As I'm sitting here this morning enjoying a healthy dosage of zinc and vitamin D (Fruity Pebbles) I find that it would be really easy to lament. Our beloved team just got booted from the playoffs and barely even put up a fight. The offense was stagnant, missed wide open shots, the vaunted defense collapsed, and at times we just looked flat out silly. Its been said, however, that every lament is a love song, and as Grizzlies fans, thats where we should find ourselves this morning. Singing the praises of the season that was.
It was a heck of a season. We had just re-signed Rudy Gay, our owner was promising playoffs, and we looked to be in prime position to deliver. We were poised to have three guys averaging right at 20.0 points per game in Gay, Zach Randolph, and OJ Mayo. There was reason to believe in Memphis.
Reason quickly turned to doubt as the season began however. While Rudy and Zach both came out of the gates strong, the team did not going 8-12 through our first twenty games. Another guy who didn't come out strong was Ovinton J'Anthony, who simply did not look like the same player we saw through the first two years of his young career. He missed shots he usually didn't, made foolish mistakes, and looked very much like he lost his swag. And things were just getting started.
Memphis looked like a team with no rhythm on some nights, while other nights it looked like they were a legitimate force. There were times when they shut down the Lakers and built winning streaks, only to follow it up with embarrassing losses to the Nets and Kings. Some nights they'd have it, and other nights, they simply wouldn't have anything. Adding fuel to that fire, OJ Mayo and Tony Allen reportedly got into a fist fight on the team plane over a card game. Allen, who had yet to impress his new team, and Mayo, who had yet to live up to the expectations he created for himself, quickly put it to rest. But Mayo couldn't keep his nose clean. A short time after this, the league handed OJ a 10 game ban for testing positive for a performance enhancing substance.
On January 28th, a game against the 76ers, and the first game without OJ, Memphis found themselves in a huge hole late. Trailing by more then 20 points in the fourth quarter, Memphis again looked like a sloppy team not yet ready for prime time. But unlike times in the past, Memphis' heart started to show, their pride kicked in, and in what would become a season's trend, they began to grit and grind. Dropping 42 points in the fourth quarter, they rallied to win that game, and close within one victory of the .500 mark.
The Grizzlies went 8-2 to close out the first half and looked like they had finally turned things in the right direction. However, the last game before the All-Star break, another game against the 76ers, Memphis would lose forward Rudy Gay for what would end up being the entire season to a shoulder injury. Losing a guy who drops 19 points night in and night out was supposed to derail the Grizzlies season, but word never made it to Memphis, who added a couple of veterans in Shane Battier and Jason Williams, and traded a bit of bench space in Hasheem Thabeet, went 15-8 without Gay (before tanking resting the final two games) and made the playoffs as the 8 seed.
This is when the magic started happening.
In a series of events that you couldn't see coming unless you lived on Beale Street or were named Charles Barkley, Memphis ousted the 60 win Spurs in 6 games. The Grizzlies, who never trailed in the series and blew out San Antonio in game 4, looked like the far superior team. Battier made big shots, Tony Allen shut down Manu Ginobli, Mike Conley (at times) out played Tony Parker, and Zach Randolph began scratching his name into Grizzlies lore.
A series win earned them a date with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Grizzlies stormed out of the gates, beating Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook by double digits in game one. They would eventually head into game 4 of the series looking to take a 3-1 lead and push OKC to the brink. Early foul trouble and a lack of offense made things look pretty grim, as the Grizzlies trailed late. But with time running off the clock, and a monstrous thug named Kendrick Perkins standing right in his face, Mike Conley nailed a three pointer to send the game to over time.
In the over time, Memphis had a chance to win it. With the shot clock off, and the game tied, Conley sprinted down the floor into a 1-3 trap. He pulled it out, saw some space, and hoisted up an ill advised three point shot. It didn't go in. The Grizzlies would then lose Conley and Mayo to their sixth fouls, and have to play the second over time without them. But trailing by three in the second overtime, Memphis still hadn't lost its magic, as Greivis Vasquez hosted up a one handed three with a guy in his face that barely even moved the net on its way through the basket. It looked like Memphis was destined to win the game.
Eventually, their legs gave out in the third overtime and they would lose game 4, and go to Oklahoma City and get blown out in game 5. It looked like it was over. Even the legendary basketball guru Mark Travis said Memphis simply would not recover from this. But back in Memphis down 3-2, facing elimination and trailing for the first time in a series this postseason, the Grizzlies gutted it out, and sent the series back to Oklahoma City for a winner take all game 7.
Back at "Loud City," the clock would strike midnight on Cinderella as she not only lost one of her glass slippers, but broke the heal on her other one and ended up spilling punch all over her dress. In an embarrassing blow out where it looked like, quite frankly, Memphis was completely punchless, the Grizzlies dropped the final game 105-90. The magical ride and the remarkable season was over.
While it may feel like whoever was writing this script put the pen down just a few paragraphs early, it can not take away from what should be a truly great foundation to build on. The Grizzlies have work to do if this isn't going to be a one hit wonder type affair. They need to quickly re-sign Marc Gasol. They need to take the phone off the hook if teams start calling about Rudy Gay. They need to get guys healthy and permanently delete the thought of trading OJ Mayo this offseason. If this can be done, we are looking at one of the new powers of the Western Conference, regardless of what teams like the Lakers and Spurs do to get younger. And more importantly, if this can be done, it will be just the first chapter in what should be a great run for this franchise. But whatever the future holds, whatever plays remain or leave, it must not take away from this indescribable last few months. It was gritty, disastrous, even beautiful at times. It was one heck of a season.