Today is Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Let's hear it for the Grizz

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I confess. I haven’t followed the NBA that closely since the great Celtics-Lakers rivalry.
    
It didn’t get any better than Magic Johnson-Larry Bird. Later the NBA games turned into Sumo wrestling matches.
    
But if this season’s first round playoff games are any indication, this should turn into one of the all-time great post-seasons.
    
It seems there is more parity when you dissect the first round games. Five of the eight series games were decided in Game 7. Each top seed had to advance by winning Game 7.
    
Eight games went into overtime. There were four consecutive overtime games in the Memphis-Oklahoma City series, pitting the 2-seed Thunder against the 6-seed Grizzlies. The Grizzlies won three of the four, but ran out of gas in Game 7.
    
Other than Clippers owner Donald Sterling getting booted out of the league for life by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, the Memphis-OKC series had more drama than Jack Bauer’s return this week in a 12-series resumption of the popular Fox network nail-biter.
    
The Griz had to play its final game on the road. Leading scorer Zach Randolph was suspended for Game 7 after landing a punch to Thunder center Steven Adams’ face in game 6.
    
Randolph is a veteran leader for Memphis and should never have lost his cool in the late minutes of a 120-109 loss.
    
Grizz point guard Mike Conley was also less than full speed in the final game. He tweaked a hamstring in a Game 6 loss in Memphis. Conley came back in the game, but was clearly injured and came back out.
    
With Conley limited in Game 7 and Randolph out, it forced Memphis to go with a small lineup and spread the floor in an effort to find points.
    
It went against the grain of what the Grizz had done all season and that was to play physical, tough defense by blocking up the paint, owning the glass and taking high percentage shots on offense.
    
While the Grizz roared out to a lead with a 36-point first quarter, the party wasn’t going to last until closing time. The adrenaline was leaking away and the Thunder kept dropping bombs on Memphis.
    
Kevin Durant proved why he was the league’s Most Valuable Player with 36- and 33-point efforts in the Thunder’s final two games. Durant was not a one-man gang. He and point guard Russell Westbrook combined for 60 points in Game 7 and hit 22 of their 34 shots from the field. Westbrook had a triple-double with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 16 assists.
    
But it was the loss of Randolph that prevented Memphis from pulling what would have been a stunning upset.
    
“I apologized to the guys. I feel I let them down," Randolph said after learning of his suspension the next morning.
    
Randolph didn’t see it coming.
    
“This was totally unexpected," he said. “I wasn’t even thinking about that play . . . I was just upset. Not being able to play in Game 7 never crossed my mind."
Randolph’s future in Memphis is in question. He has a player option for $16.9 million for next season, or could decide to become a free agent.
    
Memphis is a team close to becoming one that can go deep in the playoffs. It has been a slow process and there is still a lot of work to do.
    
They gave it their all and just fell short.
    
Contact Wilson Post Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at joebiddle11@gmail.com.

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