Grizzlies Confident Despite Odds Against Them

By Don Wade

The Grizzlies have to win four of five to beat the San Antonio Spurs and advance to the NBA Finals. In other words, if reality itself could hold up a towel it would read: “I don’t bluff.”

The Grizzlies dropped the first two games in San Antonio and, historically speaking, a fool would soon part with his money if betting on the Grizzlies to come back and win the series. Because when a team wins the first two games of a seven-game series, it goes on to win that series 93.7 percent of the time. The Grizzlies already have upset these odds once, falling behind the Los Angeles Clippers 0-2 in this year’s opening-round playoff series before rallying to win four straight.

No NBA team has done it twice in the same postseason.

Memphis Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol drives to the basket against the San Antonio Spurs’ Tim Duncan. The Western Conference Finals resume in Memphis this weekend.  

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

“We’ve always been a confident group regardless of the situation,” said point guard Mike Conley. “Our faith never wavers in ourselves.”

Even so, power forward Zach Randolph will admit this time is different. He was held to just two points in the blowout loss in Game 1 and though he scored 15 points – with 18 rebounds – in Game 2 he shot 6-of-18 from the floor and is just 7-for-26 for the series. The Spurs have had much to do with that as they have collapsed on Randolph and center Marc Gasol and dared the Grizzlies to shoot from the outside.

“It does feel a little different (than the Clippers series),” Randolph said. “(The Spurs) have been through it. They’ve got rings.”

The Spurs are – no other way to say it – a one-of-a-kind NBA franchise. As Ben Golliver wrote at “Some franchises struggle with the possibility of relocation, some hope to break up all the losing by changing their team nickname. Some franchises can’t seem to pull themselves out of the lottery, some can’t get over the hump to win a playoff series. Some franchises can’t keep their star players in town, some can’t seem to find the luck or timing to find a star in the first place.

“Then there are the Spurs, who win and win and win.”

So, winning four out of five against a team coached by Gregg Popovich and led by Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili is going to require not just superior grit and ultra-determined grind, but – and this is just one list – better shooting near the rim, better mid-range shooting, better long-range shooting and better free-throw shooting.

Playing Quincy Pondexter and Jerryd Bayless together gave the Grizzlies better spacing, Conley said, and because starting small forward Tayshaun Prince has struggled mightily both shooting the ball and defending in this series, there has been external pressure for coach Lionel Hollins to shake up the lineup.

“It’s something I’ve thought about,” Hollins said Thursday, May 23, after practice. “It’s not something I’m ready to do.”

However, Hollins did indicate he was open to making changes quickly depending on how the game is going. That’s in keeping with the way he has coached all season, not holding to strict rotations so much as going by feel.

“I’m not hesitant to expand the lineup early,” Hollins said, his way of saying Pondexter and Bayless may get on the court just a few minutes into the action during Game 3 Saturday, May 25, at FedExForum.

Strangely, Gasol was awarded his Defensive Player of the Year trophy when the Grizz came home from L.A. down 0-2. On Thursday, a reporter informed him he had made the All-NBA second team. It caught him off guard.

“It’s great,” he said after a few quiet moments, adding, “It doesn’t help me beat the Spurs right now.”

And for the record, the Grizzlies still believe that’s possible.

“It starts on defense,” said NBA first-team defensive selection Tony Allen. “Me personally, I haven’t given up. And the way guys looked today, they haven’t given up either.

“Everybody still believes and wants to advance.”

And while the Grizzlies have not lost a home playoff game this postseason, Hollins cautioned against believing the past ensures the future.

“As I told my team,” the coach said, “being home is not going to win anything for us. We have to play a lot better.”