The Grizzlies fought admirably for the first half of their eventual Game 7 loss to the Thunder, but realistically, they had a very small chance of pulling off the victory with Zach Randolph out of the lineup.
The frustrating thing for Memphis fans is that only Randolph himself is to blame, for landing a punch to the face of Steven Adams late in Game 6 that caused the league to hand down a suspension the very next day.
It was a more unusual situation than most like it, in that essentially no one saw this coming. This play completely flew under the radar until the league dropped the hammer, which may explain Randolph’s extended state of surprise.
The punishment for punching Thunder center Steven Adams came out of nowhere. Randolph’s head is still spinning. “It hurts,” Randolph said from a hotel less than a mile from Chesapeake Energy Arena about 90 minutes before tip-off. “I apologized to the guys. I feel like I let them down. I’ve got a lot of emotions going on right now, and rightfully so. When I woke up the next morning (after Game 6), I didn’t have any idea I was going to get suspended. I’m upset about it. I’m still in shock.”
“I want to apologize to my fans and the organization,” Randolph said. “This was totally unexpected. I wasn’t even thinking about that play. Normally, if you do something in a game like get a technical or get into something, you think about it all night. I didn’t think about it. I was just upset about the loss. Not being able to play in Game 7 never crossed my mind.”
It wasn’t much of a punch, but it was a blow to the head nonetheless, and the league made the right call in issuing the suspension. Randolph’s remorse is likely of little comfort to the fans or his teammates, as his actions caused his team to squander a legitimate chance to upend the Thunder and advance to the second round.
It’s worth noting that Randolph may have played his final game for the Grizzlies. He has a player option for $16.9 million for next season, but can forego that to become an unrestricted free agent, thereby securing more guaranteed money over a long-term deal.
Randolph has been great for the Grizzlies during his five seasons there. It would be a shame for his time in Memphis to end like this.