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VOL. 129 | NO. 38 | Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fans Welcome ‘Grindfather’ Back

By Don Wade

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Decades from now, it might be the first story Tony Allen tells. The night Allen returned to the FedExForum court for the Grizzlies, after missing more than a month with a wrist injury, and when he checked into the game he received a standing ovation.

After a 21-game absence, Tony Allen returned to action for the Memphis Grizzlies Friday at FedExForum against the Los Angeles Clippers.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

“The Sixth Man – Grizz Nation,” a grinning Allen said after the Grizzlies’ 102-96 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers Friday, Feb. 21. “I had butterflies in my stomach.”

And, as usual, havoc on his mind.

Allen’s final line, in just less than 20 minutes of play off the bench, was nine points, six rebounds, two assists, two steals, one turnover and one block. By any measure, it was a good first day back at the office.

But as is almost always the case with Allen, his impact was greater than the numbers. And while Twitter was buzzing over teammate James Johnson’s dunk after he threw the ball to himself off the backboard – “That dunk was unbelievable,” Allen said – the most improbable shot of the night was Allen’s made 3-pointer to beat the shot clock.

However, it was Allen and Johnson together, with a good dose of shooting from Mike Miller that turned the game in a second quarter Memphis won 32-23.

“Tony Allen disrupted us,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I know him and he’s a tough kid.”

Maybe not a kid anymore – he just turned 32 – but as tough a perimeter defender as the NBA knows. Last season was his second straight as an NBA First Team All-Defense selection.

Ten years ago, Rivers pushed for the Boston Celtics to draft Allen; they did with the 25th overall pick in 2004 out of Oklahoma State. It was Rivers’ first season as Boston’s coach.

“I just thought he was an instinctive player,” Rivers said before the Clippers-Grizzlies game. “You watch that run that Oklahoma State had (to the Final Four when Allen was a senior), and he made so many plays just on knowing the game – defensive instincts. And any coach that takes credit for that, that’s wrong. That’s all him.

“We were laughing about it today, how he broke more of our coverages and then recovered and was in the right place,” Rivers said, recalling their Celtics days together, which included winning the NBA title at the end of the 2007-2008 season. “You couldn’t yell at him, because he always covered up for it. It became comical with all our coaches in Boston.”

What wasn’t a laughing matter with Grizzlies fans? Trade rumors last week that had Allen shipping out to Minnesota. Allen signed a new four-year deal in the offseason for around $20 million. As the Feb. 20 trade deadline neared, he pledged his allegiance to Memphis but also said, “If anything changed, I understand it. It’s a business.”

Not that he wanted to go to Minnesota or anywhere else.

“I love being here,” Allen said. “It’s where my heart is at; it’s where I made a name for myself.”

Whether Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger ultimately decides he likes Johnson and Allen together as a dynamic defensive duo – Johnson leads the league in blocked 3-point shots – or apart, to spread the wealth – Memphis has more defensive firepower than it ever has.

“He doesn’t take any plays off,” Johnson said. “And he’s constantly moving. People have to think about that when they come in here and have to go against Tony Allen.”

For Allen, of course, it’s just what he does.

“I found my niche on the defensive end,” he said. “That’s where I hang my hat.”

A hard hat.

“He’s The Grindfather,” forward Zach Randolph said. “What else can I say?”

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