By Jeff McDonald
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis’ Zach Randolph toed the 3-point stripe late in Game 3 on Saturday, out of his range, his element and maybe his mind. Only two people in a pulsing FedEx Forum had an idea of what was about to go down.
One of them was Randolph. The other was George Hill.
“He practices that shot all summer long,” said Hill, the Spurs guard and a frequent offseason workout partner of Randolph’s in Indianapolis. “He can shoot it well.”
Randolph’s rare 3-pointer, the defining basket in a 91-88 Grizzlies victory that perhaps has swung this first-round series, gave Memphis a five-point lead with 41.9 seconds to go.
It set the stage for an ending nobody in the arena could have seen coming.
A game that began with in-house fireworks ended with a whimper, with Manu Ginobili pinned in the corner, unable to squeeze off a shot as time expired.
The Spurs down by three, Tim Duncan was trying to call ?time out during the scramble, which began when Hill snatched a Randolph miss ? with 5.9 seconds remaining.
“I should have been all over the referee to get the time, and I didn’t notice,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “That was my fault.”
Randolph had 25 points, and Marc Gasol chipped in 17 as the Grizzlies seized a 2-1 series lead.
And now, a Memphis team that earlier claimed the first postseason win in club history and followed with its first home playoff win Saturday, stands halfway to becoming the second eighth seed in the best-of-7 era to topple a No. 1.
Duncan summed Game 3 up this way: “Things just didn’t go right.”
Almost from the start.
The night began with a sellout crowd of 18,119, just the fifth of the season at FedEx Forum, whipped into a towel-waving froth. Professional wrestler Jerry Lawler and pregame pyrotechnics only added to the hysteria.
The Spurs did not handle the moment well at first. Duncan opened the game by airballing a free throw, and it would be the second half before things got better. Manhandled again by the bruising Memphis frontline, the Spurs trailed by as many as 15 in the first half.
“In the first 24 minutes, we went through the paces while they were out there playing their ass off,” Popovich said.
The Spurs came back, despite seven third-quarter turnovers, including four from the struggling Tony Parker. After trailing for all of the second and third quarters, the Spurs twice tied the game in the fourth. Then, everything went sideways on them.
Memphis coach Lionel Hollins declined to reveal exactly what he was looking for out of a timeout, up two with 56.7 seconds left, but it is certain he didn’t mean for the play to end with Randolph nearly dribbling out the shot clock 26 feet from the basket.
During the regular season, Randolph had tried 43 3-pointers, making just eight — a paltry 18.6 percent. Floating near Randolph on the perimeter, Duncan had a sense of the math.
“I didn’t assume that was in his arsenal,” Duncan said.
By then, Randolph didn’t have a choice but to let the ball fly.
“It felt good when it left my hands,” he said.
That made it 91-86 Memphis, but Ginobili — who had 23 points — followed with a pair of free throws, and after Randolph missed another jumper, Hill grabbed the rebound.
In lieu of calling time out and setting up a play with about five seconds left, Hill pushed the ball ahead to Ginobili, who got stuck between Gasol and Mike Conley as the horn sounded.
“I thought I had a little more time, but it seems that I didn’t,” Ginobili said.
In terms of the series, the Spurs do still have time, but it is rapidly running out.
“Bottom line is somebody’s got to win four games,” Duncan said. “Whoever gets there first is the winner.”
If, stunningly, that turns out to be the Grizzlies, Randolph’s rainbow — the one only two people saw coming — could be the lasting image.