They did it. The Memphis Grizzlies sent the San Antonio Spurs home for the Summer with a “grown up” 99-91 win in Game 6 today at FedEx Forum. Showing all the qualities of a team on a mission, the Grizzlies exploded early, responded to multiple challenges from the Spurs and then put the game away when it needed to be won. Zach Randolph was amazing finishing with 31 points and 11 rebounds including an amazing 17 point fourth quarter. Randolph’s fourth quarter scoring effort is tied for 5th-best in a potential series-clinching game over the last 15 seasons. Only Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, Reggie Miller and Daniel Gibson have topped it.
Other shining lights for Memphis included Tony Allen who did a simply fantastic job of shutting down Manu Ginobili. Allen’s swarming defense more than made up for his unsteady isolation offense. With unrivaled energy and persistence Allen made life very difficult for Ginobili throughout the game and capped it off by forcing him into an uncharacteristic turnover in the late stages of the game. This sent the Memphis faithful into a frenzy as they realised that this series win was actually happening.
Marc Gasol finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds, outplaying Spurs legend Tim Duncan for the majority of the game and forcing him into 5-13 shooting.
The Grizzlies had not scored more than 44 points in the paint for the entire series before tonight, where they outscored the Spurs 62-38. They also out-rebounded the Spurs 43-32 and visited the free throw line 16 more times. All in all Memphis’ energy and urgency left the proud but out-matched Spurs with no answers.
Post-game the San Antonio class was ever present as General Manager RC Buford visited the Memphis locker room to shake the players’ hands. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich gave plenty of credit to the young Grizzlies and was quoted as saying “they were the better team”. Classy to the end as always and while I’ve never liked the Spurs, you just have to respect them.
So what now for the Spurs? They have their core veterans signed for the medium-term including the oft disappointing Richard Jefferson through 2012-13. Word has it that power forward Antonio McDyess will retire which means the starting position is likely to be passed on to DeJuan Blair. Will San Antonio re-roll with the same group? Or bring in some new faces? Barring a lockout, it will be an off-season of soul searching for the entire franchise.
Back to the Grizzlies and their upcoming series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. I’m struggling to find an individual match-up between these two teams that won’t be entertaining. Both teams have displayed high octane behaviour at both ends of the floor and both also have a dual tempo game plans. I’m looking forward to seeing Tony Allen’s defense on either Durant or Westbrook, as his work rate could cause the Thunder some trouble. Not to be left out is the big man battle between Gasol/Randolph and Perkins/Ibaka, which should be amazing.
Game One of this Western Conference Semi Final will be played in Oklahoma on Monday Melbourne time. No time for the Grizzlies to be complacent and plenty of opportunity to potentially ride this momentum all the way to the WCF!