When Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph awakened Tuesday morning, he admittedly felt the urge to hit the weight room.
It paid off mightily Tuesday night against the Phoenix Suns.
That’s because Randolph played with the kind of resilience and assertiveness that left a majority of the announced 14,481 crowd in FedExForum repeatedly chanting “Z-Bo” when the Grizzlies’ furious comeback win had all but been decided.
The Grizzlies overcame their early sluggish start by erasing a 16-point first-half deficit to defeat the Suns in overtime, 108-98, in a game in which Randolph went on a tear.
The 12-year veteran appeared virtually unstoppable from the outset, knocking down shots in every way imaginable en route to registering a season-high 38 points and 22 rebounds and recording his NBA-best 14th double-double on the season.
“He was in a zone,” Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay said Randolph, who came within five points of his career-high (43 points versus Memphis in March 2007). “Z-Bo played great basketball. He played at another level tonight. They made a couple of adjustments for Zach because he was killing them.”
It’s not as if Phoenix didn’t see it coming.
Less than three minutes into the game, for instance, Randolph caught an interior pass in the lane from center Marc Gasol, maneuvered his way around Suns forward Markeiff Morris, then threw down a rare left-handed slam that sent the Grizzlies’ bench into a frenzy.
“A lot of teams have been double teaming Zach and sending three or four guys at him,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said. “His numbers have been down, but tonight he got a lot of one-on-one and he was able to operate. Our spacing was really good which allowed him to drive and do some stuff and really clean up the glass for us. All season long, Zach has been terrific. He’s healthy, his spirit is good, and tonight I think he was more healthy than he has been in two or games. He got kicked in the calf and it was bothering him a little bit, but tonight he came out and he played.”
Even an inadvertent kick to the calf couldn’t slow a hot-shooting Randolph.
The Suns, despite building a 16-point lead near the midway point of the second quarter, couldn’t find any answers for the 6-foot-9 Randolph who, time and again, converted his customary backdrop fall-away shot, midrange baskets, and jumpers from just inside the 3-point line. His masterful performance ultimately fueled the Grizzlies’ comeback and helped Memphis avoid its first two-game losing streak since it dropped consecutive home games to the Los Angeles Lakers and Toronto Raptors back in mid-March. Instead, the surging Grizzlies (13-3), who travel to play New Orleans Friday, remained atop the Western Conference standings, largely because Randolph played as if he was midseason form.
“It felt good,” Randolph said after scoring 22 of his game-best 38 points in the second half. “I felt like my old self tonight.”
Among the reasons for Randolph’s renewed sense of tenacity is that after last year’s condensed, lockout-shortened campaign in which he tore his MCL the first week of the season at Chicago, he spent the bulk of the offseason conditioning and concentrating on reducing his weight. Before the Grizzlies’ morning shoot around session Tuesday, Randolph enjoyed what he described as an intense weight-lifting workout that was comprised of doing a number of squats as well as strengthening his upper body.
“I’ve been working and trying to get back to my old self,” Randolph said.
Part of reverting back to his “old self,” he said, also means helping Memphis erase the memory of last year’s opening-round playoff series loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. The Grizzlies, after blowing a 27-point lead of a Game 1 loss, were eventually eliminated by the Clippers in seven games. The early postseason exit, by and large, was hard for Randolph to stomach, considering his exuberant display the previous year (22.2 points and 10.8 rebounds in 13 playoff games) helped land the Grizzlies in the Western Conference semifinals.
“It feels like a knife is sticking me in my back,” Randolph said after last year’s playoff defeat.
However, against the Suns, who gave the Grizzlies all they could muster Tuesday before dropping their fourth straight, Randolph was seemingly playing with a sense of swagger.
In many aspects, he was.
“He reminds me of the two-years-ago Zach,” Gasol said. “He has a little bounce like a boxer when he’s playing like that. He doesn’t say much. You could see it on his face.”
Randolph’s monster game didn’t come as a surprise to Suns coach Alvin Gentry, who said Randolph was only being his usual-reliable self.
“Zach is Zach,” Gentry said. “He’s always been a great player. If you look back at his numbers, you’ll see he’s always put up and 20 (points) and 10 (rebounds) since came in the league. I really don’t know what his weakness is. If he does, I’d like someone to tell me.”
When asked if he is back at 100 percent after playing mostly injured last year, Randolph said, “It’s coming. I’ve just got to keep working. I’ve been working and just trying to get back to my old self.”
Gay, of course, wasn’t buying into the notion that Randolph isn’t back to being what the rest of the Grizzlies have deemed the “Z-Bo of old.”
“He’s lying,” Gay jokingly said. “I just told him he had a big boy game. It was just one of those nights when he was making those moves. You could tell he wanted to get to the basket.”
Much like he was eager to get to the weight room Tuesday morning.