Zach Randolph started the second half and almost made a miraculous comeback happen.
We know by now that the Grizzlies are creatures of habit, and so in Game 2, they did what they’ve done for years now, time after time after time: they found themselves down 30, decided to start fighting at halftime, closed the gap to single digits, and then got so worn down that they couldn’t withstand the inevitable counterpunch. After their worst first half performance in months, two quarters so bad I was looking up animated GIFs of building implosions to use on Twitter:
...the Grizzlies came out in the second half with a different look. James Ennis III and Zach Randolph replaced Wayne Selden and JaMychal Green in the lineup, and from there, it was on. From down 26 points, the Griz closed the third frame trailing by only ten, and in the early part of the fourth quarter they’d cut the lead to 4. The problem, though was how much effort it had taken them to get to that point, and falling back on the bench to get some rest for Conley and Randolph only let the Spurs push the lead back out to double digits and keep it that way. I’m not sure it had to be this way.
In the first half, the Grizzlies got down and lost all sense of urgency. They were doing things like this:
JaMychal Green has struggled to guard LaMarcus Aldridge.
...and the game got so far away that it looked like the collapse of an entire era of Memphis basketball—and by transit Memphis history—was about to crumble and blow away in the wind. The comeback attempt was pure Grizzlies, with hounding defense and Zach Randolph running straight over LaMarcus Aldridge to score on the other end, and it showed that maybe the Griz do
care about whether they win the series or not.
By the time they got the Spurs’ lead down to four, the self-dug hole was so deep they couldn't quite get out of it, and all it took was one Spurs run to put the game out of reach.
Can they get away with starting Ennis and Randolph in Game 3? I think they can. Ennis’ contributions have been uneven in the series but between he and Wayne Selden, Ennis is the much more obvious choice to try and slow Kawhi Leonard in Tony Allen’s absence. Randolph actually works against the Spurs’ starters, too, because he's always done a passable job guarding Aldridge and (going back to the one year they shared in Portland) seems to enjoy trying to truck him like a defensive tackle on the way to the rim.
And now we’ve got to talk about last night’s Instant Classic, which happened after the game itself. I think it's fair to say David Fizdale was displeased with the way Game 2 was officiated:
“Take that for data” aside, those numbers certainly give the impression that the Spurs were getting calls that the Grizzlies weren't, and the eye test during the game backs that up. The counter, which is undeniable, is “don't go down by 30 points and the officiating won't matter so much,” but I think the disparity was more the issue than the raw numbers. It was not a game that was called the same way on both ends of the floor, and that lack of consistency is pretty damaging to the momentum of the team getting the short end of the stick.
At any rate, Fizdale’s outburst is a classic coaching move. He's going to pay a fine big enough to hurt his feelings, for sure. But the officials in the next game will be thinking about it, and the Griz will go into Game 3 knowing their coach is willing to cut a five-figure check to defend them. In a series where finding five guys who will all play hard at the same time seems to be a problem, that may ultimately be worth more than the money Fizdale is about to lose. But he's totally going to get fined, and probably a lot.
Game 3 is on Thursday. This new wrinkle, these Grizzlies that can make a furious comeback on the back of Zach Randolph, Old Faithful himself, Mr. 20-10 Since 2010, promises to make it a do-or-die affair. As a playoff catchphrase, “They Not Gon' Rook Us” is probably an all-timer. The Grizzlies have to find a way to make it matter.