The Memphis Grizzlies are only the fourth 8 seed to win a playoff series, and only the second team to win a 1st round best-of-7 match up. They defeated the Spurs in 6 games and have gotten out to a 1-0 lead over the Thunder. (Keep in mind the title of this post is Why The Grizzlies Could Win It All and not Why The Grizzlies Will Win It All, if I wanted more shock value I would have said that, but I don’t believe it, so why lie to you?) Regardless, the Grizzlies, even without Rudy Gay, are a team that is feared by their opponents.
Coming into this post season the Grizzlies had a 0-12 franchise record in the playoffs. They never sniffed the second season while in Vancouver, but got there three straight years in Memphis (2003-2006) only to be swept each time. After four years of no playoffs, the Grizz went 46-36 this year (same record as the 7 seed Hornets) and were awarded with the last seed in the West.
Their young star Rudy Gay (20 pts, 6 rebs, 3 asts this season) only played in 54 games as a shoulder injury cost him the rest of the year. The idea that Memphis could be a pesky 1st round opponent seemingly went out the window with Gay’s injury. However, when the regular season came to an end and the match up of #1 Spurs vs. #8 Grizzlies was official, some, like TNT’s Charles Barkley, thought that Memphis would beat the aging and banged up Spurs. But can they keep going?
Memphis is 5-2 in the playoffs. They proved they can win on the road (victories in both San Antonio and Oklahoma City) and they are a perfect 3-0 at the FedEx Forum in Memphis. They have a combination of young guys and veterans. It’s clear that they feel like they belong. Obviously the notion that they would be satisfied with one upset is false thanks to their Game 1 performance in OKC.
How do they do it? It starts with Zach Randolph. A guy who put up 20-10s throughout his career on bad teams. He was labeled a clubhouse cancer, waste of money, etc. Whether it was Portland, New York, or his brief stay with the Clippers, it seemed like no buddy wanted his production because of his attitude. Well it’s working in Memphis; after they won their 1st playoff game (Game 1 vs. San Antonio) the team announced they had inked Z-Bo to a multi-year extension. And how about this for a complement, All-Star and 2-time NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant said that Randolph is the best power forward in the league today.
Whether that is true or not (Dirk & Pau are pretty good) it is incredibly high praise and it’s not an outlandish statement anymore. The combo of Randolph and Marc Gasol has been absolutely devastating. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins will have to slow those guys down if the Thunder are going to win this series. If not, Randolph-Gasol vs. Gasol-Bynum-Odom in the next round would be worth the price of admission.
So the 8 seed Grizzlies, have an advantage in most series at the 4-5 spot, they get great rebounding and scoring from those positions. Point guard Mike Conley has gotten better in each of his 4 years in the NBA. He’s no Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, or Russell Westbrook, but he knows his game, plays smart and doesn’t turn it over. He’s more of a pure point guard compared to the guy he is matched up with in this series, Westbrook. Conley is also not a liability like a Mike Bibby or Derek Fisher.
Over half of the Grizzlies points in the playoffs come from the trio of Randolph-Gasol-Conley. The lack of Rudy Gay has actually made the roles on the team more defined. Those three are relied on for the majority of the shots (50.2% of the shots). Fellow starters Tony Allen and Sam Young, score only when they are open (Young can hit the outside shot, I don’t need to tell you about TA). Off the bench, the Grizz bring in O.J. Mayo (who they tried to trade on deadline day), Shane Battier, Darrell Arthur, and a little bit of Greivis Vasquez to spell Conley.
With Rudy Gay out, they are not going to score a lot from the wing spots, however Tony Allen and Shane Battier force the opponent to work their ass of to get theirs. We know the Thunder are Durant & Westbrook. They hope they get a great night from James Harden or Serge Ibaka. Memphis comes at you with more of a team. Game 1 their bench outscored Oklahoma City’s 27-16, and one would think that advantage might be even greater at home.
Despite being an 8 seed, and despite not having Gay, look at how they match up against every team left in the playoffs (not counting the Hawks)…
Derek Fisher vs. Mike Conley
Kobe Bryant vs. Tony Allen/ O.J. Mayo/ Shane Battier
Ron Artest vs. Sam Young/ Shane Battier
Pau Gasol vs. Zach Randolph
Andrew Bynum vs. Marc Gasol
Lamar Odom vs. Darrell Arthur/ Z-Bo
Jason Kidd vs. Mike Conley
DeShawn Stevenson vs. Tony Allen
Shawn Marion vs. Sam Young
Dirk Nowitzki vs. Zach Randolph/ Darrell Arthur
Tyson Chandler vs. Marc Gasol
Jason Terry vs. O.J. Mayo/ TA/ Shane Battier
Derrick Rose vs. Mike Conley/ TA
Keith Bogans vs. Tony Allen/ O.J. Mayo
Luol Deng vs. Sam Young/ Shane Battier
Carlos Boozer vs. Zach Randolph
Joakim Noah vs. Marc Gasol
Mike Bibby vs. Mike Conley
Dwyane Wade vs. Tony Allen
LeBron James vs. Sam Young/ Shane Battier
Chris Bosh (assuming he doesn’t take himself out because of the pressure that would be associated with the NBA Finals) vs. Zach Randolph
Big Z vs. Marc Gasol
James Jones vs. O.J. Mayo
Rajon Rondo vs. Mike Conley
Ray Allen vs. Tony Allen
Paul Pierce vs. Sam Young/ Shane Battier
Kevin Garnett vs. Zach Randolph
Jermaine O’Neal vs. Marc Gasol
Delonte West vs. O.J. Mayo
Glen Davis vs. Darrell Arthur
Jeff Green vs. Shane Battier
Is it just me or do they match up extremely well with everybody? I’m not saying they are going to win the title, but the Grizzlies are going to be a very tough out. Between their down low scoring, great rebounding, elite perimeter defenders, and x-factors (Mayo or Young could go for a random 30 one night), toss in a home court advantage and watch out. Good luck to the Thunder, because they need it.