Through its first five games, the Western Conference rematch between the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers had lived up to expectations as the most physical series of the first round of the 2013 postseason. With the Clippers facing elimination at FedEx Forum in Memphis on Friday, we anticipated more of the same — and man, oh man, did we get it.
Game 6 featured 59 personal fouls, 71 free throws, seven technical fouls and one flagrant foul (Chauncey Billups' third-quarter around-the-neck takedown of Mike Conley) ... and that doesn't even cover the really good stuff from the Grizzlies' 118-105 win, which earned Memphis a 4-2 win in their best-of-seven series, punched the Grizzlies' ticket for a Western Conference semifinals showdown with the also-victorious-on-Friday top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder and sent the Clippers to a long summer full of questions, headlined by whether unrestricted-free-agent-to-be Chris Paul will elect to re-up with L.A. or look to ply his trade elsewhere.
But that's enough looking forward for the moment — for now, let's take a quick look back at some of the nuttier stuff from the second half of a very wild and eminently watchable Game 6.
Zach Randolph and Blake Griffin, wrasslin'
The two All-Star power forwards fought ferociously all series, with Griffin getting the best of things in the series' first two games at Staples Center, the tide turning in Randolph's favor when the action shifted to the Grindhouse, and Randolph overwhelming a high-ankle-sprain-hobbled Griffin in Memphis' Game 5 road win in L.A. The nature of their no-quarter-given, head-to-head battle was underlined by the fact that referees saw fit to call double personal fouls on them — which is basically an official's way of saying, "I'm not really sure which one of you started it, but you two totally need to cut it out, because someone's going to get hurt, and I'm not interested in sorting it all out" — in four of the six games in this series.
The fourth and final one came nearly five minutes into the third quarter with Memphis up by 16 after a Mike Conley 3-pointer, when the two big men got tangled up under the basket:
We're not sure if there was a heavyweight title belt on the line — we're going to have to check with Sheed on that — but we're pretty sure Blake got his shoulder up before the three-count. If we've said it once, Z-Bo, we've said it 100 times: You've got to hook the leg, man. We're going to keep an eye on your form from here on out until you get it right.
(Another thing we're going to keep an eye on: Whether the league office decides Randolph's left-hand-to-the-Adam's-apple on Griffin merits something more severe than just the double-personal and the technical foul Z-Bo received at the time. If Stu Jackson and company take a dimmer view of the ostensible chokehold than the refs on scene, it wouldn't be outside the realm of possibility for Randolph to miss the beginning of the next series.)
Griffin clearly wasn't himself in Game 6, with the high ankle sprain limiting him to just nine points and three rebounds in 14 minutes of reserve play coming off the bench behind Lamar Odom. Randolph, meanwhile, continued to be the bull-in-a-china-shop that Lionel Hollins needed, throwing his weight around in the paint and on the right block against overmatched and undersized defenders en route to 23 points on 8 for 12 shooting that gave the Memphis offense its focal point.
Chris Paul ejected
With three minutes left on the clock, Memphis leading 111-99 and the outcome already decided, Clippers wing Caron Butler committed a loose ball foul that sent Grizzlies forward Tayshaun Prince to the charity stripe. After Prince made his first freebie, Paul and Billups chatted at the 3-point arc about their respective responsibilities on the live ball after the second free throw. Billups told Paul he'd go box out the shooter; Paul's task, then, was to head down the lane to help out on Grizzlies center Marc Gasol.
Paul helped a bit too aggressively.
Immediately after the play, Gasol doubled over in pain, leading plenty of Clippers fans (and even some comparatively unbiased observers) to suggest that the big Spaniard was exaggerating the extent of the pain he felt after Paul banged into him. Then again, Gasol is just about six weeks removed from aggravating an abdominal tear, and CP3 did run smack into his midsection, so it's possible Gasol wasn't faking. Either way, getting a running start and plowing straight into an unsuspecting dude is the kind of thing referees tend to frown upon, so the officials slapped Paul with a technical foul ... and since he'd also picked one up midway through the third quarter, that required an automatic ejection.
It's kind of weird to think that the two most desirable players in the upcoming free-agent class, both of whom played in Los Angeles this season, each ended their seasons by being ejected in an elimination game. At least CP3 dapped up his opponents, though.
Zach Randolph ejected
From the "One good turn deserves another" file: Just 32 seconds of game time after CP3 got the gate, Z-Bo got run by Joey Crawford for ... um ... reasons?
Randolph very well might have been yapping up a storm on the court both leading up to and during Conley's free throws. Still, though, following up one star's ejection with another just 32 seconds later in the closing stages of a double-digit win smelled of "let's get rid of the escalators and agitators so nobody will get into a fight" crowd control. (This is probably why Matt Barnes thought he was the one getting tossed during both CP3's ejection and Z-Bo's exit. Take it easy, Matt. You're fine.)
Luckily, after dominating the interior all night and pacing his Grizzlies to a series win, Randolph was able to blithely shrug off the heave-ho, chucking his headband into the raucous FedEx Forum crowd and skipping — skipping! — back to the dressing room, confident in the knowledge that Memphis would live to fight another day. And with Thunder center Kendrick Perkins about to line up across from Randolph, "fight" might be a very, very operative word.
Game 1 of Thunder-Grizzlies — or, as we're going to call it, THUNDERGRIZZLIES — tips off at Chesapeake Energy Arena at 1 p.m. EDT on Sunday. We're looking forward to it, but it bears mentioning: You're going to have a lot to live up to, THUNDERGRIZZLIES. We'll need to see at least two attempted pinfalls for this to feel like an upgrade.