Nelson Chenault-US PRESSWIRE
Dr. Strange-Grizz, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Wayne Ellington Dropping Bombs
I got to the Forum a little late, and made it to my seat just as the Grizz starting lineup was being announced. I looked at my roster sheet and noticed that Darrell Arthur is still listed as active. All of the rumbles I’ve heard point to early December as the target date for his return, and I hope that’s true. His athleticism and scoring ability are something special, and he’s missed far too much time.
The other thing I noticed were all the Heat jerseys, especially in the upper sections. There were a few Heat fans — almost all of them wearing LeBron James shirzeys — scattered in the lower bowl, too, but nothing like the upper deck, where it looked like whole swaths of the cheap seats were occupied by loud Miami fans. It’s probably safe to assume that before The Decision, these people were in the same cheap seats during Laker games wearing purple and yellow. Some of them probably even have reversible Kobe/LeBron jerseys, depending on which
evil empire famous winning team is in town. More on the Heat fans later.
11:35, 1Q: The first possession of the game looks like it’s going to be an extension of the Rudy Gay Isolation Project, in which everybody clears out and Rudy runs down the shot clock — except this time Rudy drops a 3-pointer right in the face of LeBron James. The Forum erupted. It was at this point I first heard the little kids in their LeBron jerseys off to my left. I found myself hoping the Grizzlies would make these kids cry.
8:52, 1Q: The Grizzlies are leading 10–2 when the Heat call their first timeout of the night. While the two teams are in their huddles, the Jumbotron shows what will be the first of many installments of "Grizz Slaps a Heat Fan," in which a frontrunning Heat fan in Memphis is shown being slapped in the face by Grizz, much to the delight of every Grizzlies fan in the building. The Heat fans in the building squirm a little. It’s during this timeout that I notice that LeBron James’ stars-n-stripes headband looks to be a little wider than everyone else’s.
4:56, 1Q: Rudy sinks a couple of free throws to put the Grizzlies up 16–14. At this point, the Heat are up to their usual Flying Death Machine ways, getting out in transition off Grizzlies misses and generating fast break buckets, most of which send the screaming Heat fans up in the rafters into paroxysms of delight. I find myself wondering whether I should feel guilty for wishing something heavy would fall on them.
2:01, 1Q: No Call Gasol is in full effect, as Marc Gasol gets called for a pretty questionable foul on Chris Bosh, and when he reacts to it, he’s hit with the quickest technical foul in history. Ball don’t lie, though, and Ray Allen misses the technical free throw and then Bosh misses his first of two. The free throw shooting by the Heat was mostly abysmal for the whole game.
After the first quarter, the Grizzlies are winning 22–21, despite only shooting 38%, and being outscored in the paint 14 to 12. During the break, another "Grizz Slaps a Heat Fan" video is shown, this time featuring two Heat fans getting slapped in the face. There was much rejoicing.
11:19, 2Q: Wayne Ellington makes a 3-pointer over Ray Allen. Remember that phrase. It’s also at about this point that I look down and notice that Grizz is in the stands, emptying an entire can of Silly String on two Heat fans seated in the seventh or eighth row while the Grizzlies fans around him cheer and clap. The Heat fans were good sports about it, but after the one guy wiped it all off, Grizz came back and sprayed him some more.
After the game, Lionel Hollins would say that the Heat did a great job of fronting the post, denying the Grizzlies’ big men — the Terror Towers of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph — the ball. Because it was so hard to get the ball into the post, the Grizzlies were having to swing the ball around the perimeter a lot. Once Wayne Ellington got into the game, those swings turned into wide-open 3’s, usually from behind a screen by Marc Gasol. The Heat took a gamble in allowing Ellington those shots, hoping he wouldn’t heat up (see what I did there?) — he did, though. And how.
4:43, 2Q: By this point, Wayne Ellington had made 3 out of 4 attempts from beyond the arc. It felt a little bit like The Game Of Which We Do Not Speak (that is, Game 1 of last year’s Clippers series), in which the Grizzlies built a huge lead on long-range shooting only to lose all momentum in the fourth quarter. I wasn’t about to say that out loud to anyone in the arena, though, because I’d rather swan dive off the terrace level of the Forum than sit through another blown 27-point lead. We were looking around, saying "Surely this isn’t going to last, right?"
0:44, 2Q: Rudy Gay makes a sick alley oop dunk from Mike Conley and the Forum goes completely nuts. At this point, the Grizzlies are leading 56–41. As time expires on the first half, Tony Allen comes this close to making a ridiculous buzzer-beater alley oop dunk. He makes the dunk, but the backboard’s already lit up, but everybody cheers anyway, because here are the World Champion Miami Heat, looking for all intents and purposes like they’re catching a beatdown from the Grizzlies in the Grindhouse.
During halftime, eating popcorn in the media lounge area, nobody wants to talk about Wayne Ellington beyond just saying "Wayne Ellington, huh?" because nobody wants to believe that it’s sustainable. Nobody wants to believe that a Grizzlies team that shot just .326 from range last season can beat the Heat on outside shooting. We’re all worried, knowing the Heat aren’t going to roll over just yet, knowing they’ve got Shane Battier and Mike Miller, whom every Grizzlies fan knows can get hot at any second. So we head back up to our seats, hoping for the best, expecting a ferocious Heat comeback.
After playing several pretty small lineups for most of the second quarter, the Grizz starters (Conley/Allen/Gay/Randolph/Gasol) come back out for the third quarter. At this point, Randolph has 11 and 9, already just one rebound away from his 6th straight double double. The crowd is dead, with people still streaming back to their seats, presumably because so many of them are still out standing in line for BBQ. The starters look sort of flat, but it’s okay, because the Heat look the same way. Like maybe they all took a nap at halftime.
10:18, 3Q: Shane Battier misses another free throw, bringing the Heat’s percentage from the line down to 43%. If the Heat had been able to make free throws, they would’ve been able to hang in this game much longer than they did, and maybe they would’ve been able to actually pull ahead of the Grizzlies. But. They didn’t. Sucks for them.
7:20, 3Q: Mike Conley picks up a foul on Mario Chalmers. The replay clearly shows that Conley didn’t even touch Chalmers. The crowd is unhappy, because everyone in Memphis is a Tigers fan and is still mad at Mario Chalmers for the 2008 NCAA National Championships. The Heat fans — who probably are all Duke or North Carolina or Kentucky basketball fans right now, instead of Memphis Tigers fans — in the crowd who cheered for Chalmers should go take a long walk off a short pier. Not that I’m still bitter about 2008, or anything.
5:08, 3Q: Wayne Ellington, having reentered the game at 6:16, makes another three. At the end of the third quarter, he had 19 points, shooting 6–10 and 5–9 from three. Wayne Ellington was so hot you had to put on polarized Ray-Bans to look at him.
4:21, 3Q: Mario Chalmers draws that same instant-trigger tech for complaining that Marc Gasol did earlier, except Chalmers deserved it. Because he’s Mario Chalmers.
4:01, 3Q: Mike Conley’s life flashes before his eyes as he draws a charge from Udonis Haslem.
3:44, 3Q: In what is obviously an attempt to make our fearless leader Tom Lorenzo look bad, Rudy Gay makes another 3. Timeout Heat, and it’s starting to feel like this one might be getting away from them, even though the score doesn’t reflect it.
0:33, 3Q: Marreese Speights throws an outlet pass intended for Quincy Pondexter — who quietly had another great night himself, with 7 points and a lot of hustle plays — right into the second row. Speights needs to work on his quarterback-style outlet passes, because sometimes they’re awesome, and sometimes they end up taking out some little kid who’s eating nachos and not paying attention. Pretty soon, when Speights comes into the game, they’re going to start handing out helmets to everybody under 13 in the courtside seats. (I kid, because I love Mo Speights. But sometimes he gets a little carried away with the quarterbacking.)
After three quarters, the Grizzlies were leading 76–66, and it felt like we were really going to pull off a win. The crowd was rocking — the Heat fans grew progressively more quiet as the game wore on — and there was a real playoff atmosphere in the building. Grizz fans were out for blood.
9:57, 4Q: A "Let’s Go Heat" chant breaks out in the upper deck. I find myself hoping Grizz would go up there and slap them.
7:30, 4Q: This happens.
Afterward, this plays in the Forum:
It was the loudest I’ve heard in in the Forum since Game 6 of the 2011 Oklahoma City Thunder series, where the Grizzlies forced a Game 7. The whole building was going bonkers. The only difference was everyone got to pick their own t-shirt, instead of the team-supplied white XL "Believe Memphis" ones. The Heat fans in the house, by this point, are starting to feel pretty uncomfortable.
6:16, 4Q: This happens.
Rudy Gay crosses it over behind the back on LeBron James and slams it home. If you watch the replay, Chris Bosh thinks about challenging the dunk for a second, and then says to himself, "Nah, I like having a non-caved-in face." You "Trade Rudy" guys had a bad night last night. In the locker room after the game, Rudy said that the trick to playing the Heat is to "never stop moving." He said his shot wasn’t really falling so he did everything else — and he did, stuffing the stat sheet with 21 points, 2 blocks, 4 steals, 5 assists, and 8 rebounds. It was exactly what we, as Grizzlies prognosticators, have always wanted Rudy to do. It was a thing of terrible beauty, and he did it against the defending champions, being matched up against The Best Basketball Player On The Planet.
4:37, 4Q: Down 22 points, the Heat pull the plug, going with a Norris Cole - James Jones - Mike Miller - Rashard Lewis - Joel Anthony lineup. The Jumbotron shows shots of Heat fans leaving, presumably depositing their LeBron gear in the nearest waste receptacle. The Forum erupts in cheers as the frontrunners make their way to the exits.
Tony Wroten, Josh Selby, and Hamed Haddadi check in, and the Grizzlies have sealed the deal. It was a night where the Bizarro Grizzlies showed up, where the post game just wouldn’t get going, but our big men — especially Marc Gasol but also Randolph and Speights — did such a good job of keeping the ball moving that our wings were able to make plays that mattered, either cutting to the basket or dropping the wide-open long range shots.
After the game in the locker room, after returning to normal Earth temperature, Wayne Ellington said he was in the zone, in a way he hadn’t been since college. He ended with a career-high 25 points, having made 7 out of 11 attempts from 3. He said it was the best game of his career so far, and who doesn’t believe that? When the Grizzlies traded Dante Cunningham to the Timberwolves, a lot of people questioned whether Ellington would be able to make any worthwhile contributions to the rotation. Obviously, he’s not going to make 7 threes on a regular basis, but he’s shown that he can more than hold his own on both ends of the floor.
Ellington said that Speights has nicknamed the Grizz bench players "The Zoo Crew." I like it. Last night the Zoo Crew helped the Grizzlies wipe the floor with the Miami Heat, going wire-to-wire to issue a Memphis-style beatdown to the defending champions of the NBA. Last night didn’t decide the season, but it sure put the rest of the league on notice: Grizz is gonna slap you, too.
Man, Derrick Rose was so good in college. So good. I mean, he’s still good. But in college, he was so much faster than everyone else it wasn’t even fair. Watching that Tigers team play some of the early-season scrubs was like putting DeAngelo Williams in an intramural flag football game. Just not fair. ↩