Z-Bo back. Photo by Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
After an epic post-game rant about Game 2's officiating that cost him $30,000, Memphis Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale made a couple adjustments before Game 3.
The most obvious of these also wound up being the most notable. Zach Randolph—the heart, soul, and clenched fist of the Memphis Grit n' Grind era—replaced JaMychal Green in the starting lineup in Game 3, and Z-Bo scored 21 points on 16 shots and grabbed eight rebounds. Memphis outscored the San Antonio Spurs by five points when he was on the floor. Memphis won,105-94, in large part because of Randolph's performance. It was a good story, for sure, but it's hard to know just what it means, yet. Why did Fizdale make this change, for one thing? And does it actually change anything for the series?
Heading into Game 3, the Grizzlies' offense averaged 120.5 points per 100 possessions with Green on the floor and an abysmal 80.7 with Randolph. Tiny sample sizes add a lot of noise to both those numbers, but it's still interesting that a head coach would (sorry) take that data and still make those changes. Fizdale 2, Data 0, I guess?
I think little more context is needed here, though. Gregg Popovich also made some interesting lineup decisions of his own in Game 3, and they were the type of moves no head coach without five championship rings in his back pocket would make with any confidence. In all likelihood, we won't be seeing them again in the series.
After San Antonio got outscored by five points in the opening 57 seconds of the third quarter, Popovich yanked the entire starting lineup and threw in five reserves. Kawhi Leonard played only 30 minutes; David Bertans played the entire fourth quarter.
Randolph was awesome, and Fizdale's decision to pair Z-Bo with Marc Gasol for as many minutes as he possibly could was smart; the Grizzlies outscored the Spurs by 33 points in 61 minutes, over four regular-season meetings, when Gasol and Randolph were both on the court. None of this solves the Grizzlies' weakness on the wing, or directly combats Leonard's unrelenting dominance, but those are awfully big asks.
This was an emotional move for an emotional game, and it worked. But the Spurs are still better than the Grizzlies, whether 35-year-old Zach Randolph is in the starting lineup or not.