To the question, how patient are Grizzlies fans willing to be, we now have a definitive answer.
Their patience broke as the third quarter ended Wednesday, Nov. 6, at FedExForum. Their Grizzlies – that gritty, lovable bunch that won 56 games last season and went to the Western Conference Finals – trailed the New Orleans Pelicans by 22 points.
That’s when the boos were not just scattered but united – a chorus of displeasure that might have been directed at a lot of things, but surely was directed at being made to watch this abuse from the young Pelicans.
“It hurt a lot because we’ve come a long way,” point guard Mike Conley said after he had scored 26 points in what turned out to be a 99-84 loss that saw the Grizzlies trail by as many as 29 points in the fourth quarter. “We’ve come a long way in my six years here and I remember the boos as a rookie and in my second and third year. I don’t ever want to go back to it.”
Conley, by the way, wasn’t trying to infer the Grizzlies gave anything close to an acceptable effort against the Pelicans (and doesn’t it sound all the more humiliating when you get thumped by “Pelicans” as opposed to Hornets)?
“If we lost giving the effort we normally give and laid it out all there, we would have been fine with that,” he said. “But we were never really in the game.”
Agreed. So what now?
If you want to say not having power forward Zach Randolph for much of this game was a factor – he left the arena in the second quarter to be with his fiancée, who was in labor – then I guess you can say that. But the butt-whipping was well underway by then.
Anthony Davis, the Pelicans’ 6-10, 220-pound wunderkind, was clearly the one and only franchise player on the floor. The Grizzlies are a cast of good players, overachievers who simply do not possess enough talent to not play hard, smart or together.
So far, in this disjointed 2-3 start to the season, they look a lot like a team that wants credit for what it did last season. So instead of playing with the kind of defensive intensity that would, over four quarters, break other teams’ will, they show up and assume opponents will wilt because they’re the Grit-n-Grind Grizzlies.
Or at least that’s how it looked throughout the New Orleans game and for large chunks of the other four games this season.
Even before the embarrassing loss to the Pelicans, first-year coach Dave Joerger must have recognized something was amiss because he said, “Nobody is going to give us anything off of last year. That’s over. If we’re drinking that Kool-Aid, we are sadly mistaken.”
Yet to watch the Grizzlies is to wonder if their Gatorade has been replaced by that very Kool-Aid.
“We can’t sit here and think we’re the same team as last year,” Conley said. “We don’t have that status.”
Nor do they have Lionel Hollins. Management didn’t retain him as coach and they had some valid reasons for wanting to make a change. But the team intensity, while on display in the person of Tony Allen and other players on the court during last season’s magical run, always began with the cantankerous Hollins.
His rough edges kept the players sharp. Five games are too few, of course, to make a judgment on what Joerger can or can’t do. But maybe it’s not soon to again recognize that Hollins had more than a little to do with the team’s identity and success.
Then again, maybe if Hollins was still the coach the Grizzlies still would be off to a 2-3 start and, by all appearances, still a little too pleased with what they did last season. Human nature is tough opponent. Right now, it’s winning.
“We haven’t done anything,” Conley said. “We’ve got to prove it all over again.”
There’s a name for that challenge, too. It’s called this season.
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.