They were three words that were perfect for summing up Zach Randolph. Three words that were perfect for describing the Memphis Grizzlies seven games into this NBA season.
“I don’t bluff,” Randolph told reporters when asked about his exchange of unpleasantries with the Thunder’s Kendrick Perkins after the Grizzlies’ 107-97 victory on Wednesday, Nov. 14, at Oklahoma City, and on national television no less.
Considering this win followed the 104-86 thumping the Grizzlies gave the defending NBA champion Miami Heat just three days earlier at FedExForum, there is a growing consensus:
The Grizzlies don’t bluff. They charge. They attack. They look to draw first blood.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks had said as much during the shootaround before the game when he told The Daily Oklahoman that the Grizzlies “play as physical as any team in the league. They have that hit-first mentality.”
It sounded like an echo from Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who said before his team’s game with the Grizzlies that the path to victory was direct and simple: “Win the line of scrimmage.”
The Heat tried their best to do just that, fronting Randolph and Marc Gasol. Randolph scored 18 points and had 12 rebounds. Gasol only scored 2 points but grabbed 10 rebounds and handed out six assists. No wonder that Brooks says Gasol is like a “point-center.”
Former Grizzly Shane Battier had the task of trying to guard Randolph.
“I’m a suburban cowboy, didn’t grow up on a farm,” Battier said. “But the closest analogy I can think of is trying to wrestle with a steer. Zach is a strong dude.”
That was evident again at OKC as Randolph notched his seventh double-double in as many games (20 points and 11 rebounds before he and Perkins were ejected for their verbal sparring); the Grizzlies won their sixth straight to improve to 6-1 on the season.
Rudy Gay led the Grizz in scoring with a season-high 28 points that included a personal 8-point run in the third quarter after the Thunder had sliced the lead to six points. As he has done all season, Gay effectively used space and his length to get shots over his defender. In this case Kevin Durant, who saw his season-best 34 points go to waste.
Gay also had 21 points against Miami, a fact overshadowed by Wayne Ellington’s career-best 27 points with 7-for-11 3-point shooting off the bench.
“You try to protect the paint against this team because they have so many guys that control the paint, especially with Z-Bo and Marc,” LeBron James said. “Those two guys work well off each other …
“Rudy Gay, I don’t like to say this because he’s so talented, but he’s like their third option. They’ve got a damn good team. And Mike Conley’s continuing to get better every game.”
All five Grizzlies starters, including the always tenacious Tony Allen, are on the league’s All-Star ballot. The idea of the Grizzlies as legitimate contenders to win the Western Conference is increasingly becoming a common idea.
“They’re in the conversation, no question,” Battier said. “There’s not a team in the league that they can’t match up with.”
The morning after the Grizzlies had defeated the Thunder, they even worked their way into the conversation on ESPN’s “First Take” with Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless. Smith called the Grizz “rough and rugged.” He also said, “They don’t try to be pretty. They know who they are … .”
Bayless pointed to the Grizzlies winning the second quarter by 21 points, noting that before the Thunder’s trade with Houston that was “(James) Harden time.”
Well, times change. As the Grizzlies were putting away the Heat at FedExForum, the huge video board focused on fans in Heat jerseys leaving early.
“I don’t think people are gonna stop being Heat fans,” Gay conceded. “But I think we gained a couple of more fans tonight. We’re kind of under the radar, but teams in the NBA definitely respect us. They don’t take us lightly and I think we kinda enjoy being under the radar. As long as people respect us, that’s all that matters.”