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‘Better team’ beats Spurs

  • Written by Kelley Evans
  • Published in News
“Believe Memphis” – the Memphis Grizzlies campaign slogan – has made the translation from words to action. If fans didn’t believe before, they surely believe now.
“We really had trouble scoring against their defense.” – Spurs coach Gregg Popovich (Photos by Warren Roseborough)

Say it with conviction: “Memphis believes.”
“Believe Memphis” – the Memphis Grizzlies campaign slogan – has made the translation from words to action. If fans didn’t believe before, they surely believe now.

San Antonio’s All-Star forward Tim Duncan is whistled for a charge. The Grizzlies made it tough for him to maneuver all-game long.

 Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins
The Grizzlies were playing hard and Coach Lionel Hollins was fired up.

 Zach Randolph
Zach Randolph – “the go-to guy” – scored a game-high 31 points, with 17 in the decisive fourth quarter.

Injured Grizz star Rudy Gay was close at hand when the joy of victory brought Zach Randolph to this moment of expression.

Spurs Head Gregg Popovich congratulates Zach Randolph.

The Grizz made history on Friday night (April 29), stunning the Western Conference’s top-seeded San Antonio Spurs right out of the NBA playoffs with a 99-91 victory that sealed the Round 1 series four games to two.

“We believed and we worked hard,” Grizz forward Zach Randolph said.  “It started in training camp. We believed.”

Grizz fans started pouring into downtown Memphis early Friday afternoon, eager and ready to watch a battle. The set-up – music, fun and games – for a pre-game party was in place. And the fans brought their own soundtrack chant: “One more win.”

There were signs galore, with many poking at the Spurs. “Grit, grind beats flop, whine.”  “No flopping zone.”
With the Grizz in need of just one more win to capture the franchise’s first series victory, fans were on the edges of their seats for most of the first half, and on their feet during most of the third and fourth quarters. Grizz nation was worried.  It was a nail biter.  And the Spurs were not letting up.

Six minutes away from a historical moment, fans had to process Mike Conley’s five personal fouls, Tony Allen diving for loose balls, highly questionable foul calls against Shane Battier, and 11 turnovers in a three-point game.

And the Spurs – fighting for the playoff lives – were not letting up. Survival would go to t he fittest. Gritting and grinding was an understatement.

Moments after it was done, head Grizz Coach Lionel Hollins signaled his jubilation with a demonstrative single clap and then pointed to the fans, showing his thanks.

The Spurs, he said later, are “true champions.”

“We had them to the ropes in San Antonio; they came back and won,” Hollins said.  “We thought we had them on the ropes tonight; they came back and took the lead.  We had to scratch and claw to overcome them.”

Grizz fans appreciated the effort.

“This energy is spectacular,” said Dena Owens, a native Memphian. “The game was a hot wrestling pit of basketball fever!”

In the first five minutes, the Spurs turned the ball over five times and missed four shots.  But they fought back from a 14-point deficit to take an 80-79 lead in the fourth quarter.

Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich said Memphis played their “expletive” off.

“They were the better team and they played better than we did,” Popovich said.  “We could not get a lot done; we really had trouble scoring against their defense. They deserve a lot of credit for that. Obviously, I am sad about the loss, but happy for them and what they have accomplished.  It has been a while for the city, so congrats to those guys.”

Popovich took note of the coaching job turned in by Hollins. “He had a game plan. The defense that he has instituted with that team is pretty impressive.”

Randolph, Memphis “go-to guy” throughout the season, carried the team down the stretch with a franchise playoff-record 31 points, 17 in the fourth quarter. Grizz Center Marc Gasol scored 13 points.

Tony Parker led the Spurs with 23 points, scoring 17 in the second half.

“It was very frustrating,” Parker said. “Obviously we played well all season long, but that doesn’t mean anything if you don’t play well in the playoffs. Memphis played better than us.  We have to give them credit. We had a chance in the end with about a minute to go but we just didn’t make the plays we needed to win the game.”

Memphis is the second eighth-seeded team to defeat a one-seed in a best-of-seven series, entering the playoffs with a 0-12 record. Advancing to the second round, they will face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.

The players – post game

Greivis Vasquez: “I can’t even begin to describe how I feel right now – stepping up in the biggest game of my career. I’m so blessed to be on this team. It was a great, collective effort from everybody. I’ve been waiting for this chance the whole season. I never really had a good chance to prove myself, and I have so much room to get better. I don’t want to worry about myself. I am just happy that we won.”

Mike Conley: “I’m overjoyed, but we’re not done. We’re happy and celebrating tonight, but we understand that there is another tough team in front of us, so we have to come back tomorrow ready to work.”

Zach Randolph: “Emotions are high, not just for the Grizzlies, but for the city of Memphis and the fans. This means a lot to me. It has never been like this anywhere else. I was in Portland for most of my career and two other teams for a short stint. This city has embraced me. The people here have been great. I feel like I’m from Memphis.... They’re family. I think God has blessed me and he has made this work for me.”

 O. J. Mayo and the Grizzlies delivered a Round 1 series victory that sent Grizz nation into jubilation.

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