The Grizzlies saw their Cinderella slipper crash on the court in Oklahoma City.
James Harden, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook made sure of that in front of the passionate OKC fans. Durant went off for 39 points after scoring a career playoff low 11 points in Game 6. Westbrook became the facilitator and produced his first playoff triple double in the process. James Harden, who the Grizzlies passed on in the 2009 draft to take Hasheem Thabeet, provided offense off the bench. The end result was a runaway win for the Thunder and a 4-3 series victory for the Thunder.
So Memphis won’t repeat the performance of the 1999 New York Knicks who parlayed an 8th place finish during a strike shortened season of into a Conference Finals appearance but possibly the Grizzlies won something more important, the love of the city’s inhabitants. For the first time since the team moved to Memphis the fans seemed to really be captured by the team.
Not that the series wasn’t close. Oklahoma City was given a real scare by the Grizzlies including a classic triple overtime thriller in Memphis. One of only 6 playoff tripkle overtime games in NBA history. The Grizzlies were only the second 8th seed to upset a top seed in a seven game playoff, set a Western Conference record for most wins in a post-season and more importantly gave the people around town a reason to be happy at a time when happiness has been difficult.
The team was greeted by a spontaneous crowd of hundreds of fans when they returned home after the game.
This Grizzlies energized the Memphis community when the city needed energy the most. While the Mississippi River flooded parts of the city the Grizzlies were the one common bit of good news that could keep people’s spirits high. The loss in Oklahoma City couldn’t change that. It hurt to see a team end the season for the Grizzlies but that is a common feeling around the league. 29 teams will end their year out of the playoffs or on a losing note. Only one ends the season with a winning feeling.
The Grizzlies may have found a rival as well. OKC and Memphis are two of the youngest teams in the league. Both teams main players are all locked up for the near term accept for restricted free agent center Marc Gasol who will likely be signed this summer. The other contenders around the league are getting older so it isn’t unlikely these teams will meet again in the playoffs.
But now is not the time to lament the loss. Now is the time to reflect on all that was good about the most successful post-season in franchise history. From Shane Battier’s big three point shot in Game 1 against the Spurs while his wife was giving birth in Houston to the back to back overtime thrillers against the Thunder, Memphis basketball fans have been treated to magic at the highest level.
As the old saying goes, ‘it’s not whether you win or lose. It’s how you play the game.’ For the first time in franchise history the Grizzlies played like champions. They played with heart. They weren’t the most talented collection of players, especially with Rudy Gay unable to perform, but their heart, grit and grind turned the nation’s eyes on Memphis in a very positive way. So while the scoreboard said the Grizzlies were losers, the emotions the team raised in the city makes them winners.
Thanks Mike Heisley, Chris Wallace, Lionel Hollins and everyone on the team. You gave Memphis a breath of fresh air at a time the city needed it most.