MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Miami Heat have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The Spurs have dominated for years with the trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Now the Memphis Grizzlies, who traded their leading scorer in January, have surged into their first Western Conference finals behind an unlikely Big Three of their own.
Marc Gasol still is Pau’s little brother to some. Memphis thought about trading guard Mike Conley, the son of a track star, early in his career. And Memphis is Zach Randolph’s fourth NBA team.
“Me, Marc and Zach, we all tried to take the team and put them on our back and say, ‘Hey, this is what we’re going to do. This is what we’ve got to do to be great and get to where we want to go,”’ Conley said Friday. “We knew we had to step up, and we all did that.”
That they have.
The Grizzlies never won a playoff series with Gay on the court. When they beat the Spurs in the first round in 2011, it came with Gay sidelined by an injury.
Even though Memphis traded Gay on Jan. 30 to Toronto in salary-cutting move, he wound up as the Grizzlies’ leading scorer with 17.2 points in the regular season. But the shots Gay took largely have been split among Conley, Gasol and Randolph, and they have helped Memphis win eight of nine playoff games to finish off first the Clippers, then the Thunder.
And Memphis is the only team in the NBA this postseason with three scorers in the top 20. Not the Spurs. Not the Heat.
Now Conley and Randolph can agree that the trade wound up helping the Grizzlies.
“At first, it was some different thoughts, even myself and some of my teammates,” Randolph said. “But after a while, it was, ‘OK, this is our identity. We got an identity. Guys are going to stay in their roles.’ ... It ended up being good.”