2011 Playoffs, Round 1, Game 6: San Antonio 91, Memphis 99 / Memphis wins 4-2
With 4:39 remaining in the game, Antonio McDyess hit a 15-foot jumper to give the Spurs an 80-79 lead, their first since 2-0. Having battled all the way back after falling into an early, deep hole, momentum and fate seemed to have finally swung to the Spurs. Lionel Hollins quickly called a timeout.
What happened next was a career-altering and career-defining stretch for one player. Unfortunately, that player was Zach Randolph.
Over the next few minutes, Randolph demanded the ball, got the ball, and scored the ball. McDyess played superb one-on-one defense; Randolph’s offense was much, much better. There was nothing the Spurs could do defensively to stop the one-man wrecking crew. By the time the onslaught had stopped, the Grizzlies had a secure lead and the series in hand.
The Spurs did themselves no favors during this stretch, playing sloppy, un-Spurs-like offense. Careless turnovers, contested shots, wrong decisions. The last 4:39 of the game was really a microcosm of the entire series: the Grizzlies were able to do what they wanted on both ends of the court, dictating the terms of the fight to the Spurs. The Spurs, winners of 61 games and the top seed in the West, were helpless to assert any will on to the game. The offense that had hummed all season long and carried them for most of the season suddenly looked completely out of sorts and amateurish. The players looked old and slow and like they had never played with each other before. Nothing came easy; everything came easy for the Grizzlies.
Finally, when it came down to winning time, the Grizzlies had a player they could consistently go to down the stretch to create their offense. And the Spurs didn’t.
In retrospect, it’s pretty amazing that the Spurs were able to keep most every game close. It’s a testament to their heart and their persistence that they never allowed the Grizzlies to just completely overwhelm them.
There will be plenty of time in the coming days and months to wonder about the future of this team and reflect on the wonderful season and grieve the unceremonious dismissal from the playoffs. But for now, we congratulate the Grizzlies on being the hungrier team, the more disciplined team, the more aggressive team, and, ultimately, the better team. Now that they’re done being the wrecking ball to my favorite team, I can’t help but root for them going forward. Everybody loves an underdog, right?
Even if the underdog is a big bully.