Are the Memphis Grizzlies for real?
That question has been asked time and again for the past few weeks, and there is only one true answer—yes.
Fans of the Grizzlies were just hoping to steal a game or two from the San Antonio Spurs, but the team was not satisfied with that. The Grizzlies outplayed the Spurs night after night, and they nearly closed out in San Antonio.
After defeating the Spurs, Memphis began their series with a popular Western Conference pick in the Oklahoma City Thunder. In Game 1, Zach Randolph dominated, and his 34 points and 10 rebounds carried the Grizzlies to another upset.
After splitting the next two games, Memphis holds a 2-1 series lead over favored Oklahoma City.
How has this happened?
Well, the Grizzlies are a lot better than we thought. They are athletic, young and hard workers on both ends of the court. That, coupled with a few good matchups, and they are now in good position to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Now, they may not be the favorites in the West, but who can bet against them?
The main reason the Grizzlies have been succeeding is Zach Randolph. He has been maligned for much of his career after inconsistent stints with Portland, New York and Los Angeles. In Memphis, he has gotten into great shape, and he is a popular pick for playoff MVP.
In the San Antonio series, he averaged 21 points and nine rebounds. So far in the Thunder series, he has averaged 23 and 13, including a ridiculous 21 and 21 performance in the Game 3 victory.
With "Z-Bo" playing like a beast, the Grizzlies have one of the best post players in the league. If the Lakers are knocked out by the Mavericks, then Randolph will easily be the most talented low-post player left in the playoffs.
The Thunder acquired Kendrick Perkins to control the big men of the West, but other than forcing Randolph into tough shots in Game 2, he has been unable to slow Randolph down. If "Z-Bo" continues this type of play, the Thunder will not be able to beat the Grizzlies.
Another reason the Grizz have been successful is the emergence of Marc Gasol. Once tagged as Pau's inferior brother, Marc has been the dominant Gasol in these playoffs. He has led Memphis in rebounding in six of their nine games, which takes a lot of pressure off Randolph.
When Gasol plays this well, the Grizzlies have a legitimate chance to dominate any team in the league.
The Grizz have even overcome adversity.
Normally, when a fringe-playoff team loses its best perimeter player and second leading scorer, that team is doomed. Losing Rudy Gay, however, was a blessing in disguise.
While he is a terrific player, his injury has allowed the Grizzlies to play Tony Allen and Shane Battier at the same time, which makes them incredibly tough defensively.
As two of the best defenders in the league, Allen and Battier have frustrated the Spurs and Thunder on the perimeter. When those teams are slowed down around the arc, it makes it tough to score points.
Losing one of your best players is never a good thing—however, I think the Grizzlies have to admit they are a better playoff team with Allen and Battier and without Gay.
While it is risky to trust a young team (especially one that is led by Zach Randolph), the Grizzlies have played extremely well.
They looked like a doomed team after a fight on an airplane and a star player injury, but as long as Zach Randolph keeps playing like a beast, the Grizzlies can beat anybody.
If Randolph keeps this incredible play up, no one should be betting against the Grizzlies.