Every great baseball team has starting pitchers as well as a closer that comes in during the late innings to seal the deal on close games regardless of who may be standing across from him on the plate. There is no comparable position to this in the NBA, but this edition of Noise From The Sain Asylum talks about how with Tony Allen now coming off the bench, he is probably the closest thing to it.
Allen returned to “The House That Grind Built” last Friday night against the Clippers to an overwhelming reception by the fans. Allen, who was in the lineup for the first time since January 3rd against the Denver, suffered a particular odd hand/wrist injury that had fans scratching their heads and shuffling through emotions that included worry, concern, and even a few conspiracy theories. It was also the first game after the trade deadline, and the reaction from the crowd also felt like a resounding exhale from all of the paranoia that came from team interest for Allen’s services, in particular from the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Even though Allen came back to a great reception, he also came back to an unfamiliar place as well. Allen made his return as a reserve for the first time since he earned the role during the 2010-2011 season. What was predicted to be a dramatic transition, with much debate on radio and Twitter about whether Tony would accept a role coming off the bench, actually happened with little to know issues expressed by Tony as well as no formal or official announcement that Lee would replace him before the game. Allen entered the game and made an immediate impact. We saw the lockdown defense and all-out effort again. We saw his energy and all of the ingredients that transformed this team’s culture from one of the worst in the league into Grit N’ Grind. Allen’s tenacious effort on defense against the Clippers could be summed up in a snapshot by the block on Jamal Crawford followed by a Roy Jones Jr-esque ”cock-fighter” taunt that Tony displayed by guarding Crawford with his hands behind his back. Tony was almost able to close out the Bobcats game as well when he stole a pass and was awarded a basket on a goaltending call on the other end.
Tony coming off the bench seems like a natural fit to me. His lack of scoring ability combined with Tayshaun Prince in the starting lineup would equate to a ton of games where the team was almost totally unable to score and began several games in a deficit. This led to the Grizzlies having the worst 1st quarter scoring numbers in the NBA. With Courtney Lee starting, it sets up more opportunity for Allen to come in and help keep the lead through defensive effort. According to Ron Tillery, via Twitter, Allen said that he had no problem coming off the bench and would do whatever is best for the team, and I honestly think that Tony coming off the bench is what’s best for the team. Tony is a natural underdog. His story confirms this. Not only has he overcome adversity on the court as a player, but also in his personal life to become a success story. Many may not agree but you can also say that Tony starting may have led to him not being as aggressive as he has been known to be. It also can be said that after being named to the NBA All Defensive 1st Team and signing a long-term deal to stay in Memphis, that Tony may have even been guilty of reading his own press clippings. Regardless of what the problem may have been, the Tony Allen that we saw at the beginning of the season was not the Grindfather that we had grown to not only love, but also have deemed irreplaceable and untradeable. I believe that him coming off the bench will put the chip back on his shoulder that lead to him being controlled chaos on the court. Allen paired with James Johnson is just scary sometimes and seeing those two matched up against players on the opposing teams bench is a recipe for disaster for every opponent. Their energy off of the bench seemed to complement and even motivate each other. After seeing some of the things that he was able to do in his first game back even I had to take back some of the criticism that I had given him in one of my frequent Twitter rants.
Tony brings a lot to this team. And even with his lack of offensive skills his defense in the games crucial moments has unlimited value. Just like a relief pitcher in baseball, Tony Allen can be the piece that we need to come in and shut down the perimeter scorers on the other team. With Courtney Lee now emerging as the no-brainer at starting shooting guard, I find it a perfect fit for Tony Allen to come off of the bench. The last time that he was a reserve was for a Celtics team that was in the NBA Finals, and whenever you can have a player like Allen come off your bench as a reserve, that puts you in great company. Even though for the immediate future it looks like Tony’s days as a starter have come to an end, here’s to him being the Best Closer In The Game.