That dunk by Prince in the third. Wow. I almost hit my head on the ceiling.
Y’know, like many Grizzlies fans, I suffered through watching those three sub-25-win seasons. Attended A LOT of those games too. Watched Marc Gasol’s older brother double-clutch that free throw during game three of that Dallas playoff series. Watched Damon Stoudamire go down at Portland on 12/30/05. Was there for Hubie getting his COY award. If you’d asked me back in October whether I thought that we’d be hanging on the edge of our seats to see if the Grizzlies could make the Western Conference Finals, I….wouldn’t have told you that you should take an aspirin and lay down, ‘cuz it would not have been a crazy question.
Going into this game, though, the subjective lifelong Memphian NBA freak in me was, I’m not ashamed to say, hovering somewhere near cloud nine over the Grizzlies’ chances to close it out and move on to the WCF.
So what happened here? Oh, the seven things…those seven lucky things…
Thing one: 25 of 29 from the line compared to 16 of 21 for OKC. Eleven of fifteen for KD, 12 of 16 for ZBo. Interesting near-mirror there. There’s just no doubt that Durant buckled a bit trying to bear the weighty expectations of the Thunder team for the season after Westbrook went down. ZBo just kept at it….
Thing two: …to the tune of 28 points on 17 shots. Those concerns we had about him later in the regular season (remember that?) seem to have dissipated into the mists of time…’cuz he showed up BIG this night, and has had a couple vintage-killer ZBo games over the series.
Thing three: Tony. Allen. Sure, the free throws at the end were huge-but his defense on Durant was just amazing during the times when they were matched up. Best part? By and large, he did it without fouling. Fighting through screens, anticipating where his was going next (that’s largely thanks to the interminable hours he spends watching tape on opponents), and minimizing mistakes. Allen, Prince, and Pondexter (along with the rest of the team)
Thing four: The Thunder not giving up and making it an absolute aerobic workout just watching the game. With Westbrook, this series is another seven-game bit of insanity. Who wins? Who knows, and it doesn’t matter. The likely difference? Aside from the FT line issue, the Thunder jacking up shots too quickly in the third trying to catch up in one shot.
Thing five: Mike Conley again flirts with a triple-double. No, it wasn’t his best shooting night-but “steady hand of leadership” is a massive understatement of his position on the floor for this team. Admission time-once upon a 2007, I wished that the Grizzlies could have gotten Al Horford at 4 and signed Mo Williams as an FA….not the dumbest thing I’ve ever thought, but maybe a top ten. And for those who laughed and worse when ZBo came to town (I WAS NOT AMONG THOSE), check out Conley and Randolph at the podium after the game, as our own Lee Smith made the trek into enemy territory to cover the game:
Thing six: At the end of the game, the Grizzlies acted like they belonged. Sure, some smiles and a light moment or two-but they didn’t act like a bunch of kids who had just won the local pickup Saturday tourney. Poise, readiness, and respect.
Before we get to thing seven (it’s kinda special tonight), here’s a bit more audio for your ears from the postgame:
Thing seven: No hiding that this is emotional for Grizzlies fans, especially those of us who live in Memphis. This ain’t just about one game or one series-this is about the bond between the city and the team, and it’s about some other people. Those of you who might read this who aren’t from here, if you aren’t quite as clear about why the following names are important, nay, monumental with regard to this achievement for the team, well, click the names and you’ll know why.
Three men who meant A TON to this team and who are looking down smiling right now….and one more, for those of you who remember…
“ONLY IN THE MOVIES, AND IN MEMPHIS”…Don Poier, how we wish you could be here now.
Sure, I’m overreacting…the Grizzlies haven’t even won a game in the Conference Finals yet-but for a team who has spent a lot of time mired in mediocrity and worse, reaching this plateau is just, well, freakin’ awesome. No one is satisfied yet, but it’s a wonderful achievement.
Now to one other person, who, for better and worse, had a lot to do with how this team is currently constructed…Michael Heisley. The irony of Hasheem Thabeet sitting on the bench for the team the Grizzlies eliminate to reach the WCF is just insane, isn’t it? Mr. Heisley has not been in good health of late, having suffered a major stroke, and I truly pray that he’s well enough to enjoy watching this happen. He deserves it.
Now, as Vince Lombardi might say to this team…
“GENTLEMEN, TOMORROW WE START THE BIG PUSH”.