Game 5: Overtime, Again

In Historic 4th Straight OT Game, Grizz Prevail

Serge Ibaka’s put back off a Kevin Durant miss came a fraction of a second too late. Literally. A tenth of a second separated a 1 point, 100-99 Grizz overtime win, from a 1 point, 101-100 Thunder overtime win. Were you expecting anything less?

photo by Nikki Boertman

photo by Nikki Boertman

For the fourth consecutive game, the Grizzlies and Thunder played 48 minutes. And then they played 5 more. Because why the hell not? Never before has that happened in a playoff series. But never before has there been a series like Memphis-OKC. I understand that’s circular reasoning, but it’s true. Perhaps these teams will have beat one another to such a pulp that neither can move on to the conference finals, but regardless, this is something special, and we are witnesses…Lebron isn’t using that anymore is he?

It’s Miller Time

While Tony Allen continues to drop TA bombs on Kevin Durant, and thus the Thunder’s offense, the Grizzlies have suffered their own shooting woes. Mike Miller said no más. When Memphis won the Miller sweepstakes last summer, over OKC nonetheless, this is what they had in mind. Playing in all 82 regular season games was just an added bonus. Going 5-8 from downtown, and tying a season high 21 points, Miller led the way for Memphis as the team’s high scorer. A 27 foot bomb late in the second quarter was particularly memorable. Just a hunch, but I bet he likes deep dish pizza.

Below are Miller’s shoes from last night. On the swoosh he wrote “BORN 4 THIS”. Just above that reads, “I CAN’T, WE CAN”.

photo by Nikki Boertman

photo by Nikki Boertman

Joey Crawford Goes Rogue

The highlight package featured by most t.v. stations and websites focuses on an awkward moment, as Thunder coach Scott Brooks put it, when Kevin Durant was shooting two free throws near the end of overtime. With 27.5 seconds remaining, and the scoreboard reading 100-99, what would eventually be the final score, Joey Crawford went Joey Crawford. After making the first, Durant received the ball for his second attempt when suddenly, the [insert scathing adjective of choice] referee blew his whistle and demanded the ball back. He proceeded to approach the scorer’s table and verbally assaulted some poor soul for repeatedly failing to correct an error on one of the video boards in Chesapeake Energy Arena. The issue regarded team fouls…supposedly, but who knows. The 89% free throw shooter assumed to be MVP missed the attempt, when it finally came, and you know the rest. It was an awkward moment indeed, but it worked out for the Grizz. @corkgaines had a little fun, creating this gif.

@corkgaines had a little fun with it, creating this gif

@corkgaines

Westbrook Delusional 

In the post game interview, Westbrook and Durant came out looking like clowns, as usual. Most of the questions were directed at KD, but when Westbrook got a window, he delivered. He boasted that if given a 15 foot (jumper), he’d make it 9 times out of 10. 90% was his self-assessed shooting percentage. In reality, in this series, he has shot a blistering 6-of-23 from 8-16ft. That’s 26%. 90% is not 26%. 26% is not 90%. Unless you’re Russell Westbrook. Furthermore, he is 0-14 in all 4 overtime periods combined, with 1 point from the foul line. Westbrook is a top 10 athlete in the league, even after multiple knee surgeries. He’s clearly not a top 10 mind, though.

We love you Russ. But actually we despise you. But keep shooting.

 

Round 1: Stupid Good

In what is being dubbed the most exciting first round in recent memory, and probably ever, Memphis-OKC epitomizes the equality which has defined round 1.

Miami’s sweep. Not surprising. But then there’s everyone else. 8 seed Atlanta leads 1 seed Indiana 3-1. Brooklyn and Toronto are tied 2-2. Washington has just dispatched Chicago 4-1. Bulls fans, you’re not the only ones missing Derrick Rose. We hope he’s back soon, and better than ever. Then there’s the West.

Grizz-Thunder and Rockets-Trailblazers has contained enough overtime to comprise 48 minutes of a regulation game, or at least enough heartbreak. The Grizzlies lead 3-2 and can close out Thursday, while Portland can clinch tonight as they have a 3-1 advantage. Also tonight, Dallas and San Antonio will break their 2-2 deadlock. The Clippers now lead 3-2 over Golden State, just after Commissioner Silver’s lifetime ban reigned down upon Donald Sterling. This is why we love the NBA playoffs.

-Travis Nauert

Fear and Loathing in OKC

He chuckled. “As your attorney,” he said, “I advise you not worry.” He nodded toward the bathroom. “Take a hit out of that little brown bottle in my shaving kit.”

   “What is it?” 

   “Adrenochrome,” he said. “You won’t need much. Just a little tinytaste.”

   I got the bottle and dipped the head of a paper match into it.

   “That’s about right,” he said. “That stuff makes pure mescaline seem like ginger beer. You’ll go completely crazy if you take too much.”

…My body felt like I’d just been wired into a 220 volt socket.


   It was after midnight when I finally was able to talk and move around . . . but I was still not free of the drug; the voltage had merely been cranked down from 220 to 110. I was a babbling nervous wreck, flapping around the room like a wild animal, pouring sweat and unable to concentrate on any one thought for more than two or three seconds at a time.

-Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

 

Hopefully, you’ve read that book, or at least seen the movie. But even if you haven’t, I’ll take it that you can sympathize with why these lines came to mind after Monday night’s game 2 between the Grizz and Thunder. As midnight passed, I struggled to hit my REM cycle with an exam approaching in just over 12 hours. I was jacked up on adrenochrome. Ok, it was just regular naturally secreted adrenaline, but a deluge had flooded my bloodstream.

It’s likely that some residual pain from the 3 OT loss will always linger, but for now, most of it has dissipated. Just as Mike Conley and Greivis Vasquez connected on desperation heaves forcing extra time in that classic three years ago, last night Kevin Durant and Kendrick Perkins added to the archive of highlights which exemplify the ongoing roshambo that is the Grizzlies-Thunder rivalry. The unfortunate nature of those specific highlights, for Memphis fans in 2011 and now Oklahoma City fans in 2014, is that they came in losing efforts.

Up 5 with under 30 seconds remaining, a glimpse of light shone on the Grizzlies as they had seemingly done enough to split on the road and head home with the series tied 1-1. Then Kevin Durant happened.  A near Tony Allen steal turned into a freak 4 point play as Marc Gasol hip checked KD, who simultaneously saved a dangerous Westbrook pass (Westbrook out of control, no way?) and launched a shot from the corner as he fell into court-side seating. It was the only thing, aside from choking at the foul line, which Memphians know too much about, that could have kept OKC alive. And it did.

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

On the last play of regulation, after a split pair of Conley free throws, Westbrook bombed a potential game winning three, but it hit the front iron and bounced far side into the hands of the bumbling Kendrick Perkins. K-Perk put the ball off the glass for his first and only shot attempt of the game. The ball travelled the circumference of the rim as if by habit, confused by the accuracy of his placement and expecting to finagle its way out of the basket. Eventually, it dropped through the net and on the game went to extra time, tied at 99.

Not to worry. Zach went ham, as in hamburglar, taking what was rightfully his in overtime and outscoring the Thunder by himself 8-6. The Grizz went up for good with 26 seconds remaining as TA dropped a sly dish to ZBo on the left post that he finished calmly.

(Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

(Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

There were many noteworthy contributions. Mike Miller’s three late in regulation off a Conley assist regained a briefly squandered lead. Beno Udrih’s 14 points came on 6-8 shooting. The latter sparked a series of puns including Geoff Calkins’ claim that Beno gave Memphis “a shot of Udrihnaline”, especially appropriate for this post. Courtney Lee had a quiet 16 points, if there ever were such a thing for this frequently offensively challenged team. Despite feeling the force of Serge Ibaka’s league leading shot blocking ability, Ed Davis provided a quick burst of energy with 6 rebounds and 2 blocks in 9 minutes.

And then there was The Grindfather. 8 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 steals fail to measure his effect on the game and importance to the team. Throughout, and especially down the stretch, TA made OKC players and fans wildly uncomfortable. Whether through face guarding, fronting, or denying the passing lane, Tony did it all. He would even switch off Durant and onto Westbrook in the same possession, effectively blowing the Thunder’s mind and dropping a TA bomb on their offensive sets. It was vintage Tony Allen. Enjoy:

Ok, so his poise and decisiveness on the fast break and offensive end wasn’t necessarily vintage, but it was brilliant.

The emotion that followed the final buzzer was one part relief, one part elation, and two parts I need new underwear. The win shifts home court advantage in Memphis’ favor as the series moves to the Grindhouse for games 3 & 4. The Grizz look to extend a franchise record 14 game home win streak.

Last night saw some milestones reached as well, with Memphis donning Beale Street Blue for the first time in playoff history. Also, Coach Joerger earned his first playoff victory. Congrats, Coach. Joerger-bombs for everyone!

 

-Travis Nauert

Dragon Slayed

Grizz top Suns, Clinch 4th consecutive playoff birth

The Grizzlies started fast, faltered midway, but finished strong to stave off the desperate Suns, eliminating Phoenix from postseason contention and punching themselves a ticket to the Western Conference Playoffs. ZBo continued his late season dominance, posting a season high 32 points for his first 30+ game since 2012. His final score came with 47 seconds left off a 1 on 2 lumbering “fast break”. ZBo’s bear paw stole a Goran Dragic pass as he set off on a marauding full court rampage. He came to a jump stop, then pulled an up and under move on P.J. Tucker and Channing Frye before kissing the orange off the glass. Memphis led 95-91 at that point.

Mike Conley was his usual clutch self with 8 points, 2 assists, and 2 rebounds in the final five minutes. Mike Miller, who stands as the lone Grizzly to play in all 81 games thus far (who woulda thunk it), recorded his own season high of 21 points, going 5-6 from beyond the arc, including a pivotal bomb from the right wing with just over 3 minutes remaining. A Conley three coming from the same spot as Miller’s gave Memphis the lead for good at 93-91.  The next possession, Zach got his coast to coast bucket which was eerily similar to a sequence that came against the Spurs in round 1 of the 2011 playoffs. Going 1-4 from the foul line in the last 30 seconds, Conley left the window open, but Memphis prevailed anyway by a final score of 97-91.

Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

Tony Allen brought his essential, erratic energy as usual. After a strong third quarter by Phoenix saw the Suns take the lead, TA went end to end and gracefully (no, but really) scored a scooping layup (pictured above) as the buzzer sounded at the end of the third quarter.  Down the stretch he guarded Dragic, alternating with Mike Conley and forcing others to initiate the Suns’ offense.

The win clinched a franchise record fourth consecutive playoff berth, and an opportunity to seize the 7th seed and a matchup against OKC should the Grizzlies get past Dallas on Wednesday. Beating the Mavericks would also give the Grizz another franchise record in the form of 14 straight home wins. Last Friday’s win over the 76’ers tied the previous mark of 13. A series with OKC would obviously be more desirable than one with the Spurs, who own the best record in the league at 62-19. That also happens to be the best record San Antonio has achieved in the Popovich-Duncan era. For reference, the Spurs are about to embark on their 17th consecutive playoff campaign, tying the Lakers streak from ’77-’93 which saw them win 5 championships.

Just prior to tipoff, Matthew Preston, aka Grizzlam (twitter handle @mattyp90), sent shockwaves through the twitter verse, silencing @sunsaholic’s tiresome all-caps rant.  Additionally, he dropped this masterpiece:

 

image by @mattyp90

image by @mattyp90

All of the Grizzlies pictured above, in addition to Mike Miller, played a critical role in downing the Suns, led by the Dragon.  Admittedly, Dragic had an incredible season pacing Phoenix under first year head coach Jeff Hornacek.  A team predicted to win 20 some odd games grossly overachieved, especially considering Eric Bledsoe missed almost half the season (39 games).

With the Grizzlies failing to clinch a playoff spot until last night, some fans might have wondered if ZBo could possibly be playing his final home game in FedEx Forum Wednesday night should Memphis miss out on the postseason. An impending contract situation plus front office desires to further leave their mark on the team has created doubt in the minds of a couple people. For now, Zach refused to let his time in Memphis get cut short, as he has added at the very least an additional two home games to schedule. In management’s defense, Tony Allen’s new contract is nothing short of a sign to further commitment with the current core. With Memphis etched into this year’s playoffs under first year coach Dave Joerger, it would appear ZBo will be donning Beale Street Blue for the foreseeable future, and that’s how it should be. Plus, can you imagine him in any other uniform now?

(AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

 

-Travis Nauert

10 Games

That’s all we’ve got left, and its going to be a doozy.

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 1.49.32 PM

(ESPN.com)

Despite the away game-heavy season ending, I have more than enough confidence in this Grizzlies team’s ability to get it done and secure a spot in the playoffs.

We’re not the same team we were last season. We’re multidimensional now.

We are no longer trapped with boasting just our unique, grind-it-out style. That’s right. We do that big offense thing just fine too. The Grizz are regularly racking up 100+ PPG. Mike Miller is playing some of the best basketball of his career at 34, and I’d say much of the credit goes to Coach Joerger for fashioning plays around his superior shooting. Miller’s 70% FG percentage since the All Star Break is a weapon we haven’t had in years.

Since Marc’s glorious return on January 14, we’ve added a notable amount of wins to our resume.

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 1.23.31 PM

(ESPN.com)

We have a real chance of reaching 50 wins on the season, which would likely put us in the 7th spot in the West, maybe 6th or even 5th.

Big questions on the bench:

Ed Davis – Davis has played 3 games in the last 11- logging 18, 20 and 4.

Jon Leuer – He’s had inconsistent minutes as well. He’s gotten PT in all but one of   the last 10 games, but he’s only broken the 10-minute mark in two of those games. Leuer has proven his worth plenty of times this season, so I’m interested to see what impact (if any) he’ll have in these final 10 games.

James Johnson – I’m a big JJ fan. He brings a level of excitement that is incredibly valuable coming off the bench, but he’s been the most puzzling. Johnson has either been playing a key role off the bench, coming in for “scrub” minutes or not entering the gam at all. My thought is that he is another wing player unable to hit outside shots, so he needs to be paired with an outside shooter or play as an undersized 4. His FG% is unpredictable, but his energy and stellar defense make him worth a risk in my opinion.

The tricky part lies ahead as we are one of five teams battling to stay in the top eight.                                               Here comes another screenshot.

(ESPN.com)

(ESPN.com)

As always, more thoughts will follow shortly. For now, I’ll leave you with the enthusiastic Twitter stylings of Beno Udrih- aka, the most eager new guy ever and my new favorite Twitter account.

 

 

 

LOL, Beno. Do what you gotta do.

 

-Casey Black

Memphis March Madness

March Madness is well underway in Memphis. The Grizzlies head west for a season long 5 game road trip beginning Wednesday with an ESPN televised game against the West worst Utah Jazz. The road trip seems untimely coming so late in the year and the Grizz having won a season high 10 straight games in FedEx Forum. However, the team wouldn’t be in such a good position now were it not for away game success throughout the season. With so many games missed from the likes of Marc Gasol and Tony Allen, combined with an early season home slump, the Grizz have found solace in hitting the road and escaping the pressure of escalating expectations.

The timing of this trip is of course due to the real “March Madness”, the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament which has reached the round of sixteen, also known as the Sweet Sixteen to you plebeians. Overall #1 seed Florida headlines the 4 programs that will descend upon FedEx Forum Thursday night when the tournament continues. UCLA, in addition to double digit seeds Dayton and Brevin Knight’s own Stanford Cardinal, will be present as well. Unfortunately, the hometown Tigers were dispatched by Virginia, who capitalized on the matchup problems many locals feared in facing the Cavaliers. This is the first time since 2009 that Memphis and FedEx Forum have hosted the Sweet Sixteen. Then, eventual champion North Carolina beat Blake Griffin and Oklahoma (so his losing ways in Memphis go deeper than Grizz-Clips) in the Elite 8.

John Branch

John Branch

…but back to the Association. The Grizzlies are continuing their late season push for higher playoff seeding as Dallas has dropped two of four in the midst of a seven game home stretch. The overtime losses to both Brooklyn and Minnesota put Dallas on the outside looking in with Phoenix in 8th and the Grizz in 7th. These standings will be out-dated by tomorrow, as things change on a nightly basis this late in the year.

Last weekend the Grizz flexed their muscles, showing just how capable they are even when facing less familiar East competition. Splitting a back to back at Miami and home against Indiana is nothing to fret over, although one can easily be frustrated that Memphis did not sweep the two. I watched almost all of the Miami game (except when my stream lost connection and the Tigers finish against George Washington became more interesting than necessary) and the Grizzlies, particularly ZBo, controlled the entire game until the fourth quarter began to wind down. The officials got whistle happy and in the Heat’s favor. Zach was mugged multiple times down low, and when he put a finger near Lebron (literally), it was as if “The King” had been hit by a baseball bat. JA Adande had a front row seat to the best “act” in town:

 

Despite the loss, a great moment was shared among Grizz and Heat fans pre-game when Mike Miller was presented with his championship ring from last year’s Finals.

ZBo got wide eyed upon seeing Mike’s newest piece of jewelry, and you know he fancies one for himself:

BjY6DcbCEAA1yc8

 

While things went south (beach) in Miami, the Grizz responded with a resounding victory against the Pacers. In the consensus “most complete game of the year”, the Pacers were overwhelmed and visibly frustrated against the league’s best 4/5 combo of ZBo and Big Spain. Jon Roser, producer of The Chris Vernon Show, provided the stat of the night, pointing to Roy Hibbert’s complete lack of presence on the boards:

After taking the East’s best 1-2 shot, the Grizz feasted on a Minnesota Timberwolves team that has seen its playoff chances all but mathematically eliminated. At one point leading by 22, Minnesota coughed up a game against Phoenix that will likely prove to be their death blow.

The Grizz should be able to handle Utah tomorrow, not to look ahead, although that’s exactly what I’m going to do by eyeing Friday night’s matchup against Golden State. The Warriors will have had 6 full days of rest, last playing against San Antonio Saturday in a loss. Splash Bros Steph Curry and Klay Thompson will be locked in to keep their distance from the Grizz as the Warriors become the next team to pass in the West. It is still way too early to think about who the Grizz would “rather play” in a potential first round series, as a mere half game separates Memphis from Phoenix and Dallas. Not until a spot is clinched does creating a favorable matchup even come in to play, and in all honesty, its very possible a spot won’t be clinched until the last game of the season. As you likely know, Memphis’ final two games of the year are in Phoenix, and back home against Dallas. It’s funny how that works out when you screw around and drop games to Cleveland, Charlotte, and other inferior East teams, while also going 3-11 in the division up to this point. Moreover, a final game against the Spurs in San Antonio (NBAtv) looms, as well as a second matchup against the defending champion Heat in Memphis (ESPN).

Every NBA team hopes to play well into April and the best expect to reach May. For those hopes to become a reality, the Grizz must persevere as their home court is taken over by the collegiate ranks. March is almost over, but the madness is just beginning.

 

-Travis Nauert