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Fran Blinebury

Zach Randolph
Zach Randolph raises his hand in triumph as Manu Ginobili walks off the court at the end of Game 3.
Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images

Grizzlies prove they belong in playoffs with Game 3 win

Posted Apr 24 2011 12:46AM

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Before the clock ran down and the shot went up, there were probably a zillion different things that you thought might happen.

"Not that, man!" said Mike Conley.

Perhaps a UFO sighting. Or maybe Elvis riding out to midcourt on a unicorn.

Not this, man!

With the shot clock ticking away and Tim Duncan backing away, Zach Randolph simply let fly with a 26-foot rainbow that put an as-pretty-as-a-picture bow on a game that was rougher and tougher than a bar fight.

Conley just shook his head and laughed.

It was the kind of finish that had 18,119 bodies crammed inside the FedEx Forum vibrating like tuning forks from the time they stepped inside the building.

It was an ending that sent Randolph doing a little two-step shuffle down the court. "My win-win dance," he said.

It was an ending that brought the entire white-towel waving throng to its nervous-as-a-cat-drinking-espresso feet and brought the entire Grizzlies team out for an impromptu post-game huddle on the court after their first-ever playoff victory at home.

It was another ending where the Grizzlies slipped a clutch last-minute dagger into the sides of the Spurs just at the time in the past when they probably would have sliced off their own fingers.

It was the kind of playoff ending that the city of the blues and everyone connected with the franchise had been waiting 10 years to see since the Grizzlies relocated from Vancouver to Memphis.

But while the joyful raucous that spilled outside and onto Beale Street until all hours of the morning celebrated a glorious finish, the truth is the real thing to rejoice might well have been a beginning.

The Grizzlies are no longer Bermuda-shorts-wearing, camera-toting tourists any longer, just gawking at the playoffs sights. Now they've taken a 2-1 series lead on the Spurs, and they're starting to feel they belong.

"I'll tell you what will help the Memphis Grizzlies' reputation nationally: win this series," said team owner Michael Heisley amid a joyous, but not overwhelmed locker room scene. "We've gotten over the thing where you can get by winning a game or winning two games. The only way you go now is by winning one series and then another series and really be a contender for the championship.

"I mean, we have passed all of those things that we used to have hanging over us. This team is the second youngest team in the NBA. This team should basically be a contender for the next six to eight years in the NBA and maybe longer. I'm just saying, with what we've got as a nucleus, we should be a contender in this league for a long time."

Heisley wouldn't likely get an argument from the Spurs, who've been around the playoff block a few teams and haven't often been mugged so consistently and unmercifully. There was Tony Parker trying to do his cruising down the Champs Elysees drives to the hoop and getting tripped or shoved of flattened and winding up one his belly or his face. There was Manu Ginobili making his jitterbug forays through the paint and getting hip-checked or body slammed to the floor.

The difference between the Grizzlies first NBA playoff appearance at the old Pyramid back in 2004 and now is that they are no longer happy just to be here.

"I think that's a fair assessment," said Shane Battier. "After winning Game 1, I think we got the city saying, 'Oh wait a minute, we have a shot to compete in this series.' The first game in the Pyramid, we were down 2-0 and had two ugly losses. This was the culmination of a long journey to really bring the Grizzlies to the city."

Actually, it was more like the overdue consummation of bringing the city to the Grizzlies, who probably understand more of what they're capable of doing than they let on.

"This is fun. It feels great," said Marc Gasol. "But we know we only have tonight to enjoy, because there is more work to do."

"It's a long way from being finished," said Tony Allen, who gave the arena its nickname of "The Grind House" and all of the workmanlike, stone-crushing images that it conjures up.

For a No. 1 seed vs. No. 8 seed series that is traditionally supposed to be lopsided, you could barely slide a butter knife into the gap separating the Grizzlies from the Spurs.

To make matters worse for San Antonio, the Grizzlies are beating them with a mirror image of their own selves. This used to be the Spurs, living on defense and determination, zeroing in on their opponents' offensive strengths and squeezing the life out of them the way a python wraps up its prey before making it dinner.

Suddenly, the new offensive-minded Spurs are the ones left breathless. The best 3-point shooting team during the regular season went just 2-for-15 in Game 3 and is just 15-for-47 behind the arc in the series. After Parker got to the rim and drew foul after foul in the opener, he made just 1 of his first 8 shots and finished 5-for-14 on the night. He was dazed and confused. The Spurs who pushed the tempo and scored at will for most of the season now might as well be trying to push basketballs through the eye of a needle against the Grizzlies.

"It was another backyard game," said Allen. "That's pullin', grabbin', scratchin, divin' on loose balls, takin' charges. Nobody wants to lose. Helluva ending."

Maybe even a more impressive beginning.

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