As Zach Randolph goes, so go the Memphis Grizzlies.
While that statement might not necessarily be true on a game-by-game basis, it’s certainly true in terms of just how far Memphis will go in these playoffs. The Grizzlies needed every bit of Randolph’s 30 points and 13 rebounds in Game 6, on their way to a come-from-behind, 95-83 victory on Friday that will force a Game 7 back in Oklahoma City on Sunday.
“He got life early in the game,” Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said of Randolph. “I thought it gave him confidence, and throughout the game he was getting better. I thought the second half … it seemed like he made every big shot for them.”
Randolph started strong with eight points in the first quarter, but the second half was where he did most of his damage. While Oklahoma City tried to protect its double-digit halftime lead by launching again and again from beyond the 3-point arc, the Grizzlies went to Randolph down low, and he delivered, especially late, with 12 points and six rebounds in the fourth quarter.
Randolph’s game was especially important, given that he hadn’t done much of anything in this series since his dominant performance in Game 1. In the four games before this one, Randolph had largely been kept under wraps, managing to hit on just 22-of-69 in those games.
But Game 6 was different. And Randolph said he was feeling it from the very start.
“I felt pretty good tonight,” Randolph said. “My rhythm was there, my shot felt good, so I was just trying to be aggressive. I told myself from the beginning, I don’t want to sit back and wait. I want to try to push it — push myself, and assert myself early, and get into the game.”
The Grizzlies made a change to their starting lineup, and inserted O.J. Mayo in place of Sam Young to begin Game 6. Randolph admitted that this may have created some extra space for him to operate, but his aggressiveness from the start was really the difference, especially when comparing his efforts from the last four games of this series.
The Thunder are a young team, one that doesn’t yet possess the mental toughness to close a quality team out on the road in a playoff series, as evidenced by their poor shot selection when Memphis made a run to start the second half. Quick threes and long jumpers are no way to stop a run on the road, and as a team, OKC finished just 4-of-25 from 3-point land, with Kevin Durant — who couldn’t get into a rhythm all night after having to sit with two early personal fouls — missing eight of his nine attempts from distance.
Things will likely be different for the Thunder when they host Game 7, but the same might not be true for Randolph. The aggressive way he attacked on Friday was reminiscent of his dominant 34-point performance in Game 1, and if he can bring it like that for just one more game, the Grizzlies might just find themselves in the Western Conference finals against the well-rested Dallas Mavericks.