Now that the Grizzlies have been eliminated from the playoffs by the LA Clippers – which, let’s face it, we thought might happen the way it did, given how closely matched the teams were before the series even started – we can look back at the entire lockout-condensed slog that was the 2011–12 season and try to find the narrative of the overall season.
After last year’s playoff run ended one 3OT game short of the Western Conference Finals, this year’s team was saddled with expectations of a repeat, and the once-lowly Memphis Grizzlies were expected to do big things. Everyone was coming back: Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, OJ Mayo, Tony Allen, Darrell Arthur, Grievis Vasquez. The whole squad was coming back and they were going to…
…well, they weren’t going to play at all, it appeared for a while. The season was going to be cancelled. We got to see Mike and Zach playing in a charity game in Indianapolis. Rudy Gay hosted a charity game in Memphis where Kevin Durant and LeBron James showed up. But it looked like the season was gone.
Once the season was saved, and Christmas Day was designated as the starting point, we got excited again. Rudy Gay was coming back, and that meant that the same squad that made last year’s miracle run was going to be taking the court; the only major roster change was swapping Shane Battier for Rudy Gay, just like we did with the Rockets on draft night all those years ago.
Then Arthur went down for the season. Vasquez was traded for Quincy Pondexter. Then Zach Randolph went down for months. Xavier Henry was traded for Marreese Speights. Sam Young was traded for a pick just to get him out of town and off the books. Jeremy Pargo and Josh Selby both struggled mightily with turnovers, and Gilbert Arenas was signed.
The team never looked right. They reeled off some wins, fed mostly by the Conley/Gasol P&R offense and Allen and Conley’s hounding, incessant defense. But the offense never really got going, never found a groove.
Rudy Gay played well for a while, and then played like crap for a while, and then started playing well again. Randolph returned and started coming off the bench, and then returned to the starting lineup – but the rotations never recovered. The team went on the road and beat the Lakers, the Thunder, and the Heat, and then they lost at home to the New Orleans Hornets – led, of course, by Grievis Vasquez, having the breakout year Grizzlies fans were all sure he was going to have.
Inconsistencies plagued the team. Down the stretch, they played close games with the Hornets, Bobcats, and a Magic team that had nothing to play for, locked into their playoff seed. As fans, we mostly shrugged it off, saying they were resting, saying they were saving their legs for the playoffs.
Turns out they weren’t. They were still trying to find a way to reintegrate Zach Randolph – who, by his own account, was operating at about 75%, and that was after the playoffs started and he’d been back playing for several weeks – into the offense, and even though they were able to beat a string of the worst teams in the league (including the worst team, by winning percentage, in league history), the offense was still sputtering, still lacking a go-to outside scorer to complement a post game still finding its sea legs.
Rudy Gay played his best basketball in the end of the season, from the wins over the Mavs and Thunder onward – and then pulled a heinous disappearing act in the playoffs, settling for bad jumpers, complaining to the officials, looking more worried about, well, Jesus, what’s Rudy ever look worried about on the court? Plain and simple, his first playoff appearance did not go well. Memphis fans thought he was poised to "make the leap" after the (great) way he was playing last season when he went down with his shoulder injury. Didn’t exactly happen.
We went down swinging, literally in ZBo’s case:
But it just wasn’t enough. There was no chemistry – the team was all energy and effort and no execution, and sometimes the effort wasn’t all that great either. It wasn’t enough. You could tell after Game 1 it was going to be hard, even though Grizz fans may have still expected to win at that point. The Clippers series served as a bitter ending to a positive – if unsteady – season.
Ultimately, the season ends with more questions than answers for the Grizzlies. You’ll see them all detailed here over the coming weeks and months, as we begin the long wait until next season, when it’ll be time to launch another run at an NBA title, no matter how improbable. At least we didn’t get moved to San Jose.
This was my first season writing for Straight Outta Vancouver, and I didn’t get here until late. You guys – the readers, the other writers – are awesome, and we pull for an awesome team in a city that I love. Stick around. We’ll get ’em next year.