Last night the Memphis Grizzlies officially welcomed back franchise statesman Shane Battier, who set the stage for the rest of the season with a pregame pump-up speech (come on, you knew he would). Then, well, they played the way they play best, which is pounding away on opponents inside, to the tune of a NBA season high 78 points in the painted area last night, which is pretty insane. The Grizzlies vanquished the Sacramento Kings and really, it was a pretty perfect night all around.
In some ways, the die for this last stretch of regular season -- at least the non-Rudy Gay part -- was set officially. Tonight's game against the San Antonio Spurs will be a strong test of its strength.
Spurs coverage: Pounding The Rock
Memphis is the NBA's best when it comes to inside scoring, and yes, maybe the Kings just made it easier than it usually is, but the Grizzlies seemed committed to attacking with the paint in mind. And they should; it's their method, they're the best at it, and now would be a great time for that to truly become the team's specific focus.
Not that it wasn't something they knew they were good at. Last night just seemed to be a clear, collective nod from everyone, as if to say, "Yeah, this is what we do, and we're pretty good at it." Maybe Battier, one of everyone's favorite definitions of NBA Role Player, and his presence has made everyone that more conscious of their own responsibilities on this team. Maybe it's just taking what you're given, and often times on this squad that means one way or another -- maybe because of a Zach Randolph double-team in the post or a roll off a Marc Gasol screen on the elbow -- guys will find themselves near the basket. How it works isn't really the issue so long as it continues. Facing the Spurs in San Antonio on the second night of a back-to-back is a challenge enough. It's made easier, though, with a program to plug into. With a confidence and understanding that if things happen like this and work like that, we have a shot in any game.
Every team wants an identity to latch onto. When an identity matches a team's specific skill set, and is then in turn understood and implemented consistently as not only the identity but as the clearest path to success, that's when the corner is turned. The outline is there, and it's been there. Maybe those 78 points last night served as an unavoidable moment of clarity. The blueprint for the rest of the way. If that's the case, now is just about rinsing and repeating.