Bound 4

We did it. Grizz Nation hurled constant positive energy in the mix and we did it. The Grizz have made the playoffs for the fourth season in a row (hence the Kanye West play on words in the title). We hit 50 wins on the season, but more importantly, we dodged the Spurs, ladies and gentlemen. But what now?

 

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

You have to admit it’s pretty funny: all of this focus on achieving the 7th spot. We detested sitting in the 8th spot, not because we were at the bottom of the pack; because we were on the fast track to facing the most formidable NBA team in recent memory. The funniest part of the whole thing is that the Western Conference regular season ended as a “Don’t Play the Spurs Bowl” (as my friend Clayton so eloquently put it). While defeating the Mavs and stealing the 7th seed in that last game of the season, I wasn’t thinking about victory. No no. I was laughing and thinking, “Have fun with the Spurs, suckas.” The Spurs haunt my dreams and for good reason.

Maybe the joke’s on us. If this was the Eastern Conference, Grizz Nation would be looking at a 3 seed. The competition in our conference is disgustingly fantastic. The combined regular season wins of all Western Conference teams is the most in history since the 8-team playoff format. 

We did all that work just so we could avoid Pop and his incredibly efficiently yet boring lineup. And look what we’ve got now- one of the most exciting teams in the NBA, The Oklahoma City Thunder. But we play that game better than anyone. We’re exciting and thrilling and, at times, wonderfully horrifying. 

Here’s what we’re working with:

Game 1, April 19, Memphis at Oklahoma City, 9:30 p.m. EST (ESPN)

Game 2, April 21, Memphis at Oklahoma City, 8:00 p.m. EST (TNT)

Game 3, April 24, Oklahoma City at Memphis, 8:00 p.m. EST (TNT)

Game 4, April 26, Oklahoma City at Memphis, 9:30 p.m. EST (ESPN)

Game 5, April 29, Memphis at Oklahoma City, TBA (if necessary)

Game 6, May 1, Oklahoma City at Memphis, TBA (if necessary)

Game 7, May 3, Memphis at Oklahoma City, TBA (if necessary)

 

(Photo Cred- Joe Murphy)

(Photo Cred- Joe Murphy)

 

So, I’d like to say congrats to Joerger for his title of Western Conference Coach of the Month. Oh, and he also just wrote himself into the Grizzlies history books with this playoff appearance in his first season as head coach.

Let’s take this post season one game at a time. I’m not going to speculate or make any predictions today. This could really go either way- since our last meeting on February 28, the Thunder haven’t been playing their best and we’ve done relatively well. I do, however, have a hunch that we could split the first two games in OKC. Just a hunch.

Until then, you can find me at Silky’s watching it all unfold with greatest folks on the planet. Yeah, that’s right. I’m in Memphis.

Memphis Grizzlies @ OKC Thunder

ESPN

Tipoff: 8:30 pm (ET)

 

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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

Heat can’t stand Grizz, West race tightens

In the hours following Wednesday night’s Grizz-Heat slugfest, punctuated by a Tony Allen slam cementing his return to form (Grizz fans hope and desperately pray), Geoff Calkins nominated the contest as a candidate for best regular-season game in franchise history.  I’ll leave rankings to individual preferences, but it had all the necessary ingredients.  Importance?  Immeasurable.  Highlight plays?  Myriad.  There were antics that only the Grizzlies can perform in a season saving game and yet still emerge victorious.  From Marc Gasol’s feisty Spanish temper convincing him to engage Lebron in a one man full court press, to Tony Allen’s steal turned behind-the-back pass, not to be outdone by what Yahoo Sports’ Ball Don’t Lie editor Dan Devine perfectly described as “one for the pantheon of missed Tony Allen layups”, this was a game that deserved a national audience.  The Grizzlies summoned enough heart, grit and grind, outlasting Lebron’s 37 points and rim rocking jams to remain alive in the savage and cannibalistic Western Conference playoff race.

There was also this absurd sidewinder pass from Marc to Courtney Lee:

SBNation

SBNation

And heres that full court press:

courtesy @mattyp90

courtesy @mattyp90

Something or someone pissed off ZBo as he got started early and often, connecting on all 8 of his first quarter attempts.  Among those included a 36 second span in which he hit a three pointer from the top of the key and dunked off a Marc Gasol assist.  Yes, it was the kind of night on which one might spot a unicorn underneath a blue moon while the calendar read February 29th.  Much of Zach’s damage came at the expense of Shane Battier, whose final appearance in Memphis was about as appropriate as the response the Grizzlies delivered.  With Hubie Brown announcing, Penny Hardaway sitting court side, and Mike Miller donning Beale Street Blue once again, Battier scored all 9 of his points on three first quarter 3-pointers to satisfy the cravings of Memphis basketball fans that span three decades.  It was a special night indeed.

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

When ZBo’s scoring production faded, Mike Conley found his stroke hitting three fourth quarter 3’s, including two assisted by Nick Calathes on fast break opportunities.  The line up of Conley, Calathes, Allen, Randolph, and Gasol has performed well together, closing out games (4/4 vs Denver comes to mind) with the requisite amount of ball handling and security, defensive prowess, and of course, enough bruising and badass-ness from TA, ZBo, and Big Spain.

 

 

The Grizzlies won a game they had to have, as the Suns fought off New Orleans to remain a game ahead of Memphis.  After San Antonio took care of business against the Mavericks, fans will continue to back the Spurs in tonight’s game against Phoenix. The Spurs overcame Tony Parker’s absence and held their collective Tex-Mex breath during a scary moment when Tim Duncan’s knee bent in a way which no human being’s should. Timeless Timmy made his way to the locker room, but returned to log 39 minutes, scoring 20 points and grabbing 15 rebounds.  He was just fine, but admittedly scared in the moment.

How will Pop handle his starters, up 3 1/2 on OKC? (AP Photo/LM Otero)

How will Pop handle his starters, up 3 1/2 on OKC?
(AP Photo/LM Otero)

It remains to be seen if Gregg Popovich will rest the likes of Duncan, Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard in light of this near nightmare.  Granted, Pop can simply plug in an obscure foreign import and expect the same of them as he does his Hall-of-Fame trio.  The scary part is that they usually perform at that same level.  From Australia’s Patty Mills, and Canada’s Jeff Ayres, to the more recognizable Brazilian Thiago Splittler, the Spurs are capable of finding talented, egoless pieces from any continent.

What do these developments mean for the Grizzlies playoff chances?  They now control their own destiny to capture the 7th seed, and could conceivably steal the 6th spot with help from Golden State.  The Warriors screwed around and blew a 20 point lead to the same Denver Nuggets team that the Grizzlies struggled with twice in a just over a week’s time, but managed to defeat on both occasions.  Last night, however, Kenneth Faried’s brutish Greco Roman strength bulldozed Draymond Green deep into the paint, and released an attempt so lacking in fundamentals that George Mikan turned over in his grave.  No matter, the shot found its way through the basket, and Stephen Curry’s would be heroics were rendered meaningless.

Tonight, the Grizzlies take on Philadelphia in Memphis’ penultimate home game before traveling to LA and Phoenix.  The finale, of course, is another nationally televised game against Dallas which will conclude what has been a historic playoff chase and sparked discussion of revamping the entire format.  Whoever is left on the outside looking in will boast a record good enough for 3rd in the East, while the two qualifiers will aim to conquer the Spurs and Thunder.  Luckily, the Grizzlies don’t have to rely on others, and will need to look no further than the mirror should they not make the cut.

(Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

(Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

 

-Travis Nauert