Everyone remembers the moment. Less than 40 seconds togo inovertime.The Grizzlies are down two but have the ball.Mike Conley turns down twoopen looks at the basket finallyfocing the ball into Marc Gasol withless than 5 seconds remaining on the shot clock and guarded by All-Pro Tim Duncan. Marcshoots an air ball as the clock winds down.
Game over. Spurs win.
The NBA has an unwritten rule. If you don’t have a closer at the end of games you won’t close out many games with a win. The idea is that team’s need one player who will touch the ball everytime down the court at the end of games to make sure their team comes out on top.
The Lakers have Kobe Bryant. The Mavericks have Dirk Nowitzki. The Blazers have Brandon Roy. Oklahoma City has Kevin Durant and Chicago has Derrick Rose. Almost every playoff team has that one guy who takes over the game late. Even the Heat, Celtics and Knicks all have one guy who touches the ball every time down the stretch.
The story goes that the reason the Spurs are trailing in their series with the Grizzlies is that Manu Ginobili, the Spurs primary go to guy in crunch time, is not 100%. That’s true too. Manu was definitely not his usual self for most of the series.Last night he looked pretty healthy however scoring 33 points and making some huge plays down the stretch.
So who is the Grizzlies go to guy?
Everyone knew who it was heading into the all-star break. Give the ball to Rudy Gay at the halfcourt line and getout of the way. ButRudy isn’t playing right now. Then Evan Turner and the Sixers knocked Rudy out for the rest of the season. Now who can the Grizzlies turn to?
Is it Zach Randolph? Zach was huge scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter of the game (the first time all season the Grizzlies lost a gamewhere Z-Bo scored double figures in the 4th quarter) but he isn’t the type of player that can create his own shot. Z-Bo has been a huge factor in many games down the stretch including the first game of the series but a 6-9 PF who doesn’t dribble well isn’t the type of player who can really take over a game by himself.Teammates have to get him the ball in the right position for him to score.
So if it isn’t Zach Randolph who is the Grizzlies go to guy?
The answer is that Memphis doesn’t have one go to guy. They have any number of players who can contribute when called on down the stretch and that is what makes the Grizzlies so much fun for their fans to watch. The Grizzlies aren’t dependent on one player to win games. The team takes advantage of mismatches and trusts them to make the play. The system failed to procure a win in Game 5 but it has allowed the team to lead 3-2 heading into game 6.
This ability was clearest in Game 3. Sure Zach Randolph hit the game winning three point shot and also was 4 of 6 from the free throw line in the 4th quarter for 7 points but Marc Gasol scored 5 points, Mayo scored 3 points, Arthur scored 3 and Mike Conley chipped in with 2 points. Game 1 saw Shane Battier hit a clutch 3 point basket late and Game 2 saw Sam Young produce with some big shots down the stretch as well.
This is old school basketball. This is team basketball. This is the type of basketball that many old men remember from their youth when teams won championships not individuals. Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West were considered the stars of their generation but the Celtics won the titles. After that run ended the league bounced around but the teams that won were real teams and not superstars and role players. The Blazers with Bill Walton also had Mo Lucas, Lionel Hollins and Dave Twardzik. The 76ers won a title with Moses Malone, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Bobby Jones, Mo Cheeks and Andrew Toney. Washington, Golden State also won with teams more then individual players.
Then came the Michael Jordan and the no-name Bulls and it became more of a one-on-one game at the end pitting your best against ours. Sure Jordan had Pippen but at the end of the game it was Michael over and over again. Everyone else was just filling space on the court.
The only recent exception the rule was the Detroit Pistons last NBA Championship. That team played 5 men who alternated scoring duties and no one was counted on every night to close out games.
The interesting thing is the Spurs are the only otherexample in the playoffs of a team that’s not afraid to use anyone at anytime. Sure the Spurs have Ginobili as the focal point at the end of games but it is the contribution of the other players that makes the team difficult to beat. If teams simply try to stop Ginobili then Duncan, Parker, Bonner, Jefferson and even McDyess can hurt you. The Spurs run their offense thru Ginobili at the end of games but he isn’t solely responsible for the teams success or failure at the end of games. After all it was Gary Neal not Manuwho took the game tying shot and Tony Parker not Manu who dominated in OT.
Will the Grizzliies lack of a go to scorer at the end ofgames be a problemFriday night? Only time will tell. One thing iscertain however. TheGrizzlies have played the best team ball in this series and if they advance will be a load for any team to stop.