Unmatched: Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol
Whom do we thank for this? Really?
Whom do we thank for giving us something we never expected to find in the most anticipated playoffs in recent memory and the best overall first round of this generation?
Whom do we thank for an overnight sensation 10 years in the making and a victim of "younger brother syndrome" taking the NBA by unexpected storm and making all of us rethink who might be the last team standing?
For a knockout combo that scores over 50 points, grabs over 20 rebounds and shoots over 60 percent while the team continues to win games it is predicted to lose?
Should we thank Rudy Gay? Indirectly? Thank him for the injury that removed him and his 19 points and six rebounds per game from the lineup? That injury forced coach Lionel Hollins to make Zach Randolph Option 1 and 1.5 in an offense that relied on Randolph to live up to his nickname, "20/10." While Gay was there, Randolph did not have to put the squad on his shoulders and carry it offensively down the stretch of every game.
Understand, Memphis -- at best -- was supposed to go the route of the New Orleans Hornets, who also entered this postseason without their second-best and second-most important player (David West). Memphis was supposed to just make it exciting. Go down with valor. Make victories moral, not actual.
But somehow Z-Bo (Randolph's "other" nickname) didn't get that memo. Either that or he just straight ignored the process of his own elimination (and knowing him, it's safe to say the latter is closer to the truth).
Now he has Kevin Durant calling him "the best power forward in the League." (To which Randolph agreed.) Now he has those who have not been paying attention to him over the last decade asking "Who is this?" and "Where did this come from?" For those folks just noticing, Randolph has averaged 17.6 points and 9.2 rebounds in his career, but he's never had a real chance to show this off in May.
Should we thank the Lakers? If it weren't for the trade to get Pau Gasol, "Marc in Memphis" probably never would have happened. (Note: The Lakers actually drafted Marc in 2007, but gave Memphis his draft rights as part of the trade to get Pau.)
When the trade went down three years ago, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich (how ironic is this?) put into words what many simply didn't have the opportunity or nerve to say out loud: "What they did in Memphis is beyond comprehension. There should be a trade committee that can scratch all trades that make no sense. I just wish I had been on a trade committee that oversees NBA trades. I would have voted no to the L.A. trade."
Shortsighted analysis being 20/200, it was easy to look at that trade and see how it was going to benefit the Lakers and pay no attention to how it would one day help the Grizzlies. But then again, really, who knew Marc Gasol three years deep into his NBA career was going to turn out like this?
But by looking directly at the Lakers, the Griz were able to see how putting someone like Pau -- a unique and untraditional power forward with a true ability to score -- alongside a young promising potential-laden center could bring out the best in that center.
And verse visa. As we are witnessing.
Or should we just thank Randolph and Gasol? The duo has assumed the role that belonged to Russell Westbrook and Durant this time last year. Two players that have emerged from shadows: Gasol, his brother's; Randolph, his own.
None of us can say we were warned. There was no way to see this coming. Not these two, not together, not like this. Outside of the only place in America where they still worship Keith Lee, nobody would have Randolph and Gasol at the top a list of great tandems that have the ability to carry a team deep in the playoffs.
In seven short games, they have become the biggest matchup problem left for other NBA teams to figure out. They've snuck up on the NBA like "The Hangover" snuck up on Hollywood. But no one's laughing at them anymore.
Game recognizing game? No. This is "game complementing game" at the highest level. At the playoff level. At the "they may be more dangerous than Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum" level. At the "this might be the best 8-seed in NBA history" level.
Which if they prove that to be true, if Zach and Marc continue to eliminate teams with higher seeds, saying "thanks" may not come close to being enough.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.
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