3 Shades of Blue has been doing a rather detailed (some would say too detailed) look back at the last 12 months of Grizzlies basketball. In Part 1 we covered the Summer off-season months. In Part 2 we covered the pre and regular season up to the New Year. In Part 3 we will examine the 2nd half of the season.
The new year opened with the final two games of a West Coast road trip with back to back games at Utah and the Lakers. The team had just been gut punched when Tyreke Evans drained a game winning shot from beyond half court so feelings were understandably a bit low. The season the Grizzlies were supposed to return to the playoffs was rapidly devolving into another lottery appearance. Fans were losing faith and the team needed a spar; of some kind to get things to change.
Losing Xavier Henry to injury wasn’t expected to be that spark. Henry had not put up great individual numbers as a starter but the team had responded somewhat once he entered the starting lineup. The team was 4-9 when Hollins moved Henry into the starting lineup and the Grizzlies had been 9-7 since so there was an argument to be made that Henry in the starting lineup was good for the team despite his disappointing individual numbers.
However Henry’s knee was bothering him to the point that he asked out of the lineup in Utah. O J Mayo was reinserted. It would have been a great story if Mayo presence helped lead the team to victory in a very difficult place to play. Alas, that was not the case. The Grizzlies lost 98-92 despite Mayo’s workmen effort playing all 48 minutes of the game.
Now the Grizzlies were on another losing streak and headed to Los Angeles to play theLakers. The Lakers were two time defending NBA Champions and as healthy as they had been. For most teams at the end of long distance road trip covering a holiday and the 2nd game of a back to back series the bags would already be packed for the ride home.
But the Grizzlies weren’t most other teams this season. Hollins decided that Mayo was a better fit for the team providing bench scoring and inserted little used Tony Allen in the starting lineup and the rest is Grizzlies history so to speak. The Lakers never knew what hit them that night as the Grizzlies poured it on from the beginning and when the final horn sounded the Lakers were beaten 104-85 and left the Staples Center to a cascade of boos from the home crowd.
The Punch That Binds a Team
After punching out the Lakers there was a scuffle on the team plane returning from LA between O J Mayo and Tony Allen. The team never really made a big deal of it. Things like this happen from time to time but the fact that something private between teammates on the team plane was reported in media upset the players and coaching staff. From that point on the team seemed to bond together as a unit. The Grizzlies took a closed door policy to heart after that incident. What happens in the locker room, the team bus or the team plane stays there. Sort ofa Vegas attitude to team comraderie.
The Grizzliesstill had a very difficult set of games coming up too. The Thunder and Jazz came to the River City and the new look Grizzlies easily won both games. A return trip to Oklahoma City gave the Grizzlies their first loss since the lineup change. Tony Allen was in foultrouble most of the night and Durant dropped 40 points on the Grizzlies. Another loss at Charlotte seemed to suggest the change wasn’t really makingthat big of a difference. Teams had adjustedon how to play the Grizzlies new lineup and the team was back to the roller coaster performances that had marked the first half of the season.
But that was not the case.
The Grizzlies destroyed Detroit on the road and returned home to thump Dallas by 19 points. The Grizzlies were now 5-2 since inserting Allen in the starting lineup. Despite that success Hollins decided to change things up again and inserted Sam Young into the starting lineup at SG in place of Young for the Martin Luther King Game against Chicago.
It was an apparent mistake as Chicago dominated the game from the outset. Rudy Gay had possibly his worst game of the season scoring 9 points on 1-10 shooting while his counterpart, Luol Deng, went for 28 points, Derrick Rose outplayed Mike Conley and Kyle Korver killed the Grizzlies going 6-10 from beyond the arc in the 96-84 victory for the Bulls for a disappointed packed house at FedEx Forum.
Not one to give up so easily, Hollins put Young back in the starting lineup two nights later in New Orleans. The results were better but not enough to steal a win in the Crescent City as Mike Conley threw the ball away on an inbound play with almost no time remaining in OT surrendering the lead and after Rudy Gay dribbled the ball of his foot the game was over. The Grizzlies fought hard but a loss is a loss and losing like that to a team ahead of the Grizzlies in the standings hurt.
The Team Finally Strings Wins Together
Some teams can lose focus after a game like the one in New Orleans. The team was 5-5 for the month of January and still 4 games below .500 on the season. Every series of wins seemed to be followed with a series of losses. The Grizzlies were on a two game losing streak and facing a home game against their nemesis in Houston. The Rockets had won 7 consecutive games against their division rivals and after putting up 67 points in the first half it looked like the streak would reach 8 games. The second half started with Zach Randolph doing his best Little Shop of Horrors imitation. He left halftime telling people to feed him the ball. 29 points and 19 rebounds later the Grizzlies had managed another incredible come back. Randolph took care of the offense but everyone had to chip in on defense and they did as the Rockets managed to shoot only 31% in the second half.
This game was the beginning of a streak that saw the Grizzlies win 8 of 9 games and likely could have gone 9-9 if not for O J Mayo’s being in a fog against New Jersey after being told he was to be suspended the next day for an alleged performance enhancing drug. Mayo insisted his was not ‘juicing’ had merely had an energy drink that contained the banned substance. Either way in the middle of the Grizzlies most consistent string of wins all season Mayo was going to miss an eight of the season.
The Grizzlies went 8-2 in the 10 games that Mayo missed including wins over playoff bound teams like Philadelphia (twice), Oklahoma City, Denver and Orlando. It was in the Oklahoma City game that Rudy missed with a sprained big toe that the team’s motto was first uttered. After the overtime win Allen said it was “All heart, grit and grind.” The saying stuck.
O J Mayo returned the day before the all-star break from his suspension. The team welcomed O J back with open arms. Unfortunately in the game Rudy Gay lost his left arm to a freak injury as Evan Turner slapped down on Rudy’s arm popping his shoulder out of the socket. Luckily the injuryhappened right before the All-Star break so the team got some needed rest while the doctor’s determined how best to proceed with Rudy’s shoulder. Rudy’s injury was expected to last at least a month but his recovery wasn’t as speedy or completeas hoped for andthe doctor’s decidedeventuallyto have surgery endingGay’sseason.
It was assumed that Rudy’s loss would decimate the team but the opposite occurred. After playing a majority of games on the road during the season the Grizzlies ended with 17 of their last 28 games at home. That advantage along with a growing number of fans getting more and more boisterous really carried the team down the stretch. Sam Young took over Rudy Gay’s position at SF with Tony Allen at SG, O J Mayo accepted and prospered in the 6th man role and the Grizzlies made atradeacquiring Shane Battier for former first round draft picks Hasheem Thabeetand DeMarre Carroll. Battier struggled to fit inoffensively withMemphis but his defense paired well with Mayo’s offense off the bench.
After splitting the first two games after the all-star break the team braced forthe most difficult part of their schedule after the all-star break. The Grizzlies faced 14 games in 28 days against 11 teams that were eitherlocks for the playoffsor close to it. The schedule included 3 games against San Antonio andtwo games against the Knicksas well as games againstDallas, New Orleans, Indiana, Boston, Chicago and Miami. The team escaped with an 8-6 record in those games andsuddenly theteamthat lookedfor all practical purposes out of the playoff picture was standing in excellent position to finish as high as 6th in the conference.
Despite losing the last two games of the season while resting their starters for the playoffs the Grizzlies finished the year 46-36, the3rd best record in franchise history.