I would be lying if I said that I didn’t expect the Grizzlies to win last night. Expectations…they’re a funny thing, aren’t they? And yes, I made up a hybrid word for the title of this post. I do that. It’s kinda my thing.
The “right” thing to say today is that Memphis just got beaten by a better team. The San Antonio Spurs are more experienced, have three Hall of Fame players on their roster and a Hall of Fame coach leading them, have a deeper and better bench, and they have a nearly perfect game plan. So, the thing to say right now is that they are just the better team.
But…I don’t really believe that.
The Spurs are a great team. Nobody can deny that. You’d be foolish to even suggest otherwise. They execute plays on offense with incredible timing and precision. On defense, they make switches, swarm the ball, and collapse on the paint like a well-oiled machine. Their passing and cutting looks like a “how to” video on fundamentals. They are a fantastic basketball team.
However…they have been played evenly in the last two games by the Memphis Grizzlies, if not outplayed. I recognize that the scores don’t reflect that and therefore, neither does the series standings. If it weren’t for missed free throws though, Memphis would be up 2-1 in the Western Conference Finals instead of down 0-3 and looking elimination squarely in the eye.
Before any basketball pundits or Spurs’ fans get all up in arms, I am fully aware that hitting free throws is part of the game. I have no explanation for why a team that hit over 77% of its free throws in the regular season is only hitting 65% of them in this series. The Spurs have seen a drop-off as well, albeit not as steep. As Chip loves (hates?) to say, free throws have a cost.
I won’t name any names, but I saw several people on Twitter last night claiming that the Grizzlies were missing Rudy Gay or O.J. Mayo in this series. I could write 15,000 words on why that isn’t true, but I’ll spare everyone that because it is a laughable assertion for anyone who watched those two in the playoffs against the Clippers last year. If someone made the case that they were missing Shane Battier or Greivis Vasquez though….well, then we can talk.
Despite the fact that this team only has one designated “shooter” getting significant minutes (Quincy Pondexter), the fact that the Spurs have regularly completely ignored both Tayshaun Prince and Tony Allen on the perimeter (both starters, the record will show) in order to double down on Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, this Grizzlies team was within one play of winning each of the last two games. So, no — I won’t simply say that the Spurs are simply a better team and leave it at that — because that isn’t close to being the whole story. Anyone who has watched this series could tell you as much.
Are the Spurs going to win this series and go on to the Finals? Yeah, probably so. That doesn’t make me less of a fan — just realistic. And I like their chances against either Indiana or Miami because they are a great team with a concrete identity and an incredible coach. But I don’t believe that they are markedly better than Memphis, nor do I believe that the Grizzlies’ success this season is somehow lessened by the draw they had in getting to the WCF (as some people have said). The Grizzlies are one of the last four teams left standing — that means they belong, no matter how they got there. Nobody cut them any slack when Rudy Gay and then Darrell Arthur were injured two years ago. Nor did they say the Clippers got a pass last year when they needed seven games to put away Memphis with an obviously less than 100% ZBo, only to fall to this same Spurs squad. So, if you’re saying the Grizzlies don’t belong because previous opponents had injuries or because they did not win these last two overtime games — then you clearly don’t know enough about basketball for me to waste my time discussing it with you.
I have one more rant to make before heading to a cookout to drink my frustrations away.
Memphis is one of the most passionate cities in the world. The deafening noise and raw emotion that we have seen on display throughout this playoff run has been incredible. However, it is also a city that has earned a reputation of being a fair-weather, bandwagon town.
Walking to the game, downtown was a swirling cauldron of excitement and anticipation. Grizzlies apparel was on display everywhere. Inside the FedExForum, the atmosphere was electric. For four quarters last night, the crowd ebbed and flowed with the action on the court. Then, after the final play in regulation ended in a missed opportunity, something strange happened. The crowd…died.
Obviously, it was not a literal death, but you would have been hard-pressed to know that from the deathly quiet that fell over the Grindhouse. It was like being in a funeral parlor. Fans headed to the exits before overtime even started. Entire sections simply would not stand up and cheer their team on as they fought against fatigue and battled to grind out one more successful play. Predictably, the result on the court mirrored what was happening in the stands. Make no mistake about it though — the fans gave up before the team did. I have never felt more ashamed of my city than when the vast majority of the stands emptied out with nearly two minutes still left in overtime. I believe the words I uttered were “disgraceful” and “pitiful”.
I don’t understand giving up on much of anything. I’ve been told that’s a personality flaw of mine by some people. But…as much time, energy, money, and emotion as I’ve invested in this team over the last twelve years — I have never left a game early, and I never will. I have supported this team through thick and thin over the years. I’m not going to disrespect them by walking out of a game they still had a chance (however slim it might be) of winning. Especially not on one of the biggest stages available — Western Conference Finals, ESPN, whole world watching.
So, for those of you who left early — I hope you sat in traffic just as long as I did…and I kinda hope you burn your hamburgers while grilling this weekend. It would serve you right for helping to lend credence to those who would say that this city only supports teams when they are winning.
Go Grizzlies! Believe Memphis!