I was pretty bummed on Thursday night – even if OKC was going to win, I’d figured it would at least be another close one – but I still remained optimistic that the Grizzlies could pull off yet another win at Chesapeake Arena in Game 7. I mean, it wouldn’t be easy, but everything we’d seen in this series so far indicated that it was possible.
Then, the flood came in.
Alright, look, I’m not the most objective person to talk to about the Z-Bo suspension. I don’t think it was necessary, and I think with a series on the line, suspending one of a team’s best players for something that I would say is pretty minor is a bad idea. For example, last night, when it was announced that Paul George wouldn’t be suspended for his minor infraction in Game 6 of the Pacers-Hawks series, most people agreed it was the right call. It was technically a suspension-worthy infraction, but it was very minor, and had no effect on the outcome of the game. And why suspend a team’s best player when we know it could directly alter the outcome the series? If only they had applied the same logic to the Z-Bo situation.
But why did Z-Bo get suspended and not Paul George? It could be because his altercation was physical and George’s wasn’t, but remember, both were violations of the rules. There could be other reasons why Z-Bo didn’t get the same pardon as George. He’s a not-particularly-marketable player (outside of Memphis, anyway), with a checkered past, playing on a team trying to knock the league MVP out of the playoffs (which will have an averse effect on TV ratings). George is a budding superstar (despite his recent slump), with tons of marketability, on a team many thought would contend for a title. If the league suspends George, the Hawks probably win the series, and a team with a lot of hype goes down early. Meanwhile, Miami’s path to another title becomes very easy, making the Eastern playoffs a lot more predictable. So, if you want to know why Paul George is playing tonight, and Zach Randolph is not, those things should give you a few clues.
But on to the rest of the Grizzlies problems; Tony Allen might not play due to an eye problem, and Conley is well below 100% right now. Even if he does play, we”re not getting him at his usual self, and it’s going to show. If the Grizzlies lose Tony Allen, they lose the man who has kept Kevin Durant in check all series, they’d have to hope Tayshaun Prince would be up to the task of containing him. This, of course, means that Prince will get a ton of minutes, and while we’ve heard a lot about how the team is better when Prince plays more, it is going to limit the Grizzlies offensive options, especially with Z-Bo already gone. Whether Conley plays or not, we’re going to need Beno Udrih to really step up. He’s had a great series, but whether or not he can come through when playing extended minutes remains to be seen.
Then, there’s the power forward situation. Ed Davis will probably get the start in Randolph’s place. We know that Davis can come through in these situations, but he’s not the strongest shooter in the world, and if he’s playing with Prince, the Grizzlies’ spacing options become very limited. That’s why we’re likely to see a fair amount of Jon Leuer tonight. Leuer is a solid stretch 4 who would be a rotation guy on pretty much any other team. He’s had some big games for us this season, mostly when Mar was out, and if he can step up tonight, the Grizzlies might have a shot.
Look for James Johnson to get some minutes, even though he can’t defend Durant as well as Prince or Allen. He’s a great athlete, and a solid scorer, and he should give the Grizzlies offense some extra firepower, which they’ll sorely needed. If the Grizzlies want to space the floor, look for Leuer and Mike Miller to play together. This will not be advantageous lineup in terms of defense, but they’ll be able to drain threes, which they might need if OKC goes up by a lot.
This is not going to be easy. Even if Conley and Allen both suit up tonight, the odds are working against the Grizzlies. The good news is, this is a deep team with a lot of non-rotation guys who could get big minutes on several other teams. The question is whether or not they’ll be able to pull off the Herculean task of taking down Durant and Westbrook on their own court. There’s a good chance, this is the last we’ll see of the 2013-14 Grizzlies. If so, it’s been a hell of a ride. If the severely underhanded Grizzlies somehow pull this off, I will scream my lungs out, and probably cry a little bit. I’m sure I wouldn’t be alone.