As the Grizzlies’ series with the Oklahoma City Thunder shifted to Memphis for Game 3 on Saturday, May 11, the Grizzlies found themselves in much better position than during the Clippers’ series.
Instead of staring up at a 0-2 deficit, their Game 2 victory tied the series 1-1 and has allowed them the possibility to advance to the Western Conference Finals just by winning three games at FedExForum.
So the window of opportunity has risen wider. Question is, will the Grizzlies be able to handle prosperity as well as they have handled adversity? Historically, the Grizz have done better with the latter.
Thanks to plays like this one – in which Tony Allen “pulled the chair out” from Kevin Durant, forcing a turnover – the Grizzlies beat the Thunder in Game 2 to even their Western Conference semifinal matchup. The teams play Saturday in Memphis.
(Photo: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Add to that the reality that many “experts” picked the Grizzlies to beat the Thunder because they are without injured point guard Russell Westbrook. And, that with both series in the West tied 1-1 the Grizzlies look like a strong contender to emerge from the West; Golden State has been tougher against San Antonio than most people predicted. Charles Barkley and others believe the Grizzlies are now perhaps the “favorite.”
“I don’t get into what people say,” said the Grizzlies’ Tony Allen. “People’s assumptions fail every day.”
The Grizz cannot afford to assume anything. They know what Kevin Durant can do. They know even the largest of leads can vanish (see Game 1 vs. the Clippers last season and what happened to the Warriors in Game 1 against the Spurs this past week).
“We ain’t thinking about (being the favorite) or any of that,” said forward Zach Randolph.
Yet Randolph will acknowledge this: There is no other team built quite like the Grizzlies, with Randolph and Marc Gasol a two-headed inside presence that presents unique problems.
“We are one of a kind,” Randolph said.
That said, game by game, quarter by quarter, possession by possession, there is still plenty of work to do. The three-day layoff between Games 2 and 3 is odd, but not without benefit. Coach Lionel Hollins said the Grizzlies have a “couple of nicks.” Veteran forward Tayshaun Prince, for instance is battling through hip, knee and foot pain, but he is expected to be ready for Game 3.
There’s also the hard work of trying to keep Durant anchored in this universe. If he scores 30-plus points, well, we’ve seen the Grizzlies can survive that. If he goes for 40-plus, who knows?
Sixth man Kevin Martin hurt the Grizzlies with his 25 points in Game 1 – and historically, Martin is a “Grizzlies killer” – but he made almost no impact in Game 2. Hollins didn’t necessarily give the Grizzlies all the credit for that
“Kevin Martin missed a bunch of shots,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we held him down.”
Allen played on an NBA championship team in Boston. When asked to compare that team with this Grizzlies team, he said: “Zach Randolph’s just as good as Kevin Garnett. Marc Gasol’s much better than Kendrick Perkins. And Mike Conley has a better jump shot than (Rajon) Rondo. And Tony Allen’s always been that thirsty dog; I’m just over here now.”
If the Grizzlies can maintain their collective thirst, they have a great opportunity to win two series in the postseason for the first time in franchise history and move to within a step of the NBA Finals. Whether that chance is enhanced by Westbrook’s absence, whether the Grizzlies after two games now better understand how to play this version of the Thunder, Hollins didn’t want to go there.
“I really don’t care,” he said when speaking with media after practice on Thursday, May 9. “We’ve just gotta play harder and play better. It’s nothing magical. It’s a basketball game.”
And a now-best-of-five series where a one-of-a-kind team perhaps has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.