With just over three minutes minutes left in Game 5, Zach Randolph held the ball and sized up LaMarcus Aldridge at the right elbow. Randolph gave Aldridge a couple jab steps before sinking a jumper over Aldridge’s outstretched arms.
Randolph turned and had some words for the Portland bench after the shot before rumbling his way down the court. Aldridge walked toward the sideline as his coach Terry Stotts called timeout, looking helpless.
The sequence served as a microcosm for the series between the Grizzlies and Blazers, which Memphis ended Wednesday night with a 99-93 win. Marc Gasol led the Grizzlies with 26 points, while Courtney Lee added 20.
Aldridge struggled, scoring only 14 points on 5-of-18 shooting, and the injured, helpless Blazers couldn’t pick up the slack.
[daily_cut.NBA]The Grizzlies did have to survive a career performance from C.J. McCollum, who performed admirably amid struggles from Arron Afflalo and Damian Lillard. McCollum finished with a career-high 33 points in 39 minutes, with seven of his 12 field goals coming from three-point range.
Afflalo played 14 minutes and only recorded a turnover in the stat sheet. Lillard’s series came to a merciful end, as he was exposed on defense throughout, and he had another tough shooting night Wednesday. He finished with 22 points on 8-of-19 shooting.
Memphis will head to the second round to take on the Golden State Warriors, a brutal matchup made even tougher by the injury to Grizzlies starting point guard Mike Conley. Conley left Game 4 with a facial injury, and it’s still unclear when he will return to action.
Nick Calathes got the majority of minutes at point guard for Memphis on Wednesday, while Beno Udrih had his moments earlier in the series. Although both have filled in admirably, matching up either against Stephen Curry could quickly sink the Grizzlies’ chances of advancing.
For Portland, the playoffs were kind of over before they even began. The team’s title hopes were dashed once Wes Matthews’s season ended with a torn Achilles. Afflalo was acquired at the trade deadline to shore up the team’s bench, but never fit in well as Matthews's replacement.
Already without Matthews, Portland also lost Afflalo for the first two games of the series, while Chris Kaman and Aldridge dealt with their own injuries.
Now, the team faces serious decisions in the off-season. Matthews and Aldridge can leave the team this summer in free agency. The Blazers have surely been closely monitoring Matthews’s recovery, but they will have to figure out a fair contract offer in addition to other teams chasing him.
Aldridge, who earlier in the season expressed interest in finishing his career in Portland, cooled on those comments once the playoffs began. He will command a max deal on the open market, and a few of those offers could come from the Mavericks, Rockets and Spurs which hail from Aldridge’s home state.
Afflalo also has an option for next season, although he becomes more expendable with the emergence of McCollum, whose performance in the playoffs was at least one positive takeaway for the Trail Blazers.
Portland and Memphis loaded up midseason in hopes of a deep run, with the Grizzlies adding Jeff Greenat the trade deadline. Portland’s season is already over. Now, Memphis has the unenviable task of unseating Golden State as its starting point guard recovers from injury.
For both teams, the series is over, and only more challenges lie ahead.