Scott Brooks was asked Friday which Western Conference players would make his cut as All-Star reserves. The Thunder coach jokingly asked which team was next on the schedule.
Almost immediately, Brooks then made sure he included Memphis forward Zach Randolph.
Think that'll convince “Z-Bo” to go easy on the Thunder tonight? Not much else has worked against the Grizzlies' bruiser.
Before Tuesday night, Randolph had quietly become one of the Thunder's biggest thorns. In the Grizzlies' 110-105 win over the Thunder four days ago at FedEx Forum, though, Randolph exploded for his best game yet against OKC, effectively establishing himself as a perennial pest.
Randolph scored 31 points with 16 rebounds, both game-highs, and made 11 of 20 shots from the field while swishing nine of 10 free throws.
Now, as the teams prepare for a rapid rematch inside Oklahoma City Arena tonight at 7, the key for the Thunder will be how it handles the Grizzlies' 6-foot-9, 260-pound power forward.
“We have to limit his catches as much as we can,” Brooks said. “He's as strong as anybody in the league at that spot. He just knows how to score down there. It's not just against us. He does it against the league. We just have to use our quickness. We have to get in front of him and try to avoid the easy catches that he gets.”
In six career games against the Thunder, Randolph has averaged 24.5 points and 14.3 rebounds while shooting 45.8 percent from the field. The Grizzlies are 4-2 in those games.
On Tuesday, Randolph helped Memphis out-rebound Oklahoma City 42-31, including 12-3 on the offensive end. The Grizzlies racked up 54 points in the paint and outscored the Thunder 18-8 in second-chance points.
“They had their way with us inside,” Brooks said.
Most disturbing was how Randolph bulldozed his way through Thunder forward Jeff Green. Randolph had eight points and six rebounds after one quarter and sat on 16 points and 11 rebounds at halftime.
Green, meanwhile, finished without a single rebound and scored just eight points on 1-for-5 shooting. It was only the third time in Green's career that he failed to grab a rebound — the first time since Jan. 29, 2008, Green's rookie season.
“That wasn't Jeff,” Brooks said.
Green's shot at redemption comes tonight, but his teammates insist that stopping Randolph takes a team effort.
“He's just relentless,” said Thunder reserve forward Nick Collison, who along with center Nenad Krstic is also expected to draw minutes against Randolph.
Collison and crew spent Tuesday's game fronting Randolph and trying to force a poor pass over the top. In the rare instances that the Thunder found success with that strategy, preventing Memphis from making a pass, Randolph would simply rotate to the opposite block and re-post there.
“Zach thrives on you relaxing and then stepping in and sealing you,” Collison said. “Or (waiting for you to) relax and knocking you off from rebounds. So it's a game that you have to be on and be connected to him the whole game.”
Guard pressure, Collison said, also is key.
“The guy can't just be able to throw a laser pass to him,” Collison said. “You need that second of hesitation on the guard's part to be able to fight around him.
“We need to be the aggressors on the defensive end. We need to affect what they're doing. We need to be able to affect them and push them back so they can't be the ones attacking us.”
Thunder vs. Grizzlies When: 7 p.m. Saturday Where: Oklahoma City Arena TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD Ch. 722) Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM THREE THINGS TO KNOW *This is the second of four meetings between the teams. The Thunder lost, 110-105, to the Grizzlies on Tuesday at FedEx Forum. *Memphis played Utah on Friday night. The Grizzlies are 5-6 on the second night of back-to-backs this season. *The Thunder is 18-4 when scoring at least 100 points. The Grizzlies are 2-14 when they allow at least 100 points.