MEMPHIS – Still gasping for air moments after arguably the Grizzlies’ biggest win of the season, Jaren Jackson Jr. had two priorities as he placed a huge home victory over LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers into proper perspective.
First, Jackson saluted the festive fans at FedExForum for the spark they provided to push the Grizzlies to that 108-95 triumph after they overcame an early deficit to ultimately pull away.
And then, with the full sense of Thursday’s accomplishment yet to set in, Jackson turned the page to the next big opportunity his franchise and its fans face back in the building on Saturday.
“It’s Z-Bo Day…let’s turn up!” an ecstatic Jackson shouted into the camera as he was interviewed on the court during the Grizzlies postgame broadcast. “Shoutout to Z-Bo. That’s my brother. It says a lot (to beat the Lakers). But we’re going to need the fans for the next one, for sure. This means nothing without the fans.”
Jackson’s call to action comes with the Grizzlies (15-11) amid their best stretch of the season, playing with a brand of rugged and relentless effort synonymous with one of the greatest legends to ever wear the team’s uniform.
The Grizzlies have won six of their last seven games and sit fourth in the Western Conference standings as they enter Saturday’s game against the surprisingly surging Houston Rockets. But that night’s spotlight will shine on beloved former Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph, who will become the franchise’s first player to have his jersey retired and lifted to the rafters.
Jackson considers Randolph his “big brother” in so many ways.
Shoutout to Z-Bo. That’s my brother. It says a lot (to beat the Lakers). But we’re going to need the fans for the next one, for sure. This means nothing without the fans.
Both played at Michigan State under long-time coach Tom Izzo nearly two decades apart.
Both ended up anchoring the power forward position in Memphis for the Grizzlies. Randolph’s bruising, low-post dominance rooted the ‘Grit & Grind’ Grizzlies through the franchise’s most successful stretch in history with seven straight playoff berths, including a trip to the 2012 Western Conference Finals. A two-time NBA All-Star during his 17 seasons, Randolph averaged 16.6 points and 9.1 rebounds in 1,116 games for five teams. His greatest impact – on and off the court – was in Memphis with the Grizzlies for eight seasons from 2009 through 2017.
Randolph embraced everything about his role in Memphis. He thrived at snagging key rebounds and making clutch shots in playoff games. He strived at paying utility bills for disadvantaged Memphis residence and donating pandemic relief resources to Shelby County Schools.
I might cry, man, because I was a statistic, man. I was coming from a bad place. I came from nothing, you know. So, for me to be where I’m at and to accomplish what I did, to get the love every time I come back to Memphis…that kind of genuine love, it don’t always happen like that. You know how it is, man. It’s Grit & Grind for life.
When first informed his No. 50 jersey would be retired – as eventually will those of his Core Four teammates Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Marc Gasol – Randolph was overcome with emotion. He could only imagine what he’d feel on that ceremonial night on the court.
That night arrives Saturday in a postgame tribute unlike any ever planned at FedExForum.
“Oh my goodness – a poor kid from Marion, Indiana, came from a poor, single-parent home, the oldest of four siblings, mother on welfare…oh, man. Wow!” Randolph told Grind City Media recently “I might cry, man, because I was a statistic, man. I was coming from a bad place. I came from nothing, you know. So, for me to be where I’m at and to accomplish what I did, to get the love every time I come back to Memphis…that kind of genuine love, it don’t always happen like that. You know how it is, man. It’s Grit & Grind for life.”
Meanwhile, Jackson is currently steering the ‘NxtGen’ Grizzlies through a bit of a renaissance defensively. After ranking last or near the bottom among the NBA’s 30 teams in defensive rating through the season’s first 20 games, the Grizzlies have flipped the script to win six of their last seven games. And of those six wins, they’ve held five opponents below 100 points.
Are we going to play to our standard…and how are we going to continue to find our way over 48 minutes? Obviously (Thursday’s victory) was a standard-type win, something I would definitely point to. But they know me. I’m just going to turn the page to the next one and say, ‘Hey guys, we’ve just got to keep getting better.’
Memphis entered the weekend ranked No. 1 in the NBA in defensive rating since Nov. 28. That surge was capped by Thursday’s performance when the Grizzlies recorded a season-high 18 steals and scored 27 points off 22 Los Angeles turnovers. The Grizzlies are back ranked among the league’s leaders in steals, rebounds and deflections – all categories they excelled in last season.
Remarkably, they’ve done it with several key players sidelined over the past two weeks. Franchise catalyst and leading scorer Ja Morant remains out with a knee injury and veteran swingman and defensive stopper Dillon Brooks is currently in the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Productive reserves Brandon Clarke and Ziaire Williams are also out with injuries.
Yet the resilient Grizzlies continue to find a way to push forward with collective effort.
“It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, where you’re playing, what happened the games before and all of that stuff,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said of his team’s recent turnaround. “Are we going to play to our standard…and how are we going to continue to find our way over 48 minutes? Obviously (Thursday’s victory) was a standard-type win, something I would definitely point to. But they know me. I’m just going to turn the page to the next one and say, ‘Hey guys, we’ve just got to keep getting better.’”
That sounds exactly like something Randolph would say after a big performance.
Fittingly for the Grizzlies, that next one comes Saturday – Z-Bo Day.
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