MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Zach Randolph got the ball, set his feet, saw that Tim Duncan was less concerned with him taking the 26-foot jumper than seemingly anything else in the world, and so the Grizzlies' best player let a low-percentage shot fly through the air.
Have you ever felt an entire city cringe?
|More on Spurs at Grizzlies|
It happened here at FedExForum late Saturday.
"It felt good when it left my hand," Randolph said with a smile. Never mind that this was the final minute of a one-possession game in a tied series that history and all sorts of statistics suggest should decide the outcome. Z-Bo was open and the shot clock was winding down. So Randolph took the shot, and a sellout crowd of 18,119 collectively cringed.
"I was getting ready to go for the rebound ... but he made it," said Marc Gasol. "Nothing but net."
And then nothing but pandemonium.
Randolph's 3-pointer with 41.9 seconds remaining gave Memphis a five-point lead it never relinquished. The 91-88 victory gives the eighth-seeded Grizzlies a 2-1 advantage in this best-of-7 series against the top-seeded Spurs. It was a surprising and trajectory-changing moment for this franchise that's been an afterthought for most of its 10 years in Memphis -- first playing second fiddle to John Calipari's Tigers, then to Josh Pastner's.
The Grizzlies have never been able to win a lottery. Or draft and keep a superstar. Or take a playoff game ... until last Sunday, which is why Game 3 was widely viewed as the most significant NBA game to ever be played in this city, and that was before Randolph hit his game-winning shot.
Every ticket was sold 48 hours in advance. "GrowlTowels" were placed on each seat. Local icon Jerry "The King" Lawler took the microphone minutes before tipoff and put things in wrestling terms Memphians could understand. "It's time to pile drive San Antonio!" Lawler yelled, and everybody waved those white towels.
It was that kind of night -- part event, part game.
And then the Grizzlies -- the eighth-seeded Grizzlies -- took a 15-point lead.
"Memphis did a great job," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. "They had a great game plan and they jumped on us early."
Predictably, the Spurs clawed back like any self-respecting 61-win team would. They did so with Manu Ginobili's 23 points and Duncan's 10 rebounds, and thanks to some costly turnovers (and bad shots that equate to turnovers) that Memphis couldn't avoid. The score was tied 80-80 with a little more than five minutes remaining, and it was 88-86 in the final minute. But then Randolph got the ball, set his feet, and saw that Duncan didn't expect him to let it fly.
"I didn't assume that was in his arsenal at that point of the game," Duncan said.
(Here's the translated version of that quote: "I can't believe he took that #$@#&$@ shot.")
"He hit a 3 from that range," Duncan said. "It was a great shot."
And it's the shot that propelled the Grizzlies to a 2-1 advantage in this best-of-7 series, and it should be noted that roughly three out of every four teams in NBA history that win Game 3 to take a 2-1 advantage in a best-of-seven series go on to win the series. Also worth noting: The Duncan-era Spurs have never won a series after dropping two of the first three with home-court advantage. So ...
"We don't care about those statistics," Gasol said, and, really, what else could he say? This is no time for an underdog team to get confident, no time for an underdog franchise to try to switch roles. Still, what happened here late Saturday changed the way people locally and nationally are looking at this series, and it might just change the way the Western Conference Playoffs unfold, too.
Suddenly, anything seems possible.
Suddenly, topping the Spurs seems realistic.
"We've still got miles to go," Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. "But I'm happy we're where we are."