The Memphis Grizzlies’ Game 2 win over Golden State in the Western Conference semifinals Tuesday was all about the return of Mike Conley, but let’s not overlook the fact that Zach Randolph has recorded back-to-back 20-point games in this series. Randolph may turn 34 this July, but Scott Ferrall believes the two-time All-Star looks stronger, quicker and leaner than he has in recent years.
“When he came to Memphis a few years ago, he really embraced the whole concept of, ‘I can have a long career in this league because my game does not rely on athleticism and the ability to jump out of a gym,’” Grizzlies television play-by-play announcer Pete Pranica said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “So he figured if he cut out some things and maintained a nice low weight, that he could be productive deep into his career, and we’re seeing it again in the playoffs.”
And then, of course, there was Conley, who scored a game-high 22 points in Game 2. With Randolph, Conley and Marc Gasol on the floor at the same time, Memphis is a completely different team.
“Missing Conley in Game 1 was the big issue because Randolph and Gasol both went for 20+ in Game 1 – and they didn’t have the third scorer,” Pranica said. “Nick Calathes started and didn’t score, so now you add Mike Conley in as a third scorer. And if you can get something out of Jeff Green on a consistent basis or Vince Carter off the bench on a consistent basis or Beno Udrih, it’s a very, very good team that went through some struggles in March and April, but they seem to have gotten themselves back on track.”
Conley, who is wearing a mask to protect a facial injury he suffered against Portland, appeared to take a shot from Draymond Green in the second quarter Tuesday, but was okay. Still, the Grizzlies had to be concerned in that moment.
“Yeah, I think all of us were from a Memphis perspective,” Pranica said. “It was a bang-bang play. The referees did go to the monitor, they did take a look and decided not to assess a penalty. Talking among all the Memphis folks last night and on the plane flight back home today, I think everybody’s kind of split down the middle whether that was intentional (or not). If Mike Conley doesn’t have a mask and doesn’t have that injury, we’re probably not having this conversation.”
Now that the Grizzlies have won at ORACLE Arena, they have to take advantage of it – because it’s probably not happening again. After Tuesday’s loss, Golden State is now 42-3 at home this season.
“You have to take advantage of it,” Pranica said. “I think what separates this team from previous editions is that you’ve got some solid backcourt depth with Beno Udrih. Beno’s won a couple rings with San Antonio. He understands what the postseason is all about. He and J.J. Redick were basically in a dead heat for mid-range shooting at 52 percent during the season. That is a very, very valuable skill for the Grizzlies to have. . . . (It used to be that) when Mike Conley would go out, you were just kind of shrugging your shoulders and saying, ‘Hey, I hope somebody can hold the fort down.’ And Beno Udrih has done a remarkable job this year.
“And also the athleticism of Jeff Green,” Pranica continued. “Jeff has not played well in the postseason, and I think if he can get to a point where he’s scoring 12, 13 points a game and getting you five, six rebounds, then the Grizzlies become even more dangerous – because he’s that athletic wing playmaker that for years the Grizzlies have lacked.”
But can the Grizzlies actually beat the Warriors four times in seven games? Or, in this case, four times in six games?
“I think they have a puncher’s chance,” Pranica said. “I think what gives them that opportunity is you look at the Golden State offense. They led the league in scoring, they led the league in field-goal percentage, they led the league in points off turnovers, they led the league in fast-break points. Golden State’s offense is all about rhythm and flow, and the Grizzlies – more than any other team they’re going to face the rest of the way – has the ability to muck it up, to put the game in the mud, as Zach Randolph likes to say. That’s what you saw last night.
“Really, both games were played at a Grizzlies-type pace,” Pranica continued. “The Grizzlies held the Warriors to 101 in Game 1. That’s nine points below their average. The problem is, the Grizzlies lost 50/50 balls, had 16 turnovers, and offensively were not very good – and a lot of that was the absence of Mike Conley. The Grizzlies can make Golden State uncomfortable, and I think you saw Tony Allen make Klay Thompson feel very uncomfortable (Tuesday). Part of it was Golden State had a bad shooting night, but I think Memphis had (something) to do with that. If the Grizzlies can continue to bring that same type of defensive effort and marry it with a more than passable offense, they’ve got a puncher’s chance.
“But Golden State, if you had to look at it objectively, they’re the most dangerous team that is out there. They’ve got it all. They’ve got inside scoring, they’ve got three-point-shot-making ability, and they’re a vastly improved defensive team. They’re probably the most complete team that is out there right now. But Memphis is not going to back down. In their short playoff history, they’ve already knocked off two No. 1 seeds, so they are familiar with this type of territory.”
Game 3 is Saturday in Memphis at 8 p.m. ET.