Commentary

San Antonio defangs Zach Randolph

Two years after leading upset of Spurs, Memphis big man stymied in opening loss

Originally Published: May 19, 2013
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

SAN ANTONIO -- There was only one reasonable course of action, Zach Randolph concluded, after he managed a measly two points on just eight shots in the biggest game of his playoff life.

"He kind of tried to apologize," Memphis Grizzlies teammate Mike Conley said.

Except that didn't work, either.

The big lefty's my bad response to his afternoon nightmare played out as well as everything else Z-Bo tried while amassing zero points in the first three quarters of this 105-83 clinic conducted by the San Antonio Spurs in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.

"We wouldn't accept that," Conley explained, insisting that the blame had to be shared team-wide.

[+] EnlargeZach Randolph
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesThe last of Zach Randolph's eight shot attempts marked his only make from the floor in Game 1.

So to recap: Against the team he terrorized in 2011, when he carried Memphis to a No. 8-stuns-No. 1 upset of the Spurs and announced himself to the rest of the NBA as a bankable franchise player, Randolph finished with one bucket on a tip-in early in the fourth quarter, seven misses from the field … and a remorseful speech to his teammates that got swatted away.

Against their old friends from San Antonio two years ago, when Memphis took advantage of Manu Ginobili's injury absence to steal Game 1 here, Randolph received a $70 million contract extension from then-Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley before Game 2. That the rejected speech and the support he got from folks such as Conley and Tony Allen were the personal highlights of Sunday's rematch tells you what sort of comedown occasion this was for Randolph against a posse of interior defenders that fronted him right out of the game.

"I'm definitely disappointed," Z-Bo said in a quiet moment at his locker after a shocked pack of reporters openly struggling to digest his stat line had dispersed. "But I know what to do [in Game 2]. Assert myself, be aggressive. Simple stuff."

Said Conley: "It's not [just on] you. It's all of us."

Said Allen: "We still believe in his talent. We go as he goes. That's our leader."

The Grizzlies can only hope it's as easy to rebound as Z-Bo and Allen made it sound, because the distinct impression left by their coach is that these Spurs, just one game into this series, are already posing a multitude of problems with their attention to defensive detail and spread-the-wealth offense.

Never did Memphis imagine that the Spurs could smother Randolph so effectively -- while getting a mere 14 points combined from the muted duo of Tim Duncan and Ginobili -- and win so easily.

"They played better than us in every area," Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said. "And that included fronting the post and keeping us from going inside as much as we wanted to."

"And our defense," Hollins continued, "was really awful."

Said Conley of facing San Antonio's peerless ball movement so soon after ousting Kevin Durant-centric Oklahoma City and falling behind 31-14 after a quarter: "It's a huge adjustment. You're not going to play many teams like the Spurs who don't just have one guy who can hurt but more like 12 guys that can hurt you."

Conley was specifically referring to the difficulty even for a defense as decorated as the Grizzlies' D in trying to keep track of deadly secondary shooters such as Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Matt Bonner after being so locked in on Durant against the Russell Westbrook-less Thunder. The Spurs, meanwhile, saw no harm in doing all that fronting and exposing themselves on the boards as well as to the Grizzlies' shooters on the weak side. And why would they when Memphis' five starters refused to even attempt one 3-pointer?

Outside of Quincy Pondexter's five 3-pointers and a fleeting third-quarter flurry after Randolph went to the bench -- which sliced a 17-point deficit to six before San Antonio closed the period with a crushing 11-1 run -- Memphis mustered nothing to dissuade the Spurs from swarming Randolph.

"I don't even recall a game where he only took seven shots," Allen said.

Even if it was actually eight shots, you get the gist of the Grizzlies' bewilderment.

"I gotta be better," Randolph said over and over. "Like I told my teammates, I gotta be better."

The good news? Even the victorious likes of Tony Parker and Bonner were quick to concede that the Spurs can't reasonably expect to stay this hot and throw in a franchise-record 14 3s every game. It also can't hurt the Grizzlies' psyche that were blasted in Game 1 of the first round against the Clippers and lost a demoralizing Game 1 nailbiter in OKC in Round 2 and still found a way, without home-court advantage, to drag themselves up off the mat in each of those series to reach the conference finals for the first time in franchise history.

The reality, though, is that the 2013 Spurs are better equipped to cope with Randolph and Marc Gasol with Tiago Splitter and a beefed-up Boris Diaw next to Duncan than the 2011 Spurs were. Those Spurs had to rely on the undersized DeJuan Blair and 36-year-old Antonio McDyess.

As well as a Duncan no one was calling rejuvenated.

"Give the Spurs credit," Conley said. "They're not the first team [to guard Randolph this way], but they seem to do a very good job of it."

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics