By Craig Fields
The Memphis Grizzlies have long since removed themselves from the mediocre and rather deplorable Vancouver Grizzlies days. Days that saw an expansion team that could not win 29 percent of their games in any given season. Six years of NBA cellar performance that ended in the team ultimately being moved to Memphis.
Upon moving the team to Memphis in 2001, a great draft class began the turn-around of the lowly Grizzlies to what we see today– a gritty, tough-minded, grind it out type team that has made it to the final four of the NBA playoffs this year.
The old adage the third times the charm must rain true for current coach Lionel Hollins. This is his third stint with the organization with his two previous opportunities proving unsuccessful.
For the first time in the short history of this franchise the Memphis Grizzlies have made it to the Western Conference Finals where they will play the San Antonio Spurs for the chance to play in the NBA Finals. This team has bought into what Coach Hollins has been selling and it has yielded some pretty sweet fruit.
The front office of the Grizzlies has done an outstanding job of putting together a team that has the right combination of veteran leadership, young talent, post presence, perimeter prowess, and coaching ability. This team is built to give any team it faces in a series a run for their money.
Here are a few reasons why:
Memphis has the second ranked defense in the NBA. This is definitely by design. According to Matthew Schmidt of bleacherreport.com they only allowed 98.6 points per 100 possessions and house the current NBA Defensive Player of the Year in Marc Gasol, an All-Defense first-teamer in Tony Allen and two All-Defense second-teamers in Gasol and Mike Conley. Please do not forget about Tayshaun Prince as well because with his height, and the length of his gangly arms he gives anybody playing the 3 position on the opposite team a fit.
The combination of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol down low in the post are enough to make any coach of the opposing team throw their hands up in exasperation. So double teaming the two big guys is the way to go right?
Not so fast…
Even though the Grizzlies were last in 3-point makes this season, they were also last in attempts. Even though that is not this team’s bread and butter, they still have players capable of knocking down the trey. Quincy Pondexter hit 46 percent of his attempts this year. Jerryd Bayless is also serviceable from the corner 3, shooting about 38 percent from there. Tayshaun Prince is a career 40 percent from the arc making him a threat as well. You will only be able to double team the dynamic duo for so long before the Grizzlies shooters start to make you pay.
The Grizzlies are sixth in the league in causing turnovers. The entire team is full of ball hawks that track the rock relentlessly and place as much pressure as possible on ball-handlers. If defense wins championships then crown these guys right now because they have the best collective team defense in the of the teams left in the playoffs.
The Spurs won Game 1. There is no denying that. They won the game decisively as well. There is no disputing that. But, the Grizzlies have been in this position before. They are 0-3 in Game 1’s this year and still managed to beat the Clippers in 6 games and OKC in 5. So the way I see it, in the immortal words of The Carpenters, “we’ve only just begun”.