The Memphis Grizzlies' new slogan, #MemphisVsErrrbody, isn't just about being a small-market team. By that measure, #NewOrleansVsErrrbody or #MilwaukeeVsErrrbody would be just as valid. No, the Grizzlies are ostracized from the rest of the NBA in a manner far greater than national media presence.
In just about every way – prevalent trends, or appeals to the casual viewer – they run perpendicular to the rest of the league. Within a league where offense sells and three-pointers have justly become the weapon du jour, the Grizzlies identify themselves through gravelly defense and beat-em-up post play. They're monsters of the mud, unsightly and not suited for a greater audience. It isn't sexy, and outside of Memphis, it isn't going to get any love.
Not that the Grizzlies care. All that stuff is just noise to them. After 55 wins in the regular season and years of similar success, calls for philosophical change would fall on deaf ears. The Grizzlies take pride in exemplifying the closest thing there can be to a counterculture movement in the NBA.
In a way, the Golden State Warriors are the perfect opponent for these Grizzlies. Where the Grizzlies are a throwback team, the Warriors are progressive. Where the Grizzlies are content with a local following, the Warriors have captured the hearts of many. With the most Vine-able superstar in the league, one of the most three-point shooting offenses in the league, and a grip on modern small-ball leanings at both ends, the Warriors have something for everyone. They're the most dominant and likeable model of basketball en vogue – they're everything the Grizzlies aren't.
Suddenly, though, the Grizzlies are up 2-1 over the Warriors. It's bizarre to process. Analytics inform us that three-pointers are efficient and that post-ups aren't. Fans, despite some hand-wringing over agreeing with math nerds, would also much rather see three-point shooting than post-ups. Well, the bully-ball Grizzlies are winning over their perimeter inclined opponent, and they're winning over the national audience.
Something truly endearing about the Grizzlies is becoming apparent. When they take their turn as the popular team, it's not because they start doing popular things. They continue to play on their own terms, which would be unpopular by nature, but reveal their charm in perseverance and personality. The series has been about more than three-pointers versus post-ups, but the Grizzlies have held Steph Curry and Klay Thompson under lock and key while sanding away the Warriors' resistance with brute force. Same old Grizz, but now there's a national audience watching.
Before now, when has anyone gotten excited about the All-Defensive teams before Tony Allen started shouting off about FIRST TEAM ALL-DEFENSE? When has anyone cheered for more post play before Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol rendered Draymond Green (who had the rightful claim to Defensive Player of the Year this season) invisible?
Now, people are crowning Allen's off-ball defense and waxing poetic for Randolph's physicality. They're doting over Gasol's high-post passing and Mike Conley's pace management. I'd say they're a bunch of weirdos, if I hadn't been a fan of this oddball squad from the start. Let's just say it's a fun time to be a Grizzly fan, and that this, ironically, is an exciting way to win.
Nobody has thought of counting out this historically great Warriors team yet, but it's not their turn at the podium right now. Throw the Warriors' margin of victory numbers out the window – a round with the Grizzlies is unlike a round with any other. Against all odds, people are starting to believe. The Warriors have been dragged into the mud.
#MemphisVsErrrbody may have come a round too late, because errrbody is waffling on their allegiance.