The Staples Center will be closed for business on Sunday.
Zach Randolph had much to do with it.
Randolph, the Memphis Grizzlies’ leading scorer and go-to player throughout their opening-round Western Conference playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers, continued to demonstrate why he is considered one of the NBA’s elite power forwards.
The 12-year veteran showed why earning his second All-Star appearance in February wasn’t a fortuity one year after battling back from a torn medial collateral ligament and witnessing his effectiveness significantly reduced in Memphis’ opening-round defeat to the Clippers.
The 6-foot-9 Randolph, to his credit, proved why many media pundits believe he’s still essentially in the prime of his career, considering his remarkable performance against the Clippers was reminiscent of his memorable postseason display two seasons ago.
So with Game 6 effectively out of reach with 1:57 remaining in the fourth quarter Friday night in FedExForum, Randolph, who had been involved in physical confrontations with Clippers power forward Blake Griffin throughout a majority of the series, was hit with his second technical foul for taunting, which resulted in his subsequent ejection.
“It felt good especially from last year until what happened to this year, so it felt good,” Randolph, exhibiting a smile, said when asked about his rare disqualification. “Like I said, it is over with. We won the series. Now we have to get back focused.”
Randolph, who staged yet another exuberant performance in what turned out to be a closeout game for Memphis, didn’t seemed bewildered that he was sent to the showers before game’s end. While walking off the court, Randolph removed his signature headband, hurled it into the stands behind the Grizzlies’ bench, then skipped through the tunnel as the raucous FedExForum sellout crowd cheered in wonderment.
For the first time in two years, the Grizzlies are headed back to the Western Conference semifinals, where they will face the Oklahoma City Thunder starting Sunday at 12 p.m. CST in a rematch of their 2011 postseason meeting. The Grizzlies, despite losing the first two games of the series against the Clippers, exhibited a wealth of poise and resilience in rallying to eliminate an L. A. team that won three of four meetings against them during the regular season.
The Grizzlies, in fact, ended the series with four consecutive wins, largely because the Clippers couldn’t find any answers for Randolph, who averaged 20.4 points and 8.6 rebounds in the opening round and scored virtually at will against the opposition’s post players. Memphis’ 118-105 win Friday not only erased the memory of last year’s playoff loss to the Clippers in seven games, but it denied L. A. a chance to host a decisive Game 7.
Yes, Staples Center will be closed for business on Sunday, and Randolph had much to do with it.
“After the first game, we had to figure out that we were going to have to change where he was (on the floor),” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said. “They were doing a good job on double-teaming him. We showed him film, moved him to different spots, moved him to the elbow, moved him to the wing, and when he put the ball on the floor, he was able to see where they were coming from and that took the pressure off of him.”
That Hollins adjusted his offense after Memphis had fallen into an 0-2 hole in an attempt to get the 31-year-old Randolph more engaged ultimately proved perplexing to the Clippers’ post players. Such was the case Friday when Randolph and Griffin were involved in a third-quarter skirmish on a box-out underneath the basket with inside of seven minutes remaining. Griffin, who didn’t start and played less than 14 minutes because of an ankle injury coach Vinny Del Negro said was the “size of a grapefruit,” had a hand in Randolph’s face on the box-out, causing both players to become off-balanced. Randolph consequently broke the fall by hooking Griffin to the ground, but Griffin drove his elbow into Randolph’s throat before the players were separated.
The incident resulted in Randolph’s first of two technical fouls on the night. Still, the 260-pound Randolph admittedly welcomes the physicality, given he believes the Grizzlies will encounter similar rough play against Thunder, who ended Memphis’ postseason run two years ago.
“I don’t even know what happened,” said Randolph, when asked about his latest run-in with Griffin. “He was going down and tried to pull me down and I just tried to brace myself. (The Thunder) are a physical team. We’re just going to go out and play Grizzlies basketball and focus on ourselves and try not get into any altercations.”
If, by chance, Randolph and Co. find themselves quarreling with opposing players come Sunday, it won’t be in Staples Center, which will be closed for business.
The Grizzlies are moving on and Randolph had much to do with it.