After Thursday night's miraculous win over the Sacramento Kings, Charles Barkley commented on how the only way the Grizzlies win games is by playing a certain way:
"[The Grizzlies] have a problem though," he told Kenny Smith.
Kenny asked him, "What's that?"
"They have to play a certain way to win," Barkley replied.
"But everyone does," Kenny protested.
"No they don't," Barkley said. A moment later, Barkley further explained, "But I'm saying, they want to walk the ball up and down the court and mug you in a half court."
And in response I thought, "But all teams do have to play a certain style to win. And there's nothing wrong with that."
However, some teams are more effective at forcing their style of play upon their opponents than others. The Grizzlies are one of the best teams at doing this very thing. This team has a very specific identity. They force fast-paced teams to play at a slow, grind-it-out pace. So what's wrong with that? If you can force your will onto other teams, you win basketball games. And the Grizzlies' record proves just that. Currently, the Grizz are 24th in pace. Here are the pace rankings of the teams they have played so far:
Bucks-12th (Grizz lost by 1)
Rockets-tied for 8th
The Grizzlies defense is currently ranked 1st and allowing only a slim 91.5 points per game, while their offense is ranked 18th with 98.5 points per game.
The Grizz have scored over 100 points five times this season, and have won on all five of those occasions. The lowest score was for the Grizz win in Charlotte, 71-69.
This is widely known, but Memphis tends to make most of its shots in the paint. This makes them less reliable on being hot from beyond the arc, and it also contributes to why they're ranked 18th in offensive points per game.
But this is a team built for the playoffs. They're clutch in close situations, as they've won 5 games by 5 points or less. Honestly, Memphis is not the team you want to play in close game situations. With seasoned veterans like Tony Allen and Zach Randolph, they know how to make the right plays when they're needed. So sure, they play a certain style of play. And they force their opponents to play how they want to play, because they're a veteran, defensive team. They don't have to rely on being hot beyond the arc. They're consistent with their style of play. And whether it's pretty or not, the Grizzlies continue to grind out wins and continue to be underrated. This is proven by having only one scheduled ESPN appearance this year. Mike Conley is becoming Mr. Clutch, and Marc Gasol is averaged 17.6 PPG. Zach Randolph continues to grab boards, and Tony is still a great defender.
This team's identity has been the same for several years. In 2012-13, they won a franchise record 56 games. Last season, they won 50 despite a truck load of injuries. This season, they won their first home opener and are off to a blazing start. No, they don't blow out opponents, but they keep winning games. Many think of the Rockets, Clippers, and others as championship contenders while failing to include Memphis. Part of this is due to their "ugly" style of play. Yet, the OKC vs. Memphis series last year had 4 overtime games and went to 7 games. That's boring? That's ugly? Apparently, no one wants to watch the Grizzlies despite the fact that they were a part of one of the best playoff series in recent memory. And let's not forget last Thursday's game against Sacramento, where the Grizzlies came back from 26 down and had a gorgeous buzzer beater with .3 seconds left to grab the win. Who wouldn't want to watch that on national television?
The Grizzlies are built to win, and they continue to do so without much notice from others.
So, Charles Barkley, yes, the Grizz do have to play a certain style. They have to pound the paint and they often play in the mud. But, as an example, Golden State has to rely on hot outside shooting by the Splash Brothers. I'll take ugly, consistent wins over wins based on threes any day.