MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) Zach Randolph, the self-described blue collar forward in a blue collar town, always gives the Grizzlies whatever they need.
No complaints. Just check in when called upon and scrap for rebounds and buckets.
Even when relegated to coming off the bench after being a starter throughout his long career, Randolph never griped about playing fewer minutes.
Randolph is answering the bell again for his Grizzlies, as only he can.
”We needed Z Bo in the starting lineup for this series” against San Antonio, first-year Memphis coach David Fizdale said Friday. ”This series called for that, so that’s why I moved that direction. If it was a team that was running circles around us from the 3-point line and a whole lot of speed and space, he probably wouldn’t be in the lineup right now.”
Yes, these Grizzlies needed some of that old Grit `n’ Grind. The physical, pounding style of play that helped them reach the playoffs the last six seasons.
With the Spurs shoving the Grizzlies all over the court in the first two games of their opening playoff series, Fizdale had to make a move. He put Randolph back in the starting lineup to give the Grizzlies some needed muscle to push back.
Randolph responded with 21 points and eight rebounds, and the Grizzlies will need much more of the same from the 15-year veteran to keep the Spurs from ”bullying” their way through the rest of this best-of-seven series.
To the 6-foot-9 and 260-pound Randolph, all that matters is that he is at his best banging under the basket, pushing and leaning against opponents while somehow finding the right angle to toss up a short jumper or grab a loose ball.
”I’m going to go out there and just play hard and leave it all on the court,” Randolph said. ”So playing more minutes is what I’ve been wanting to do, and I’m getting a chance.”
Even while coming off the bench , Randolph still led all reserves with 19 double-doubles during the season.
Randolph reminded everyone Thursday night that he hasn’t lost his touch. He put on a show helping Memphis snap a 10-game postseason skid against the Spurs with a 105-94 victory and pull within 2-1. Randolph knocked down step-back jumpers, hook shots and even threw in a rare dunk while grabbing eight rebounds.
”We’ve played against Zach 14 hundred and 73 times,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, adding that Randolph has always been a heck of a player so ”it’s not a whole lot different.”
LaMarcus Aldridge battled against Randolph in the 2015 playoffs while with Portland and knows exactly what to expect with the man nicknamed Z Bo back in the starting lineup.
”You got to battle,” Aldridge said. ”It’s a fight down there. You got to battle, and you’re going to try to do your work early and just battle him the whole game.”
Grizzlies guard Mike Conley said it was fun with Randolph having so much success.
”We finally unleashed him,” Conley said. ”He really changed the game and hopefully changed the series and will give us some confidence.”
Randolph is a free agent this summer, so Saturday night’s Game 4 could be the last in Memphis for the man loved for both his play on the court and charity work away from the arena. Randolph said that has crossed his mind, especially now with the regular season over and the postseason just two losses away right now.
”You try to put that behind you and when it’s time for that, you take care of that,” Randolph said. ”First task at hand is trying to win a championship.”