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VOL. 130 | NO. 84 | Thursday, April 30, 2015

Without Conley, Grizzlies Use Team Effort to Take Out Portland

By Don Wade

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Zach Randolph scored the first six points of the game – “throw it to the hand” being an immediate and excellent choice.

Marc Gasol contributed 26 points and 14 rebounds to the Grizzlies' 99-93 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers Wednesday, April 29. The Grizz now advance to the Western Conference semifinals against top-seeded Golden State.

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Marc Gasol finished with a double-double – 26 points and 14 rebounds – and afterward spoke of team defense being the key component in the victory, saying, “It’s always our key.”

Jeff Green was the just-in-time defensive weapon deployed on Portland guard C.J. McCollum, who scored a career-high 33 points and was in such a groove that he could have shot from the new underwater(-themed) bowling alley at Bass Pro Shops and got the ball to go through the hoop at FedExForum.

Tony Allen had one of his fill-the-stat-line nights with eight points, seven rebounds, five steals and four assists and Vince Carter played young.

And then there was that moment in the fourth quarter when the injured captain, Mike Conley, appeared on the big video board and the crowd went nuts and the Grizzlies got that one last push they needed to finish and win this game and end this first-round Western Conference playoff series.

“We felt the energy in the building,” Randolph said of Conley being shown on the Jumbotron as the Grizzlies closed out the game for a 99-93 victory. “He’s our leader. He’s our go-to guy. It definitely changed the game.”

After letting a 10-point fourth-quarter lead in Portland disappear in Game 4, the Grizzlies took care of business. Allen, for one, kept reminding himself he didn’t need to see Portland again for a Game 6.

“All I was thinking about during the game was that five-hour flight,” he said. “I had that sense of urgency that I was not going to be lackadaisical on any play today.”

Teammates seemed to be thinking the same way. Carter, for instance, didn’t hit any of the three 3-pointers he fired up, but he had a put-back dunk that raised the roof and saved a possession by diving to the floor to knock the ball off a Portland player.

Courtney Lee scored 20 points Wednesday, April 29, as the Memphis Grizzlies finished off the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 5 of the Western Conference playoff series.

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

“He was a big spark,” said guard Courtney Lee, who scored 20 points on an 8-for-12 shooting night. “The oldest guy out there had the most energy.”

As series-clinching wins go, this one was part celebration and part relief. The Grizzlies had won Game 3 after Conley went down in a collision suffering facial fractures near his left eye that ultimately required surgery; his status going forward is, at best, uncertain.

But the Grizzlies didn’t win Game 4 and so concern began to lurk around the fringes of Game 5. Concern was front and center as the Blazers were tied with the Grizzlies at 72-72 and just nine minutes left to play.

“We fought through some adversity and we just kept banging away and banging away,” said Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger. “We stopped executing a little bit in the third quarter. But down the stretch, we executed time-out plays. We got what we needed and how much can you say about Marc and Zach? They kept pounding it.”

Yes, they did. Randolph, who had 16 points and eight rebounds, said: “We score by rebounding and having a presence.”

Said Gasol: “The games get really physical, but it’s never personal.”

And yet to the thousands inside FedExForum, it must have felt personal as the Trail Blazers hung around. No team in the NBA has ever overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a series. That adds to the tension when the home team is leading 3-1 and it looks like it might become 3-2 if a couple of bounces go the wrong way.

But All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge did not get it going in Game 5 (14 points) and was inefficient in his shooting the entire series (37-of-112 for 25 percent).

“It’s disappointing,” Aldridge said of losing the series. “We saw it going differently.”

The Trail Blazers made the Grizzlies play one more game than they wanted to have to play, but that’s where their resistance ended.

The Grizzlies start their conference semifinals series with the top-seeded Golden State Warriors on Sunday in Oakland, Calif. But until then …

“It feels great to have a little time off,” Gasol said. “I’m going to do some things around the house. I’m going to have a little time to be with my little girl. So these next 24 hours, or least next 12 hours until the morning, (will be about rest and relaxation) until I have to get my mind on to Golden State.”

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