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Fran Blinebury

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Marc Gasol (left) and Zach Randolph (right) celebrate another road playoff win against a top seed.
Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images

Behind Randolph, the Grizzlies are no longer Cinderellas


Posted May 1 2011 8:20PM

OKLAHOMA CITY -- No hugging and celebrating. No cute little dance steps at midcourt.

Just business.

No confetti raining down from the rafters. No music blaring from the loudspeakers.

Just business.

No owner in the locker room offering handshakes and taking bows. No fancy-bowed gift baskets of wine and cheese and chocolate waiting in every locker stall.

All business.

It was just another day at work when the Grizzlies punched the clock and then punched out the Thunder 114-101.

The Grizzlies might as well be coal miners swinging pick-axes, longshoremen loading ships down on the docks, day laborers hauling sacks of concrete at a construction site.

"It's the way we play," said Zach Randolph.

"It's who we are," said Mike Conley.

The Grizzlies are no longer the No. 8 seed, just happy to be here. Now they're the demon seed, capable of unspeakable acts.

The Grizzlies have quickly outgrown that cute puppy stage where you want to rub their chins and give them a treat for showing off a new trick. Now they're Cujo and they might chew your leg off.

That's what happened to the Thunder, who, just for the record, did build one lead in the game, at 2-0. Then it was virtually all Grizzlies all of the time.

Let the rest of the world be surprised that Memphis has taken another 1-0 lead on the road in a playoff series.

"That's the nature of our society," said Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins. "They only know people after they do something. They don't go find people and say they're going to do something unless they've done it at another level. It's nice to see our guys get recognition for the hard work they've put in.

"We don't care how anybody thinks about us or how they rate us. Being the 8-seed means nothing. I mean, last year, the 8-seed (OKC) won 50 games. It wouldn't have been an upset if they beat a 1-seed. I think you have to just go play."

As much as any of the eight teams still alive in the playoffs, that is what the Grizzlies have been most successful doing -- keep playing with their their attitude and their style, which is straight ahead.

They pound the ball down into the post to Randolph and Marc Gasol to initiate their inside-out game and let Conley and Tony Allen and Sam Young and Shane Battier and O.J. Mayo and Darrell Arthur slash to the basket. They chase rebounds as if they were bouncing gold krugerrands and converted 11 offensive boards in the second half into 22 oh-no-you-won't-get-back-into-this second-half points.

Until Randolph (34 points, 10 rebounds) tires himself out or somebody brings him down with a tranquilizer dart, maybe it's fantasy to think he can be defended. Z-Bo has become undefinable as he moves from bull moves under the bucket to a long-range jumper that has a softer touch than a butterfly's wings.

Kevin Durant conceded that Randolph is unstoppable and called him the best power forward in the league.

"I gotta agree with that. Thanks, K.D.," said a beaming Z-Bo.

But the Grizzlies are not merely riding the talent of a virtuoso performer. They're passing and moving the ball through their offense and going after anything that moves on defense.

The league's leading scorer Durant may have finished with 33 points, but the next wide open look he gets at the basket will be his first. That is the same tack the Grizzlies took in the preceding round when they turned San Antonio's No. 1-ranked 3-point attack to Jell-O.

Westbrook was able to put up 29 points, eight rebounds and six assists. But there were his seven turnovers out of a team total of 18 that show how the Grizzlies are always reaching and slapping on every drive to the hoop.

Two weeks ago in San Antonio, it took a providential 3-point shot from Shane Battier with 23.9 seconds left on the clock for the Grizzlies to stun the Spurs. This time they cold-cocked the Thunder, opening up a five-point lead in the first quarter, a 13-point lead in the second and a 17-point lead early in the fourth.

"This is our style, our game," said the wild-card Allen. "Ain't nothin' new about what we're doin'."

All of the "firsts" are now behind them -- first playoff game win, first win before a sellout home crowd in the playoffs, first playoff series win. On Sunday they even put one more notch on the franchise belt -- first-ever game on network national television and it just so happened that their old coach, Hubie Brown, was at courtside to call it.

"That's pretty cool," Battier said. "It's fun to reach milestones, but the challenge is to keep building. That's what playoff basketball is all about.

"Every game we got better in the Spurs series and it's no different in Round Two. You have to understand who the Thunder are and grow as a team and get better every quarter."

Each time the Thunder made a run at them, the Grizzlies growled and roared back. Even when coach Scott Brooks went to a small lineup and the legendary OKC Arena crowd reached a crescendo, the Grizzlies never let the lead shrink to less than seven.

"We are a team the nation hasn't seen, but we're a pretty good team," Randolph said. "We believe. We definitely believe. Our confidence is up high. I tell the guys that we can play with anybody. "

This is no longer a Cinderella story, unless you can envision the belle of the ball waltzing in work boots.

"No more making history with little goals," said Conley. "We had that fun."

Now they mean business.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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