It was probably the greatest home game of the season, if not one of the greatest the Grizzlies have ever played during the regular season, and I was home watching from the couch, the lingering tail-end of a migraine rattling around in my head. But even though I was consigned to the couch, I could tell it was going to be special early on.
In the first three minutes of the game, Zach Randolph had 8 points on 4/4 shooting. By the end of the first half, that was 14, and he had 4 rebounds and 6 assists. At halftime, Tony Allen had 13 points and hadn't missed a shot yet. The story of the second half isn't much different from the first, except the contributions were more even: JaMychal Green made some great hustle plays. Ray McCallum guarded Chris Paul without fear, did a good job of it, and hit a couple of big jumpers right on the Clippers' heads.
Turns out all it takes for greatness to erupt from these Grizzlies is for the hated Los Angeles Clippers to roll into town. Even without Blake Griffin, the Clippers are still objectively better than the Grizzlies (well, at least their starters are) when the Griz are missing so many players. As soon as I knew that Zach Randolph and Vince Carter were returning, though, I knew it would actually be a game, not the exercise in frustration the last two contests (vs. Minnesota and at Milwaukee, both losses) have been. The Grizzlies were headed towards a 5-game losing streak, and needed to win one or two more games this year to make sure they stayed in the playoffs.
Zach Randolph's game was special. We've had a lot of Z-Bo Moments over the years (and a disproportionate number of them seem to come against the Clippers), but he put on a clinic last night—roasting DeAndre Jordan, continuing the trend of playing even smarter against the kind of extra-athletic defenders who used to be able to clamp a lid over Randolph's ground-bound game, and dishing the ball out to whoever was behind him when the Clippers brought their double team at exactly the same point in every post-up. Dave Joerger on those assists:
Dave Joerger on Z-Bo's triple-double: "He might not know the full names of some of the guys on the team, but he's kicking it out to 'em."— John Martin (@JohnMartin929) March 20, 2016
It was a great night. A further chapter in The Zach Randolph Legend, which citizens of The Memphis Radiation Zone will someday still tell each other after the nuclear apocalypse. But it wasn't just Z-Bo who showed out (although a first-ever triple double for a guy who's 34 and probably headed for the Hall of Fame isn't exactly a minor deal). Of the guys new to town on 10-day contracts, all three who played (Alex Stepheson got a DNP-CD) acquitted themselves well last night, but Ray McCallum and newest arrival Xavier Munford had the biggest impact last night.
McCallum held the game together and hit some big shots while playing better defense than I've seen him play yet in his time with the Grizzlies. He's got clear weaknesses to his game—he's not the quickest guy out there—but he showed poise last night, and a Chalmers-esque ability to hit a big shot at the most annoying possible time for the Clippers. Xavier Munford had a good all-around game, too. He was presumably brought in because he can shoot, but he had some timely rebounds last night, and got up for a big dunk I'm not sure anyone who hasn't been watching the Bakersfield Jam expected.
It was a game that restored a sense of joy that was rapidly draining from this season, and there wasn't much to go around in the first place. The ugly incident in Milwaukee that resulted in Matt Barnes' suspension against his old team was just an exclamation point on a week-long slide, a descent into chaos that the Grizzlies couldn't really do anything about until they got some of their stalwart veteran players back. That's what happened on Saturday night, and that's what made the difference, and it was a good time for #50 to put the team on his back and carry them through to a victory.
Someday they're going to put a big #50 in the rafters at FedExForum, and when they do, this is going to be one of the games that people are murmuring to each other about. One in a long litany of them, sure, but it will be one of them. And the fact that that last night's game may have also salvaged the Grizzlies' hopes of remaining in the playoffs and keeping their draft pick makes it that much sweeter. By my math, they really only need to win 1 or 2 more games to make that happen—the 7th-place Rockets are 5 games back, the 8th-place Mavericks are 5.5 back, and the 9th-place Jazz are 6.5 back. We'll see how all of that plays out in the next two weeks, but one thing is for sure:
Zach Randolph against the Clippers is still one of the best things in basketball, and probably will continue to be so as long as he's playing.