The Lead: First the goal was to get a playoff win, the first in franchise history. That was accomplished last Sunday, when the Grizzlies stole one from the Manu Ginobili-less Spurs in Game 1 down in San Antonio.
Next the goal was to give Memphis its first home playoff win. That happened tonight, happened in such an unlikely way, happened with a Zach Randolph three-pointer at the end of a broken play with under a minute to go. Randolph's heave put the Grizzlies up five with 42 seconds left and sent 18,119 towel-waving fans into an even deeper level of frenzy than they'd been in all night. Randolph then stoked the fans even more by standing at center court, waving his hands.
Three possessions later, the Spurs had a chance to force overtime, but the Grizzlies bottled up Ginobili along the sideline and the clock expired. The Spurs failed to get either a timeout or a shot up.
Now the goal is to win the series. And, if most Grizzlies fans are being honest with themselves, it feels like a realistic goal for the first time. The Grizzlies will take a 2-1 series lead into Monday's Game 4. And the volume on that game just got turned way up.
It wasn't easy for the Grizzlies: Even with their inside game working again — Randolph and Marc Gasol combined for 42 points — and key bench scorers coming through — O.J. Mayo, Shane Battier, and Darrell Arthur supplied 28 points on 11-22 shooting — they couldn't shake the Spurs.
The Grizzlies lead by 10 at the half, and it should have been more: The Grizzlies scored only five points in the final five minutes of the second half, their offense bogged down by two turnovers and three missed Mike Conley jumpers.
Another scoring drought helped the Spurs tie the game with eight minutes to go. But, as in the other games in this series, the Grizzlies took a punch and battled back. For the final eight minutes, it bounced between a one and two possession game, but the Grizzlies never gave up the lead.
"We stuck together down the stretch," Tony Allen said after the game. "When those guys made a run, we didn't get too rattled. We stayed within what we do and we were able to pull out stops and scores. You gotta give the bench good credit, cause they were big. And it was a big shot by Zach. I thought we milked our big men, like we should be doing all the time."
Seven years ago, when towels waived at another Game 3 against the Spurs, the energy was about celebrating a moment — and celebrating Hubie Brown, the unlikely Coach of the Year winner. This time, it felt different. It felt like it was about winning.
Shane Battier, the only Grizzlies player to experience both games, caught that change in the air.
"After winning game one, I think the city said, wait a minute. I think we have a shot to compete in this series," Battier said in the locker room, after the game. "Where, back at the Pyramid, we were down 2-0 and had had a couple of pretty ugly losses. So it was the culmination of a long journey to bring the Grizzlies to the city."
The Shot: Zach Randolph is a 19% three-point shooter on the season, and with the Spurs closing in and a bucket badly needed, Randolph from long-range is not the shot you hope for.
"It was five seconds on the shot clock and I had a little space to see it," Randolph said. "So I shot it. It felt good when it left my hands."
But it wasn't exactly what the Grizzlies drew up.
"It was a busted play," said Battier, who delivered the pass to Randolph. "The Spurs did a good job of taking away the option. And the ball came to me and I thought Zach was going to be under the basket on the right block. But there he was, so I threw him the ball. The big fella put it up and it went in."
"The play that Zach hit the three on, we were going to Marc," Lionel Hollins said. "I screwed it up during the timeout, I didn't want it the way it was. I won't tell you how I wanted it, because we may run it again. But the ball got swung to Zach and Duncan didn't come out to play him. I knew Zach would shoot it. If Duncan had come out, Zach probably would have tried to drive."
"I didn't assume that was in his arsenal at that point of the game," Duncan said. "I leaned back and tried to make sure that there wasn't a quick big-to-big roll, but he hit a three from that range. It was a great shot."
"I thought Timmy did a good job. One would probably think that you would like Zach to shoot the three, rather than continue to lay it in against you," Popovich said. "It was a heck of a shot; part of the playoffs is about making shots."
Man of the Match: Zach Randolph sealed the game with the big three and lead the way with a game-high 25 points. Mike Conley didn't shoot well (4-12), but had eight assists, three steals, and only one turnover in 41 minutes, playing Spurs counterpart Tony Parker to a draw and supplying a generally steady hand on the wheel. And then there was Shane Battier, who supplied fine, efficient all-around play in 27 minutes off the bench. After struggling in the regular season after coming over from Houston, Battier has figured prominently in both Grizzlies playoff wins.
Nightly Number: The Spurs led the league with 40% three-point shooting on the season. In this series, the pattern had been for them to struggle from long-range in the first half but get going in the second. After going an 0-4 from three in the first half, Grizzlies fans had to be fearing a second-half barrage. But though the Spurs got their shots up in the second half, they weren't connecting — hitting only 2-11 in the back half of the game. That total 2-15 performance from three-point range is wildly uncharacteristic.
"I think they are making an effort of not leaving the corners open for shots," Ginobili said. "Two-for-15 is not us. We've been the best three-point shooting team in the league for 82 games."
The Match-Up: Zach Randolph may have hit the game's biggest shot, but it was the only shot he connected on in the fourth quarter. After using Tim Duncan almost exclusively on Marc Gasol in San Antonio, the Spurs switched their Hall-of-Fame big man onto Randolph in the fourth quarter tonight, and Duncan's length did a number on Randolph: He shot 1-8 in the fourth quarter. Based on that performance and Gregg Popovich's post-game comments, you can expect to see more of Duncan on Randolph on Monday night. Randolph sure does.
"I definitely expect to see that more," Randolph said. "Tim's a taller defender on me. I just got to do pick-and-rolls and continue to play the way I play. And get the ball to Marc on the smaller guy."
"I thought I was a little over-aggressive," Allen said afterward. "I knew all the plays that he was going to run. I was just a little overaggressive. I like to compete with him. I did some good things today, for the most part, but who cares about the match-up when you get the win?"
The Jacob Riis Report:Spurs power forward Antonio McDyess hurt the Grizzlies tonight with his mid-range shooting, but that might not be a problem on Monday. McDyess left the game late with a neck strain. He's questionable for Monday night.
Arena Action: So much here, obviously, but how about The Giant Head of Eva Longoria — a huge cardboard cutout of Tony Parker's ex, adorned with a Z-Bo-style Grizzlies headband. Enterprising fans were showing this off in section 116 tonight, before it was confiscated by the NBA. It was returned by a Grizzlies employee, who could find nothing in the league rules that would outlaw such a thing. The NBA apparently took it back again, citing content rather than size as a problem. This issue may linger.
Where They Stand: Holy crap, the Grizzlies are up 2-1. A Game 6 back here next weekend is now guaranteed — unless, of course, the Grizzlies actually win the next two games and close it out in San Antonio. (Don't expect that to happen.)
Looking Ahead: It's desperation time for the Spurs as the Grizzlies will be fighting to go up 3-1 on Monday night.
Announced Attendance: 18,119, sellout.