TERESA M. WALKER
AP Sports Writer
Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are proving to be a tough tag team.
They almost seem to be taking turns scoring, whether it's Randolph with his layups and putbacks or Gasol with his hooks and jumpers. The duo has helped Memphis dominate inside and take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series with a chance to eliminate the Los Angeles Clippers.
It's a flashback to 2011 when Memphis upset No. 1 seed San Antonio before pushing Oklahoma City to seven games in the semifinals playing through the big men.
"I've been fortunate as a coach to have two premier post players," Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. "And we can go inside, they can play outside. Both of them can pass the ball, and it's a luxury not many coaches have and I'm thankful for that."
Game 6 is Friday night in Memphis.
The Grizzlies had to go with their big men in 2011 because leading scorer Rudy Gay was sidelined by a shoulder injury. A year ago, Randolph played but was limited as he returned from a knee injury that kept him out much of the shortened season. He struggled to score as the Clippers took that series in seven games.
Then new ownership traded Gay to Toronto on Jan. 30, choosing to go with Gasol and Randolph for the franchise's third straight playoff run. They started slow as Memphis lost the first two games in Los Angeles.
Now Randolph is averaging 20.4 points with Gasol scoring 18.8 points per game after a 103-93 win in Los Angeles on Tuesday night. They have helped the Grizzlies grab the rebounding edge in each of the past three wins, and Memphis has an NBA-best 83 second-chance points this postseason. The Grizzlies are averaging 45.2 points in the paint in this series.
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said Randolph and Gasol control everything.
"Their timing with their high-low is so good because Gasol puts so much pressure on you as a big if you don't pressure him, he shoots the basketball," Del Negro said. "And if you do, now Zach has the one-on-one seal because they lift the other side. You know that's why they won as many games as they did during the regular season and why they're different with that matchup."
It certainly is an odd couple with Gasol the 7-foot-1 Spaniard and Randolph from Marion, Ind., the man with the troubled reputation on his fourth team after the Clippers traded him to the Grizzlies in 2009. They work well together with Randolph pushing and shoving for position under the basket with Gasol defending the lane.
They've each taken turns as All Stars with Randolph in 2011 before Gasol went in 2012 and Randolph again this season. Randolph was in the front row last week as Gasol received the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year award, and Randolph compares the man nicknamed "Big Spain" to a former teammate, Arvydas Sabonis, with more skills.
Gasol said they just have to get the ball to Randolph in the right spots, the closer to the basket the better.
"He can hit anything he wants to," Gasol said of Randolph.
Gasol scored 18 of his 24 points in the second half of Game 4, following up Randolph who had 16 of his 24 in the first half. In Game 5, Gasol scored key baskets in the third on his way to 21 points, while Randolph scored 10 of his 25 in the fourth with Gasol on the bench with five fouls. Randolph said Gasol just knows when to keep feeding him the ball or take shots himself.
"His I.Q. is just tremendous," Randolph said.
Gasol at times almost looks too unselfish, and Hollins said the Spaniard simply is a team player who tends to defer to his teammates. Hollins had to remind Gasol at halftime of Game 4 that they couldn't rely on Randolph the entire game. That's when Randolph came out looking for his shot.
"Sometimes he doesn't realize the value we placed on him to score," Hollins said. "I think he looks at it he just goes out there and plays and tries to play to win. Doing that sometimes it calls for him to score."
So many NBA teams like to go small, spread the floor to shoot 3-pointers. Hollins said Wednesday that's great when the 3s go down. Missed shots also don't help a team get to the free throw line or get second chances, and that's why he likes the opportunities Gasol and Randolph afford him as coach with the higher percentage shots and offensive rebounds.
Both Gasol and Randolph are equally adept at passing to the open shooter when opponents try to double down on them.
"The two big guys have carried us," Hollins said.
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