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VOL. 131 | NO. 80 | Thursday, April 21, 2016

Grizzlies Hope to Grind Out a Playoff Win at Home

By Don Wade

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April 22, 2004. The Memphis Grizzlies’ first home playoff game in franchise history at The Pointed House now known as Bass Pro Shops.

Hubie Brown was the Grizzlies coach then, and the NBA’s Coach of the Year for overseeing a 50-win season. The Gasol on the team was Pau and Bonzi Wells was the more controlled forerunner to Lance “Born Ready” Stephenson.

FedExForum lit up when the Memphis Grizzlies took down the Portland Trail Blazers during the first round ofthe 2015 NBA Playoffs. The Grizz are hoping for a similar home win against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

The opponent then, as it will be 12 years to the day on Friday, April 22, 2016, at FedExForum in Game 3 of this current first-round playoff series, was the joyless San Antonio Spurs.

Like 12 years ago, coach Gregg Popovich will be scowling on the sideline. Like 12 years ago, Tim Duncan will be whining to the officials, Tony Parker will be directing the Spurs’ precision offense and Manu Ginobili, now down to but a few strands of hair and looking about 20 years older than TNT analyst Reggie Miller, will be slithering here and there and making baskets that he should never make.

Nothing has changed and yet everything has changed.

Back then, of course, there were no playoff memories. So when the Grizzlies almost beat the Spurs in Game 3, falling 95-93 on April 22, 2004, in the only game of that series sweep to be decided by single digits, it was at once crushing and exhilarating.

Since, the Grizzlies have made many enduring playoff memories at FedExForum. And although this incarnation of the Grizzlies is just so many physically, mentally and emotionally wounded bears – using an NBA record 28 players during the course of the season and getting blown out by the Spurs in the first two games of this series in San Antonio – that can’t undo all the good that has come before and serves as a backdrop to Friday’s game.

For the Spurs, remember, were the first team the Grizzlies beat in the playoffs. After going 0-12 from 2004-2006, the Grizzlies clinched their first playoff series victory on April 29, 2011, in The Grindhouse against the Spurs, 99-91, as Zach Randolph scored 31 points.

Alas, the only major missing piece in that series was the injured Rudy Gay. This time, there is no Marc Gasol, no Mike Conley and no Mario Chalmers, among others.

After the Grizzlies’ Game 2 defeat, Matt Barnes captured the current mood when he said: “We’re coming to a gunfight with some spoons.”

Miller, who after Game 1 created some controversy by suggesting that he and TNT partners that include Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley, could beat this Grizzlies team, suggested after Game 2 that returning home would help the Grizzlies to play better. Barkley laughed at that concept and Barnes also said venue was not a factor, adding, “We’ve just got to play better. We can play here, we can play at the YMCA, we can play in Memphis …”

And yet, can’t you feel the energy that has been in The Grindhouse in games past? If you close your eyes and wave a growl towel, can’t you stir the echoes?

Ever since Tony Allen coined the phrase “Grit ‘n’ Grind” in a postgame sideline TV interview five years ago, there has been an almost supernatural power to the words and to other phrases, such as “Believe Memphis” and the Z-Bo-inspired “We Don’t Bluff” that has found its way onto those gold growl towels.

John Pugliese, vice president of marketing and broadcast communications for the team, says there will be growl towels and the franchise will not disavow these mottos just because this team looks nothing like the previous five teams of this six-year playoff run.

“The idea of `Believe Memphis’ doesn’t go away because we have injuries,” he said. “If anything, it actually solidifies it.”

Perhaps the most memorable playoff moment came in 2013, the season the Grizzlies reached the Western Conference Finals. They went down 0-2 in the first round to the hated Los Angeles Clippers and closed out the series by winning four straight and Game 6 at FedExForum. As the fourth quarter wound down, the impending result, 118-105 by score, was coming clear.

That’s when mascot Grizz scaled a ladder and unfurled a huge banner reading “Finish Them” and fans sang “Whoop That Trick” and “Whoop That Clip.” The roof about came off the building.

No one expects any kind of celebration like that this season. But Jason Potter, director of promotions and event presentation, will do his best to ramp the crowd up for the start of Friday’s 8:30 p.m. tip-off and to keep fans engaged and acting as a sorely needed Sixth Man.

“We’re gonna keep our foot on the gas and keep the crowd fired up,” Potter said.

One obvious way to fire up the crowd would be to have some fun at Miller’s expense. Potter says they won’t go there, adding, “We’ll leave him to his own opinion.”

And yet one wonders what Potter and his creative game ops crew might do. If Friday’s Game 3 and Sunday’s Game 4, which has the disadvantageous noon start time to accommodate ABC-TV, do not go well, it will somewhat limit them even though Potter says they will be true to their mission and “play through the horn.”

There is also the question of how full FedExForum might be. Conley and Gasol were to give away several hundred playoff tickets outside FedExForum on Wednesday, April 20. Pugliese says he expects Games 3 and 4 will be sold out, but it’s difficult to imagine that they will be hard sellouts.

On the other hand, what if The Grindhouse is mostly full and against all odds and all reason the Grizzlies find themselves on the brink of what presently seems impossible – winning a game from Kawhi Leonard and the rest of The Machine that is the San Antonio Spurs?

What kind of Memphis moment would that be and how would Potter and his game ops crew react to that? Given the Barnes quote, one can imagine mascot Grizz parading around the court with a giant plastic spoon during a timeout late in the fourth quarter. It would be over the top, sure, but nobody does over the top like the home team.

“We’ve always got something in our bag of tricks,” Potter said, giving away nothing. “If the situation presents itself, we’ll be ready.”

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