I have been a fan of this team since the first season the Grizzlies played in Memphis.
One thing that always upset me for most of those 12 previous years was no matter how hard the team tried, you knew at the end of the game that Kobe or Shaq, Duncan or Parker, LeBron, or someone was going to make the play to win the game. It wasn’t going to be a Grizzlies player doing it.
I still have nightmares remembering Chauncey Billups’ jumper over Damon Stoudamire to win the game in OT and Ray Allen splashing a three (after the shot clock buzzer went off I might add) to help Seattle beat the Grizzlies in a game. Sure there were occasions when a Grizzlies player stepped up. But there were far more instances like Dirk f*%#ing Nowitzki in the 2006 playoffs with his 3 pointer off a missed free throw to force OT where the Grizzlies lost.
Last night could have been another one of those memories. Westbrook could have recovered the missed FT and nailed a three pointer. That’s how it used to end for the Grizzlies after all.
But it didn’t happen this time.
Like so many other times this year, the Memphis Grizzlies didn’t fold under the pressure. The team did get caught but instead of folding they pulled themselves together and broke the Thunder’s hearts. Just like they did in Game 2 and just like they did against Dallas to end the season. The Grizzlies have lost leads late in 3 of the last 4 games only to pull themselves together and win in OT.
These Grizzlies are different bread than those of the past.
People have been talking about how efficient the Grizzlies have been all season during crunch time. Even 3 Shades of Blue wrote about it back in March when the team was still fighting for a spot in the playoffs. But that was the regular season when we wrote about it. This is the playoffs.
And don’t kid yourself. The Grizzlies have been playing playoff games since losing in San Antonio on April 6th. The Grizzlies have 7 wins in 8 games since that loss and now have home court advantage against the #2 seeded Oklahoma City Thunder.
They have been in this position before of course. Three years ago the Grizzlies were up 2-1 after overtime win against the Thunder at the FedEx Forum (it wasn’t universally known as the Grindhouse at that time). They lost game 4 in a triple overtime thriller. That’s what usually happened to the Grizzlies in the playoffs. They would be so close but they just couldn’t climb over that final obstacle.
This year’s team has learned how to do that and it makes them even more dangerous than ever before. More dangerous than even last season’s team that made it to the conference finals but were swept after losing twice in OT.
This year’s Grizzlies are doing something nobody does too. No one comes back to win in OT after giving up heart-breaking shots at the end of regulation. Nobody comes back to win in OT after blowing a 5 point lead in the final 10 seconds or a 17 point lead in the 4th quarter. Twice the team has given up 4 point plays in the final seconds of regulation and still pulled out the win in OT.
Teams rarely do something like that once in a season.
This year’s Grizzlies team has done both…in the playoffs…in back to back games!
The Grizzlies led the league in crunch time performance in the regular season. Now in the playoffs they are leading the league in scoring in crunch time. They are only 4th in the playoffs in net efficiency but playing against one of the most efficient in the league can have a negative effect on your defensive ratings.
In the regular season the Grizzlies offense was rated 103.3 in efficiency overall but rose to 114.0 during crunch situations. In the playoffs, their offensive efficiency has jumped up to 122.3 in clutch situations and the team has played the most minutes in those situations of all playoff teams save OKC which of course has played the same amount. Oklahoma City isn’t a bad defensive team either.
Normally people assume it would require a superstar player to step up in these situations but the Grizzlies don’t have a true superstar. They don’t have a player like Kevin Durant or even a Russell Westbrook. They don’t have the type of players who people expect to win games with big shots at the buzzer.
The Grizzlies have a team of players willing to step up at any given time. They are a group of veterans that don’t shrink from the pressure of the moment. Sometimes it is Zach Randolph. Sometimes it is Mike Conley. Sometimes it is even Tayshaun Prince or Mike Miller, Courtney Lee and even Tony Allen. The key is that any of a number of players are capable of doing it, and more importantly, willing to do it.
Call it another gear if you want but I think it is just that the team believes in themselves and trusts themselves to get the job done when it matters. The Grizzlies don’t have one or two players wanting it and everyone else waiting for them to do it. That makes the team much more deadly when the pressure is turned on at the end of games.
This year’s Grizzlies have the experience, the intestinal fortitude and the talent to win games nobody thinks they can win. It has never happened in Memphis before that they are the team that pulls out the wins at the end.
There is no guarantee that the team will be able to replicate for the rest of the playoffs much less the next season or beyond. I hope the fans appreciate what they are getting to watch. Things like this don’t happen all the time.