With the Memphis Grizzlies leading the San Antonio Spurs by two with 42 seconds left, the shot clock running down and the scent of a wonderfully improbable upset hanging in the air, Zach Randolph did about the last thing you'd want Zach Randolph to do, but upon consideration, the first thing you'd expect Zach Randolph to do. He popped a deep three-pointer over Tim Duncan.
Of course it went in. Grizzlies win.
That is Zach Randolph at his worst: self-confident to a fault, and completely oblivious to circumstances. No one can really be sure why he ever began taking three-pointers here and there; in his first four seasons, he took only a couple end-of-quarter or shot clock bail-out threes. In 2006, he began taking about one trey per game for some reason; he hit 29 percent of them, which is quite bad. In 2008, under Isiah Thomas, he began taking about one per game. It still ended poorly (27 percent). He hit eight of 43 attempts this season, or 18 percent.
That's not a shot you want that player taking at the end of a playoff game.
No one denies Zach Randolph's excellent skills; he's among the very best rebounders in basketball, a tremendous post scorer and a pretty good mid-range shooter. Despite a lack of either zest or aptitude for defense, he's a plus player, a legit "piece" of a really, really good team. And really, that's rarely been in question. He went so far off the rails with Stephon Marbury and Isiah in that memorable Knicks season that perhaps his talent was degraded more than it should have been; he was dumped on the Clippers, who later dumped him on to the Grizzlies.
There have always been off-court concerns with Randolph, but even the on-court concerns still hover. Witness: that shot. That ill-advised, low-percentage, might-as-well-hand-the-ball-to-Duncan shot. It went in, but it was so awful. It was Zach Randolph deciding, "F--k it, why not?" In a random regular season game against the Wolves, in the second quarter or whenever -- outside the context of the biggest game in Memphis Grizzlies history to this point, in the fourth quarter, clinging to a two-point lead with less than a minute left -- it'd be forgettable, if not excusable. But at this point, it's just a staggering decision.
That's why teams will always fear Zach Randolph. He recently signed a four-year, $66 million extension with Memphis, avoiding free agency at season's end. Good. Because this cloud of fear will always follow Z-Bo. Fear that he's not paying attention. Fear that he'll black out at the worst possible time and make a bad decision. Fear that he'll remember the one time it went right -- this time -- and use that as an excuse in the next opportunity. Fear that he has no basketball conscience, and does not care what anyone thinks.
It went in this time, and that ensures he'll take it again. And that cannot be good.