April 30, 2011
This is what it looked like, again and again. Zach Randolph(notes), barely able to elevate off the court, but always, always 10 toes down exactly where he wanted and needed to be, rebounding the ball, moving the ball, demanding the ball and scoring the ball, again and again. His fingerprints were all over the ball; his fingerprints were all over this series.
Now, this series is over.
The Memphis Grizzlies beat the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night by a score of 99-91, closing out their best-of-seven first-round Western Conference playoff series in six games, and doing so in stunning, epic and historic fashion before a raucous FedEx Forum crowd.
Here's the record-book history: The Grizzlies were the West's eighth seed, while the Spurs were the conference's top team, and this is only the fourth time in NBA history that No. 8 has beaten No. 1 in a playoff series. It's also only the second time that an eighth seed has been able to pull off the mammoth upset in a seven-game series; the Denver Nuggets' victory over the Seattle Supersonics in 1994 and the New York Knicks' win over the Miami Heat in 1999 both came in five-game sets, before the league changed formats.
Now, the Grizzlies join the "We Believe" 2007 Golden State Warriors who toppled the Dallas Mavericks in 2007 as the only teams to turn the playoffs' greatest trick. And given the array of characters and misfit toys that have come together to make beautiful music in Memphis, how perfect is that?
Here's the off-book history, the stuff that'll be talked about on Beale Street for as long as people can form the words to tell it: After Game 1, this largely stopped feeling like something that you could categorize as an "upset."
Memphis earned this win with a brand of basketball that merged beauty with bullying, grinding San Antonio in the post and on the wings, forever pushing and pushing and pushing until the older, statelier brand buckled. I'll leave it to my more eloquent and better-versed colleagues to tease out the finer details of who, when, where and why, but the what is inescapable: Memphis won this series. The first playoff series win in franchise history.
Randolph was the night's unquestioned star, as he's been all series and all year for coach Lionel Hollins, scoring 31 points and snaring 11 rebounds, including five on the offensive glass, to pace the Grizz. He scored 17 points in the fourth quarter alone, hitting six of eight shots from the field and five of six from the free-throw line. Tony Parker(notes) had 23 points (10-for-17 shooting) and four assists for the Spurs in the losing effort.
The Grizzlies now move on to face Kevin Durant(notes), Russell Westbrook(notes) and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Semifinals. Game 1 in that series tips Sunday at 1 p.m. The Spurs ... well, they just move on.