The Western Conference has provided nothing but a plethora of early goodies and Christmas presents for fans from all corners of the country who continue cheering on their respective teams no matter where they might find themselves in the standings–and then there’s the Memphis Grizzlies and the San Antonio Spurs.
Wednesday night provided the best evidence for the Grizzlies’ case as the new number one team in the country. A testy win over the tried and true Golden State Warriors last night that ended a 16-game winning streak of first year head coach Steve Kerr & Co. was not enough to satisfy the appetite of the Grizzlies–so they got seconds.
Coming into San Antonio Wednesday night, it was clear that the Spurs were going to be another huge challenge for a Memphis squad that is in need of some difficult games in order to be best prepared for what may lie ahead of them in the post-season.
Trust me, they got their wish.
The defending champs had to fight their way back several times in the game, including several crucial plays in the closing seconds, but it’s the Grizzlies who had the last laugh in the triple-overtime instant classic.
Here are three things that the Memphis Grizzlies have taught us this week:
1. SAVED BY THE BELL
The Grizzlies, like many other teams, don’t mind hearing the closing horn that signifies the end of either a quarter or the game in its entirety. But unlike any other team in the NBA, Memphis has found a way to get inside of the head of their opponents, and in the closing seconds of the ball game, give extra time to their opponent for a last second shot.
This goes against what most would consider “normal protocol”, as you would not normally want your opponent to get the last look at the basket in a tight game; especially in a game with huge playoff implications. But that’s just what the Grizzlies showed us again in San Antonio against the defending champs.
With around ten seconds left in regulation, Vince Carter hurled up a three to try and tie the game but missed horrendously. The Grizzlies were able to get a rebound and the ball was eventually kicked out to Mike Conley who knocked down the tying three with just seven seconds to play. San Antonio knocked down a three of its own five seconds later on a Danny Green jumper that gave the Spurs their three-point lead right back.
But Memphis wasn’t done. Memphis loves miracles.
Marc Gasol got the ball around half court with just over two ticks remaining and somehow wormed his way to a half-decent shot that bounced off the glass and in.
Later on, the game would eventually go to a second overtime. Memphis knew that Spurs star Tim Duncan had been having an off night, especially from the free throw line, so the defense around Duncan was clearly laid back on the final play of the second extra session. Almost doing so in a cocky manner, the Grizzlies pretty much dared the Spurs to take a shot at them–and they did.
While Duncan did tie the game again to make it go to a third overtime, this wore down the older Spurs and allowed the younger Grizzlies to take another huge win right out of the pocket and playbook of a great team in the Western Conference.
2. NEW TESTAMENT
The idea of having a new coach put in place after your program had been doing exceptional with the previous coach, especially a head coach, is not one commonly or nicely accepted in the NBA. But somehow both the Grizzlies and the Warriors ( the two best teams in the league) are showing that sometimes it can pay huge dividends to go against the grain.
For Golden State, current head coach Steve Kerr came down from the broadcast booth to replace Mark Jackson. This move was not only one that caught countless fans off guard, but key players on the team like the Splash Bros. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson voiced clear opposition to letting Jackson go.
But now they might be thinking a little differently.
Under Kerr, the Warriors have provided the best start for a rookie head coach in NBA history. With 20+ wins and only three losses against them, Golden State is in great shape to make a championship run…
But so are the Grizzlies.
Memphis replaced former head coach Lionel Hollins (who has had a couple of stints with the Grizzlies as a head coach) with David Joerger, the man responsible for Memphis’ best start in their franchise history thus far in a season.
These bold new strategies and ways of running professional basketball teams are not only provided new and improved ways for the players to interact throughout the game, but it gives the fans (both at home and at the event) to feel more excitement than ever before. New coaches bring fresh, upbeat, and uplifting tempos and time management styles to professional basketball–and it could very well lead a team to an NBA title.
3. THE DEPTH OF MEMPHIS IS NO OASIS
For some teams, having a strong bench is not really a priority–sometimes because it can’t be because of stardom from the team’s starters, or because it just doesn’t fit their vibe–but the Grizzlies are not one of those teams. Against one of the stronger defensive units in the Western Conference in the Spurs, the Grizzlies’ bench put up 38 points including 18 from Vince Carter.
Formerly a starter with various teams in the league, Carter is using his expertise and high leadership skills to help direct the Memphis bench on the best way to play when they get their chance to shine–and it’s paying off and playing a huge part in the current hot streak they’re in.
Without strong play from the bench side of things, the Grizzlies would not be a complete team.
An example of a franchise that has adopted just the opposite approach would be the Los Angeles Lakers. Stars like Kobe Bryant and fresh, youthful talent like Nick Young (A.K.A. Swaggy P) haven’t given the Lakers much reason to focus on their bench. Providing for your starters is important of course, but the reserves play just a big a role sometimes when it comes down to the wire in the biggest games and most intense moments.
With all of the pieces to a championship puzzle seemingly in place, look for Memphis to be a serious road bump come playoff time.