At the risk of stating the obvious, we all know that to have success in the playoffs, a team needs at least one unstoppable player — a guy who either gets points or makes plays when nothing else is working. A guy who can consistently take over games — impose his will on the game. For the Grizzlies, I’ve not really been sure who that guy was for us. I mean let’s go dow the list of past and current players quickly:
- We thought O.J. would be that guy when we drafted him. Had/has potential to be a Star SG in the right situation. Just not ours.
- Rudy Gay wanted to be that guy, but when was the last time you saw Rudy take over a game? I’m not saying score key buckets or game winners. I’m saying when was the last time he imposed his will on a game? I’ll wait . . .
- Tony Allen is that guy defensively, but even the most rabid Tony Allen fans — and I am one of them — none of us ever say: “Give Tony Allen the ball!” in a tight game. EVER.
- Zach Randolph CAN do it. Has done it repeatedly with his offense & rebounding. But he is a post player, plays with his back to the basket. Throw a double or triple team at him and deny him touches, and he never gets the chance to take over the game. Thus, Zach Randolph is not unstoppable.
- Jerryd Bayless is profound in his sixth man role. But you usually need a great scorer off the bench (Jamal Crawford) AS WELL AS your “take over the game” player (Chris Paul).
Which brings us to Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. Your “takeover a game guy” — a LeBron, CP3, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Paul Pierce — usually is a perimeter guy who can face the basket near the top of the key, make a jumper, drive to the goal and/or make the right pass. They make big plays.
Mike Conley has the talent and the savvy to do it. Doesn’t yet have the moxie though. He is an excellent defender and part of the story of the season is that as Mike Conley goes, so go the Grizzlies. I still think he can pretty much take anybody off the dribble and get into the lane at will a la Tony Parker or Steve Nash. He’s decent from 3. To me, the difference between a Mike Conley and, say, a Chris Paul is not a gap of talent, it’s something else. Grizz fans everywhere hope and pray that Mike is closing that gap, as he went off for 28 points & 9 assists in Game 2. Praise from the Clippers backcourt:
“Mike Conley is very, very underrated. He’s very crafty. He has every shot in the book, pretty much. He can shoot the three. He can shoot the pull-up. He’s got the floaters. He’s very, very quick. He’s smart on the pick-and-rolls. And he’s a good defender. He doesn’t get a lot of credit for that.” — Chauncey Billups
“The way Conley was blowing by me at the other end, the least I could do was make a couple shots.” — Chris Paul
Which brings us to Marc Gasol. Let’s go down the list:
- Face the basket? Check.
- Make a jumper? Yup.
- Drive to the hole? Sure can.
- Make the right pass? Without question.
There’s that sweeping hook shot. The list goes on. And that’s just offense. Don’t mention defense, where of course, Marc was just named 2013 Defensive Player of the Year.
Critics of the Rudy Gay trade say that the team traded away the most likely candidate to “take over a game.” A guy that you need in the playoffs. I admit that though I knew Rudy’s production had not really earned him that status, I wondered who it would be. The problem with having your takeover a game guy being a big guy is that you have to get him the ball on the block. In this series, if the Clippers aren’t denying Zach Randolph the ball, they’re triple teaming him as soon as he gets it. Marc, on the other hand, when he’s at the top of the key, he’s generally able to get the ball easily. He’s money on the foul-line jumper. I don’t think DeAndre Jordan can keep up with him.
Here’s probably the biggest question: Are Marc and Mike willing to dominate? Fans and teammates love their unselfishness, but for the Grizzlies to stay alive in this series (let alone win it), the team will need dominating performances from Marc Gasol and Mike Conley — at the same time preferably. If Marc and/or Mike are WILLING to be unstoppable, we can shift the momentum in this series.
Are they willing? We’ll find out tonight.