Zach Randolph had been waiting for this.
The Memphis Grizzlies All-Star was plagued by foul problems as his team dropped the first two games of their series with the Los Angeles Clippers.
But freed from the early whistles on Thursday night, Z-Bo and his counterpart, Marc Gasol, battered and bruised the Clippers on the interior as the Grizzlies grinded their way to a 94-82 win at FedExForum.
Randolph led the charge with 27 points and 11 rebounds, while Gasol added 16 points and eight boards. The pair shouldered the load of an 11-3 first-quarter run that gave Memphis control and a 6-0 spurt in the third quarter to give them some badly needed breathing room.
And when Lionel Hollins' starters sat, his reserves carried on the production. Quincy Pondexter scored a playoff career-high 13, and the bench combined for a solid 30 points.
Without the offensive punch of Chris Paul (eight points, 4-of-11, five turnovers), the Clippers could not create consistent quality looks. Blake Griffin led the Clippers with 16 points, the only L.A. starter to top 11 points.
The Grizzlies looked to establish an interior presence early on, and their aggressive defense left the Clippers living—but mostly dying—with their jumpers. Perimeter players accounted for 10 of L.A.'s first 12 points, while Memphis found its offense in the post or driving toward the hoop.
After trading baskets for the first half of the opening quarter, the Grizzlies found a little breathing room with a 9-2 run led by Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. But Blake Griffin scored six of the last eight points in the period, leaving Memphis with a 23-20 edge after the first.
The Grizzlies bench, which has been widely criticized thus far in the postseason, finally provided a spark. Following Griffin's six-point surge, Darrell Arthur dropped in a runner, and then Keyon Dooling and Jerryd Bayless buried triples on consecutive possessions.
The Clippers found their own reserve scoring punch, and it came from where no one was looking. Matt Barnes, best known for his feisty defensive efforts, poured in the first seven points for the Clippers in the second.
When play rolled back around to the regulars, the Clippers contributors looked out of sorts.
L.A. guards missed 11 of their first 15 field-goal attempts. Paul had no assists and three turnovers through two quarters. Griffin poured in 10 points, but he had just one rebound in 16 first-half minutes. DeAndre Jordan picked up three fouls and turned it over twice before the half.
Randolph, who averaged 13 points and five fouls in the first two games of the series, had 18 points and four boards as the Grizzles widened their lead to 47-39 by the half. Four different Memphis reserves contributed to its 14 first-half bench points.
The Grizzlies' defensive clamps only tightened out of the break.
After scoring eight points in the first three minutes of the third, L.A. sputtered through a scoreless minute that saw the Grizzlies lead grow from eight points to 14 at the 5:54 mark of the period.
Mike Conley's shooting touch was off (1-of-9 for the contest), but he exhibited masterful control of the ball despite a head-to-head battle with the regular season's steal leader, Paul, finishing with 10 assists and no turnovers in 37 minutes. Tony Allen earned his paycheck with his harassment of Paul alone, but still impressed with 13 points, nine boards and four steals.
But this game wasn't going to end pretty—that's just not the Grizzlies way. From the 1:22 mark of the third to the 11:03 mark of the fourth, the Clippers sliced a 14-point lead to just six thanks to triples from Jamal Crawford and Lamar Odom.
The lead was still just seven points five minutes later, but a Flagrant 1 call on Barnes gave the Grizzlies a three-point possession when Randolph split the flagrant foul shots and then found a cutting Pondexter for a nifty reverse layup.
The Grizzlies only built their lead from there, granting themselves the chance to even up this series in Game 4 on Saturday (4:30 p.m. ET, TNT).
An attacking Clippers frontcourt, and perhaps some overzealous officials, had thwarted Memphis' inside-out attack in Games 1 and 2. Randolph had racked up five fouls in each contest, but he avoided the ear-splitting cry of the whistle for most of the first half:
Zach Randolph just got his first foul. 2:41 left in the half.— Chris Herrington (@FlyerGrizBlog) April 26, 2013
To say he gave his club a presence it hadn't had in the first two games would be a gross understatement:
Halftime: Grizzlies 47, Clippers 39. Zach Randoph has as many points (18) as CP3, Billups, Butler, Jordan, Odom & Bledsoe combined.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) April 26, 2013
Perhaps drawing off the energy of their All-Star big man or their raucous home crowd, there was an apparent bounce in Memphis' step early on:
Memphis looks like a completely different team tonight. More aggressive, bench played well, hitting the glass, taking risks on D.— Dime Update (@DimeUpdate) April 26, 2013
The league's best aerial show was grounded for most of the contest, and even their All-Star point guard couldn't muster up any clean looks out of half-court sets:
Chris Paul not doing too many point guard-y things tonight.— Brett Pollakoff (@BrettEP) April 26, 2013
Chris Paul hasn't been himself tonight. This looks like when the Monstars stole the skills from the NBA stars in Space Jam.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) April 26, 2013
And without the typically steady hand of their floor general, the Clippers couldn't stay out of their own way on the offensive end:
Clippers have their Hands full in Memphis. Betrayed by 10 turnovers.— Ralph Lawler (@Ohmeomy) April 26, 2013
Of course, the team standing across from them had a little bit to do with that:
this defensive performance by the Grizzlies has been amazing so far— Chris Vernon (@ChrisVernonShow) April 26, 2013
Tony Allen has CP3 in cuffs and as frustrated as you will see him— Chris Vernon (@ChrisVernonShow) April 26, 2013
And Paul's backup, Eric Bledsoe, wasn't helping matters:
Bledsoe has been brutal tonight. To be expected with role players on the road, but still.— Brett Pollakoff (@BrettEP) April 26, 2013
A hard playoff foul in the fourth quarter by Barnes could've rattled some of today's stars. But it came against Randolph, a throwback bruiser if I've ever seen one:
ZBo just gave Matt Barnes an affectionate headbutt, if such a thing is possible.— J.A. Adande (@jadande) April 26, 2013
Any inclination that we would be treated to a bruising battle of yesteryear was quickly lost, though, as the officials assessed a Flagrant 1 that was, let's say, debatable:
HORRIBLE Flagrant.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) April 26, 2013
Since Griffin and Randolph were called for double fouls for the third time in as many games, though, it's probably best to let go of those hopes for good.