VOL. 131 | NO. 82 | Monday, April 25, 2016
The Press Box
Grizzlies' Season Ends with Heart and Tears
By Don Wade
Game 4 of this miserable first-round playoff sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs was almost done. Only a few minutes of garbage time remained.
And the question from Dave Joerger to veterans Matt Barnes and Vince Carter was a simple one: Do you want to stay out there, to keep playing, and to end this thing with your boots on?
“Heck yeah!” Barnes said, because guys covered in tattoos are known to favor the “heck” word.
OK, maybe not. Or as Carter relayed later, “Well, that’s not what he actually said.”
No, the word Barnes employed was a word that was probably used a lot around the Grizzlies this season. As in, that word and followed by a comma and “no” when everyone learned Marc Gasol was lost for the season.
And that word followed by a comma and “again?” when Mike Conley was done. And then when Mario Chalmers ruptured his Achilles, and Brandan Wright couldn’t stay healthy, and two rotation players got traded and, really, maybe even when good friend Ryan Hollins walked back in the door for like the 500th time.
That word, “you again?”
When the regular season was finished the Grizzlies had used 28 players, most ever in the NBA. Late in the season, the Memphis Convention & Visitor’s Bureau actually adopted a new tagline:
“Memphis: home of music, barbecue and the 10-day contract.”
Somehow, amazingly, the Grizzlies won 42 games and earned a sixth straight playoff appearance.
“They could’ve quit, could’ve not made the playoffs,” Joerger said, fighting back tears. “And every day they came out and fought like crazy.”
It all ended Sunday, April 24 at FedExForum when the Spurs took a two-point halftime lead and ran off to a 116-95 victory. It felt like it has so many times. Close … and then just another blowout.
Including these playoffs, the Grizzlies lost 14 of the last 15 games they played.
And yet they hung around awhile as they led with their heart, only for the other team to then stomp on it. The Spurs led by as many as 25 points in the fourth quarter and Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan were not needed for one minute of it.
So, Joerger was doing the right thing asking Barnes, 36, and Carter, 39, that question. He tried talking about it, and them, in his post-game press conference but broke down.
“They wanted to finish the game,” the coach said. “That’s what Grizzlies basketball is about.”
Framed as perhaps the last ride for the Core Four – Gasol, Conley, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen – the likes of Matt Barnes and Vince Carter were just supposed to nice contributing parts of the second unit.
Carter and Barnes combined for 29 points and 10 rebounds on Sunday, which is neither spectacular nor embarrassing. It’s just what they could do and it wasn’t nearly enough. Not even with Lance “Born Ready” Stephenson setting his career playoff high with 26 points.
“The first thing Pop (Spurs coach Gregg Popovich) said to me when I congratulated him was that it wasn’t a fair fight,” Barnes said. “You know, I think everybody knew that (spoons at a gunfight and all that). But what I kept relaying to my team is that we’ve got to go down swinging, and I think we did that.”
Popovich had a few words with several Grizzlies after the game, including Conley and Gasol. The fans that stayed to the bitter end cheered loudly and waved their gold “All Heart” growl towels as Conley and Gasol – both wearing protective boots – were shown with the Spurs coach on the huge video board.
Carter was the last player to leave the court, jogging – really, almost skipping – toward the tunnel with his arm raised in the air to acknowledge the love. He tossed his headband into the crowd and then he disappeared from view, same as this weird, weird season.
Why did he linger?
“I hate losing,” he said. “I hate that it was over.”
“It’s just when you get older,” Carter said, “you savor the moments, regardless.”
Heck yeah, you do.
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.