So many people expected the Memphis Grizzlies to start this season right where they left off the previous season. So many people have been so dreadfully wrong so far.
But last night the fans of the Memphis Grizzlies finally saw what made the team a sensation last season in the playoffs.
The first three times Grizz fans saw the team this year (both preseason games and the San Antonio opener) the team looked like they believed they didn’t need to work that hard. They had that “we’re so talented” look about the team. With Rudy Gay back this year’s team was going to be a top 4 team in the West and challenge for the NBA Finals was the attitude around town and it appeared that attitude had worked its way into the Grizzlies team as well.
The Grizzlies aren’t, and never were, that talented.
Losing Darrell Arthur, Shane Battier, Hamed Haddadi, Xavier Henry and now Mike Conley showed just how thin the line is from success to failure if you rely on talent alone. None of these players are stars by themselves but their collective contributions can make a bad team into a playoff contender…if the team is focused on giving everything they have on the court. That determination not to lose was missing early in the season and the result of that lack of focus was three games without a win so far.
But against OKC that seemed to change. With Conley down and the team struggling to even make a basket Jeremy Pargo, another surprise Chris Wallace signing joining Tony Allen from last season, helped remind the team that they can’t win by being talented alone. The 25-year old rookie went toe to toe with Russell Westbrook and the rest of the team seemed to rally behind that effort and the game, which could easily have devolved into an ugly loss, seemed to remind the team how they got so far last year.
Every punch that the Thunder threw at the Grizzlies was absorbed and still the team showed heart. 4 straight three point shots in the fourth during a 14-1 run didn’t stop the Grizzlies from gritting and fighting back. Russell Westbrook hitting both free throws with just seconds remaining didn’t stop the Grizzlies from grinding out an attempt at a miracle comeback.
And if Zach’s Hail Mary prayer at the buzzer had been answered is there any doubt that the Grizzlies heart, grit and grind would have found a way to wear down the Thunder?
We’ll never know if that last statement would come true but for Memphis fans the outcome of the game shouldn’t be the most important thing to take away from the game. Instead remember how the team refused to die. How they took the best that the Thunder had to offer and still fought back. There was a time when the Grizzlies would have folded up the tent if they started a game 0-9 from the field. There was a time when the game would be over if a team ran off a 14-1 spurt midway thru the fourth breaking open a close game. There was a time when being down 4 points in the closing seconds meant the game was over.
These aren’t those times.
And hopefully the team realizes as well that these aren’t the times when they can win simply by showing up. The team doesn’t have a star like Kevin Durant capable of scoring from anywhere at anytime. They don’t have anyone capable of consistently nailing three point shots. They don’t have great frontcourt depth. They don’t have a lot of things that teams that win on talent alone have.
So, two losses to a depleted New Orleans team, a blowout loss at San Antonio and a terrible start against OKC may have been the medicine needed to show them that they don’t have enough talent to win on talent alone but the last three quarters against OKC showed they do have enough heart, grit and grind to win against anyone. They have scrap and fight and a gritty attitude that makes giving up something they simply won’t do. They didn’t seem to have that attitude until last night but they showed the world last night just how hard they are willing to fight to win. The nation saw it too, thanks to the NBA TV national broadcast.
I’m just relieved to see that the lesson was learned early so the season wasn’t lost before it really began.