The Grizzlies weren't going to go down to the Clippers without a fight. Zach Randolph hustled and muscled, and ground and hugged his way to 27 points, as the Grizzlies went up double-digits in the second quarter and wouldn't relinquish it for the rest of the game in a 94-82 win that cut L.A.'s series lead to 2-1.
Some wondered if Memphis was already out of this series after two crushing losses: one a genuine 21-point blowout, the other a game where Chris Paul took over, going from nova to supernova by scoring the Clippers final eight points, including a game-winner. People who said that might have forgotten last year's series. Sure, the Clippers ultimately prevailed, but it took seven games. Seven brutal, head-to-head games where Randolph, Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Marc Gasol tried to match sturdy, ground-bound defense against the league's highest flyers.
That's the series we got a look at Thursday night. Memphis had Randolph doing everything he could and got some key contributions from odd sources. Quincy Pondexter had 13 points, as the Grizzlies bench didn't crumble against a Clippers bench considered the best in the league.
Randolph was Randolph, in all of his oddly-functional glory. The whole arsenal was there: the impossibly high-arcing 18-footers, the bull-headed drives to the hoop with finishes through contact, the putbacks on offensive rebounds Randolph somehow corralled without leaving the ground. It was everything we've always loved about Randolph, on display exactly when the team needed it. He finished with a game-high 27 points and 11 boards, with his signature on a variety of the game's biggest plays. He'd only had 26 points in the first two games of the series combined.
Meanwhile, the Clippers were just outplayed. Chris Paul wasn't himself, scoring just eight points on 11 shots with five turnovers and only four assists. With the Grizzlies starting to pull away, he threw up an unprompted airball. After coming through over and over and over again before hitting the game-winner in Game 2, he had nothing Thursday night. The team had 15 turnovers to Memphis' 10 and gave up 17 offensive boards while bringing down only five of their own. Blake Griffin would lead the way with 16 points, but he'd only reel in two rebounds.
The star in the first quarter was Randolph. After scoring 13 points in each of the first two games, Randolph had 13 in the first period, playing very Z-Bo-esque ball. He'd score the first Grizzlies bucket of the game and tie the score at 10 on a bullying and-one drive into the lane, then put the team ahead with the free throw, a lead that would end up lasting the rest of the game. The Grizzlies would go on an 11-4 run to go up by seven early, although the Clips would cut that to three to close the quarter.
In the second, the Grizzlies bench came through -- yeah, the same bench I just made fun of the other day, get over it, OK? -- with Jerryd Bayless and Keyon Dooling hitting back-to-back threes to extend the lead back to seven. Matt Barnes would have five points in a row on a dunk and a three, but all things told, the piecemeal Grizzlies bench squad would go toe-to-toe with a highly praised Clippers second unit and outscored them by three in the first half. A Pondexter three and some Gasol buckets would extend the lead to 43-31, although the Clippers would cut the deficit to 47-39 at the half.
Gasol and Randolph would set the tone in the third quarter, with a run of plays created by Gasol -- either picture-perfect 20-footers or picture-perfect passes -- setting up a 6-0 run that pushed the lead to 14. It would waver around there, but threes by Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom, and a transition bucket by Crawford would cut the lead to eight at the end of the quarter,just where it had been at the half.
The Clips' bench would keep it going, with a slam by Ronny Turiaf cutting the lead to six, but it wasn't quite to be. Each team traded silly plays. The Clippers forgot to box out Pondexter on a free throw, leading to a very unconventional four-point play when he got fouled on a putback. Later, Pondexter returned the favor by fouling Jamal Crawford while shooting. But a questionable flagrant foul on Barnes and another and-one opportunity for Pondexter gave the Grizzlies a double-digit lead again. The lead would go up to 16 and the Grizzlies would hold on for the win.