VOL. 127 | NO. 23 | Friday, February 3, 2012
Tony Being Tony at Center of Grizz Roller Coaster Season
DON WADE | Special to The Daily News
Tony Allen is the middle of everything.
Tony Allen’s play has been at the heart of the Grizzlies’ success since signing with Memphis before the 2010-2011 season. Sometimes his play on the court could be defined as being a “Grit & Grind Superhero.” (Photo: Lance Murphey)
If the Grizzlies are making a frantic comeback, like they did recently at home to beat the Denver Nuggets in overtime, Allen is in the highlight reel blocking the shot of Denver forward Al Harrington as he barrels down the lane toward the rim, the potential game-winning basket in hand, Allen flying out of nowhere like some sort of Grit & Grind Superhero.
Of course, earlier in that game, when the Grizzlies were sputtering, Allen was in the middle of that, too. He missed the rim on layups; he lost the ball entirely, inexplicably, on fastbreaks.
Tony being Tony.
It was even true of his tweet after that win, his energy feeding the team’s collective will as they stopped a four-game losing streak: “Hungry than a hostage!!”
No one, it seems, is hungrier than Tony Allen.
“One of the top five (defensive players) in the league,” said Denver coach George Karl. “He’s so good, you have to try and keep the ball away from him. He’s a major motor, gives them their strut, their toughness.”
All things that don’t necessarily show up in the stat sheet (though he is among the league leaders in steals), but that are clear enough to the trained eye.
“The sum exceeds its parts,” said Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace, who used a first-round pick on Allen with the Boston Celtics and signed him for the Grizzlies as a free agent before last season. “He’ll miss a layup, get carried away on a fastbreak, but he’s in motion all the time. He gets more good results than negative.”
Allen, by the way, would like his say on the missed layups, which happen, oh, nearly every game.
“You gotta consider, if I miss a layup, I’m sticking with their best player,” he said, “using all my energy. If I miss a layup, there’s still a lot of minutes left. For the most part, I’ll help you more than I hurt you.”
Before the Grizzlies were to play the Sacramento Kings, Allen knew he would have the assignment of shadowing former University of Memphis Tiger Tyreke Evans. So Allen was studying film of every move in Evans’ arsenal and how it fit within the larger scheme of the Kings’ offense.
While he studied, several of his teammates were laughing and chatting about things other than basketball. Which is perfectly normal, but not if you’re Tony Allen.
“It’s all about preparation for me,” Allen said, gesturing toward the rest of the locker room. “I’m judged differently than a lot of these guys.”
Defensive stopper. In two words, that’s his resume. That’s the mission. Last season, he was named NBA All-Defensive Second Team. It was both honor and slight. Kobe Bryant made first team.
“I laughed at that, kind of surprised me I didn’t make it,” Allen said. “But it just added fuel to the fire. The better I am defensively, the better it is for my team.”
Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins compares Allen to former Grizz player and fan favorite Shane Battier, but only to a point. Both were excellent at reading offensive sets. “But Shane was never the defensive player Tony is physically,” Hollins said.
Memphis fans appreciate Tony Allen in a whole different way than they did Battier. Jeb Hart, 24, sporting a T-shirt bearing Allen’s likeness and “TA9” at a recent game, offers this PG-13 explanation for why he loves Allen: “He plays every game like it’s the high school state championship and he’s trying to get laid after the game.”
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, who for years coached Bruce Bowen – All Defensive First Team five times – said of Allen, “He loves the role (of defensive catalyst). A lot of guys can’t do that night in, night out. That might be the one fair way to compare him and Bruce; Bruce relished the role.”
Allen, 30, and in his eighth NBA season, says he still thinks about a sign he saw each day in the Celtics’ weight room. He doesn’t recall the exact words, but the message was plain: Regret hurts more than physical pain.
“We got a short window in my occupation,” he said.
So he plays hard. Or as teammate Quincy Pondexter said: “He tweets exactly the way he plays – high energy.”
Allen’s Twitter account, @aa000G9, is locally famous. Typical tweet, this one from Detroit: “…Random, I got on the bus 2day b4 the game!! I smelt like 5 different colognes 2day!! Had the bus smelling like Macys.”
Then there was the time he called out point guard Mike Conley on Twitter for listening to Michael Jackson in the locker room.
“So I called him out on Twitter for listening to Prince,” Conley said, laughing.
More seriously, “Tony’s one of the few guys who can change a game defensively,” said Conley. “And he has a short memory. He throws the bad plays out the window and goes back to being aggressive again.”
Back to Tony being Tony.