Randolph wins battle of big men
There was supposed to be a roadblock in the lane this time for the Memphis Grizzlies. Instead, they cruised through as if it were the autobahn.
Memphis had won three of four regular-season meetings against Oklahoma City. But in none of those games did the Thunder have enforcer Kendrick Perkins, the center who was acquired Feb. 22 from Boston.
Perkins was supposed to make Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph really work Sunday in Game 1 of a Western Conference semifinal series at Oklahoma City Arena. But all Randolph did was leave with a smirk.
In No. 8 seed Memphis’ 114-101 win, Randolph scored a career playoff-high 34 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. His fellow post man, center Marc Gasol, totaled 20 points and 13 rebounds as Memphis overwhelmed Oklahoma City 52-38 in points in the paint, a margin that was at 46-28 after three quarters, when the game mostly had been decided.
“I take full accountability of this game,’’ said the 6-foot-10, 280-pound Perkins, who had a mere two points and six rebounds. “I feel like I let us down.’’
The No. 4 Thunder got plenty of points from perimeter guys Kevin Durant (33) and Russell Westbrook (29). But the Thunder’s image of being soft inside, supposedly vanquished with Perkins’ arrival, returned.
At least Perkins didn’t exhibit any nice-guy talk afterward by heaping praise on Randolph. That was Durant’s job.
“You can’t stop him,’’ Durant said. “He’s an animal . . . He’s the best power forward in the league.’’
Perkins didn’t rubber stamp that endorsement. Perkins declined to name his top power forward, but it’s not Randolph.
“If he says so,” Perkins said about Durant’s opinion. “I don’t agree . . . I’m not going to give my opposing opponent the credit that I got to go against. So if Kevin says (Randolph is) the best power forward, then that’s Kevin’s opinion.’’
After being told in a news conference about Durant’s compliment, Randolph said, “Oh, yeah, I got to agree with that. Thanks, KD. I appreciate it.” Randolph also said that, overall, “I don’t get lot of respect that I deserve.’’
Certainly not from Perkins. Informed what the Boston big man had said, the 6-9, 255-pound Randolph told FOXSports.com:
“Perk’s good, but all Perk can do is foul me. That’s the only thing he can do. The best thing about his defense on me is to foul me . . . He can’t (stop Randolph). He’s too slow. He’s a big body. He can foul.
“I don’t think nobody in the league can stop me. Not only Perk. I tell Perk to his face. I already told him before.’’
Stay tuned to Tuesday’s Game 2 to see how the Randolph-Perkins war of words next plays out. As for Sunday’s game, Randolph was right. Nobody could stop him.
Randolph shot 12 of 22 from the field, going both inside and out. He even drilled his only three-point attempt after shooting 8 of 43 during the regular season.
If the Thunder focused too much on Randolph, then the 7-1, 265-pound Gasol took over. He shot 9 of 11.
Gasol said the Grizzlies’ 4-2 series victory over San Antonio in the first round wasn’t a “fluke.’’ After Sunday’s showing, he’ll get few arguments.
“You’re going to hear everything in the world about how they’re more physical than you, they outhustled you, they beat you on your home court,’’ said Perkins, who said he let his “emotions affect me’’ while worrying too much about the officials. “And all that does for me is just get more spark. It starts with me. I’m the vocal leader on this team.’’
Well, Durant’s also a pretty important guy on the Thunder. And he also wasn’t pleased.
“We didn’t come out with any sense of urgency,’’ said Durant, who wondered if Oklahoma City was at a disadvantage having sat around since dispatching Denver 4-1 on Wednesday while the Grizzlies remained in a rhythm while eliminating the Spurs on Friday. “We didn’t have the energy.’’
The Thunder fell behind by 16 points late in the first half while turning the front row at Oklahoma City Arena into a hazardous place to sit. The Thunder had 10 of its 18 turnovers in the game’s first 23 minutes.
Memphis led by as many as 17 points early in the fourth quarter. The Thunder cut the margin to seven midway through the quarter, but there never was much of a sense the outcome was in doubt.
“Any time you win on the road in the playoffs, it’s a steal,’’ Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “That’s what we did. We came in here and stole one.’’
That didn’t make Perkins, a member of Boston’s 2008 title team, happy. After the game, he was snarling near his locker.
“You’re going to see a different Perk come Tuesday,’’ he vowed.
It should be interesting. Will there be more force during the game, when the big bodies of Perkins and Randolph are slamming together, or afterward, given the words they might throw at each other?