Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Grizzlies Love Fest Has Begun...Is It Justified?

If you had the Memphis Grizzlies winning the current series with the Thunder, then I would like tomorrow's lotto numbers if you'd be so kind.  I understand the series is not over yet, but Memphis has done a masterful job of taking Oklahoma City out of it's gameplan in every way possible.  What does this mean?  Did we under estimate Memphis?  Is Oklahoma City nothing without Westbrook?  Are the Grizzlies the best team in the West?  Can they beat the Heat?

These questions rank from "a good conclusion" to "obvious overreaction".  So how good are the Grizzlies?  Well we know they are dominant at home.  They went 32-9 in the regular season at home.  They have yet to lose a home game during this current postseason run, which includes two games against the Thunder and three against the LA Clippers.  The raucous Memphis crown has really got behind the loveable underdog that is the Grizzlies.  The crowd never gives up on it's team and always goes crazy when they take their opponents down. 

It also helps that Memphis was the best defensive team in the NBA this season.  I'll repeat, THE BEST.  They were the only team in the NBA to hold their opponents to under 90 points per game for the season.  They had Mike Conley break out and had more steals than anyone else in the league.  Tony Allen joins Conley in the top ten for steals per 48 and is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league.  They win with defense and it has been working against teams that go at them with offense.  They know how to frustrate offensive powered teams and keep the best off the score board. 

Even the best superstars in the NBA cannot over come the pure power of this Grizzlies defense.  Take a look at the difference between the shooting percentage of superstars average against the Grizz rather than against the rest of the league:

                              Shooting %         % Against Mem
Kobe Bryant                .463                          .406
Kevin Durant               .510                          .508 (but .462 in the series)
Chris Paul                    .481                          .472
Carmelo Anthony         .449                          .441
Lebron James              .565                          .424
Blake Griffin                .538                          .444
Dwyane Wade             .521                          .387
Tony Parker                 .522                          .507
Dirk Nowitzki               .471                          .459
James Harden              .438                          .359

As you can see, the glaring truth here is that every single superstar on this list cannot hit their season average against this Memphis defense.  Some are small like Carmelo and Chris Paul, but some are glaringly large like Lebron and Wade's drop.  When you keep the consensus best Batman and Robin team in the NBA to more than 100 points under their average scoring percentage you know you are the best team in the league at holding your opponent down.  

It's amazing how this team is doing what they are without a true offensive punch.  Their best scorer coming into the season is now a part of the Toronto Raptors organization.  The man who they got in return is averaging 10.4 points per game instead of his 18.2.  How could the Grizzlies fathom to try to make offense without Rudy Gay in their lineup, especially since they only got Tayshaun Prince in return.  Where do the points come from?  The inside shooters have really taken over lately.  It is known throughout the league that most teams are getting smaller, and the Grizz are taking full advantage of it.  Marc Gasol is averaging 19.1 points per game and Zach Randolph is averaging 18.9 points per game in the playoffs.  Gasol is second among centers in PPG this postseason and Randolph is second among power forwards in the same time frame.  Both averages are considerably higher than their season average so you know this team has been wanting to step up after getting so close to making a run these past few years.  There just aren't any teams that can match the one-two punch of Z-Bo and Gasol down low. 

The past of the Grizzlies is not a pretty one.  Before the 2010-11 season, the team had only gone to the playoffs in three out of fifteen seasons.  What is worse is that they were swept in all three of those series.  Then the 2011 Spurs series happened.  It was an after thought that the Spurs would make it to the second round, they do every year.  Those Grizzlies wanted none of it and ended up taking down mighty San Antonio in six games.  Then they took the young upstart Thunder to seven games before being taken out in that final winner-take-all game.  The Grizzlies arrived at that point.  Since then they have made the playoffs every year and in this year alone have avenged last year's series loss to the Clippers and are about to avenge a series loss to the Thunder two years ago.  This team is such a contrast to the normal style of play in the NBA that they could steal a championship this year in the style that the Dallas Mavericks did two years ago. 

The trade that brought Marc over from the Lakers to the Grizzlies was riddles with controversy.  It sent Memphis' only good player at the time, Marc's brother Pau, to the already stacked Lakers team that basically gave them two more titles.  Marc was just another European player that was billed as much worse than his brother.  Well we see how that has turned out.  Marc is playing on in the Western Conference semis and Pau is playing golf or doing Spanish things.  The Grizzlies are here to stay and they could go on a Spurs type run.  They won't have many nationally televised games, but they win ugly.  In their minds, it is as long as they win.

I know the biggest asterisk on this series is the injury to Russell Westbrook.  That is indeed a big blow to the Thunder and is hurting them in this series and the previous one against Houston as well.  The fact is that the Grizzlies are still taking down the second best player in the NBA with relative ease.  They have caused the Oklahoma City front office to second guess their decision to trade away James Harden.  They have done the impossible and made Memphis a somewhat relevant sports town.  There is nothing that can be said that should take away any credit that this team deserves.  They made Kevin Martin and Serge Ibaka into vegetables.  This is a team that could be your Western Conference representative and they may just be the team that could beat the Heat.  They have the exact contrast to the style of Miami, so why not pick them?

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