Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph took the court on Friday night, Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals was his. All his. To the tune of 30 points and 13 rebounds, the newly named third-team all-NBA player shredded everything the Thunder threw at him, helping Memphis to a 95-83 victory and a shot at the Western Conference Finals.
“I definitely wanted to be aggressive tonight,” Randolph said. “I got going and coach kept feeding me the ball. It was one of those games where I wanted to get going early. I looked to assert myself early in the game and get myself going and get off to a good start. It worked out pretty well.”
And now, with Game 7 on Sunday in Oklahoma City, the momentum belongs to Memphis.
“When your go-to player gets it going, it’s a nice feeling,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said. “You know you can count on something at that point. We just have to go out and do it again. I know all the pundits think the series is over. They’ve been saying we’d win tonight and then Oklahoma City in seven, but it ain’t over yet. We have to go play that game, and we’re looking forward to it.”
Randolph was completely shut down in Wednesday’s Game 5, so he wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again. He poured in eight points during the opening quarter, but watched for much of the second as the Thunder built a 54-44 halftime lead. Randolph, carrying over what he started in the first quarter, exploded for 20 more points in the second half, leading a monumental Grizzlies comeback.
Randolph had drop-step layups, floaters, Z-bounds, spin moves you’d only thought possible on PlayStation3 and more than your average share of mid-range jumpers.
“He’s Zach,” Grizzlies center Marc Gasol said. “He’s got the whole city and the whole franchise right on his back. He makes shot after shot and he becomes unstoppable.”
The Thunder tried to block his shots with Ibaka, rough him up with Collison and muscle him with Perkins. All three options — though they’d worked before — failed on Friday night. Midway through the fourth quarter, Randolph stepped back and drilled a 12-foot jumper with Collison in his face. After the rainbow shot went in — because, why wouldn’t it at this point? — Collison turned around with the biggest, “What the hell do I do?” look you’ve ever seen.
The Grizzlies had stretched their lead to 80-73 with 7:09 left in the fourth quarter. Timeout Thunder.
“Zach was mixing it up,” Thunder coach Scott Brook said. “It wasn’t all inside. It was jumpshots and contested jumpshots. He’s third-team all-NBA. When he gets it going, you only can do what you can do, and that’s contest his shots and force him to take tough shots. And he made some tough shots tonight.”
They were Game 7-forcing shots. Third team all-NBA shots. These were shots that Randolph wasn’t hitting — hell, he wasn’t even open enough to take them — in the Game 5 blowout loss.
Randolph and Hollins attributed much of that to a lineup change that made OJ Mayo the starter at shooting guard. With Mayo taking and making more shots from the outside, it wasn’t as easy for the Thunder to pack the paint. Oklahoma City paid no attention to it at first — and Mayo responded with 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting — and once they did, it gave Randolph even more room to work.
“We have one more game to get to the Western Conference Finals,” Randolph said. “It’s important, and the job isn’t done yet.”
Brandon Harris helps cover the Grizzlies for MemphiSport. You can follow him via Twitter @bharris901. For more live tweets during Grizzlies games follow @douggillon, @memphisport, @cerrito, and @chasingphoto.
Photos by Chase Gustafson.