Memphis, Tennessee-Oakland, California (April 29th-May 9th, 2015)-
Tony Allen is a monster.
The clinching Game Five win over Portland? Seven rebounds, five steals, two blocks. Disrupting passing lanes and helping send the Trail Blazers in to their off-season.
Game Two against the Warriors, henceforth known as the "Mike Conley Game" in the annals of Grizztory? Five rebounds, four steals, one block and a tie for the team lead in +/- at +14, helping force "The Splash Brothers" Klay Thompson and NBA MVP Stephen Curry to shoot a combined 13-34 from the field, or 34%.
The next game, where Memphis takes a 2-1 series lead at home? Five rebounds, four steals, one block. Golden State, a team that shot 39.8% from three point land during the regular season, shoots 6-26 (23.1%) on this night. Tony Allen has a huge role in this. He is the heart beat defensively on the perimeter for these Memphis Grizzlies, the life force, the engine to the Grit and Grind tank that had the look of possibly rolling through the NBA's best team.
His offense over this stretch? Not the liability so many make him out to be. He averages 53.1% shooting over these ten days and four games (Game Five vs. Portland, Games One-Three vs. Golden State.) His shot chart during this stretch shows an offensive impact that, while not to the level of his defensive contributions, should not be ignored.
60% shooting at the rim. 78.1% of his shot attempts at the rim. One made three out of three attempts, which for Tony is about as good as can be expected. He is scoring when called upon, and understanding his limitations.
He is the very best kind of monster.
Memphis, Tennessee (May 11th, 2015)
Tony Allen is a mismatch.
And not the kind that you want.
With the re-tweaked hamstring hampering Tony for the rest of the series against Golden State, the Head Coach of the Warriors Steve Kerr and his staff have appeared to figure out how to respond to Tony Allen. Turn the nightmare in to a day dream.
Oh, Tony is finishing well at the rim? Let's put arguably the best rim protector in the NBA Andrew Bogut on him. Players attempting to finish at the rim against Bogut during the postseason through May 11th shot 16.1% worse than they normally do. Make "The Grindfather" beat you from outside the paint. Use your athletic wings to defend elsewhere, let Draymond Green handle Marc Gasol and then Tony himself, Harrison Barnes fight with Zach Randolph.
Make Memphis play 4 on 5 offensively. This video from BBallBreakdown sums it up rather nicely.
Sure enough, 2 for 9 shooting for Tony in Game Four. 0-3 from three...in six minutes of play. Allen was 1-3 from three over four games, remember? It was the 2013 Western Conference Finals all over again, in a new and terrifying way.
The nightmare was now flipped.
Allen of course further re-injures his hamstring and his injury (along with the wear and tear on Mike Conley) help decide a series that may have ended the same way with all perfectly healthy. Golden State has better players with better skills, especially offensively, and are a team that seems destined to win an NBA championship and change the way the game is played in the 21st century NBA.
Allen's offensive woes were exposed further, though. He was having problems even before this stretch; in the Game Two and Three wins over Golden State? Eight combined turnovers, to go along with his eight created steals. Tony Allen takes away possessions, and at times he gives them back. His style of play is aggressive, and this comes with the territory. But lost shot attempts, even when countered with them being regained via steals and deflections, hurt an offense that struggles so mightily to score at times.
You certainly cannot hold Tony's injury against him. But his inability to shoot the basketball from range has, and continues to, limit what Memphis can do at times offensively.
He becomes the worst kind of mismatch, and coaching can only go so far to rectify the problem.
Tony Allen continues to be the personification of the Memphis Grizzlies, for better or worse.
His season had plenty of successes. Being named First Team All-Defense in the NBA is an honor that Tony has famously spoken to others (or really himself) on the court about for a while. As it became further cemented this season that TA is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, his ability to be tenacious almost always through screens and run with the best the NBA has to offer continues to be a badge of honor that fans wear with pride. He plays defense the right way...most of the time.
He also inspires awesome claymation art, which is always appreciated by this writer.
He is a living, breathing caricature of the best and worst of Memphis. A little bit crazy in a usually good way, a hard worker who has made the most of what has been given to him in terms of talent. Grizzlies fans crave transcendent talent, and rightfully so; that is what gets you to the NBA Finals more times than not. There is also something to be said for those who have gotten as much out of their abilities and then some as they possibly can. Tony Allen has done just that, and it should serve as an example to Memphians and others everywhere as to what can be accomplished when hard work and toughness meet.
However, Memphis currently has limitations, both as a city and as a NBA franchise. Tony Allen is the primary example of this on the Grizzlies' roster. He is so important that Golden State attempted something very unique to try to eliminate him from importance in the series having him be defended by Bogut, but he is so limited offensively outside the paint that he essentially does not need to be defended beyond the lane. As esteemed member of Grizzlies Twitter Chase Lucas put it...
Crazy thing about the strategy is that it's extremely respectful and disrespectful of Tony at the same time. https://t.co/y8IiJYHQJx— Chase Lucas (@deepfriedcouch) May 13, 2015
Isn't this how Memphis is viewed, to an extent?
"We love your team, they're great, but goodness they're insufferable to watch."
"Wow, the Grizzlies are an amazing defensive team! That offense though...woof."
"The Grizzlies have had tremendous success...but they likely cannot win a championship."
Respect, and disrespect, all at the same time.
That last quote of thoughts that have floated around since the season ended especially stings. In professional basketball specifically greatness is measured for players and franchises by the number of rings in the trophy case and banners hanging from the ceilings. The Grizzlies remain without a banner, and for all the memories and moments in this beloved "Grit and Grind Era" nothing in terms of championship rings have come of it. Tony Allen coined the phrase and idea of "Grit and Grind", and it means so much in Memphis and shines through in his play.
But is it enough?
A wave of doubt is beginning to wash through and question this more than ever before. The call for a title and the hope for "Greater" to be realized becomes stronger by the day as this core of Grizzlies ages one year more. How much can be done to adjust the roster without moving on from the "Core Four?" Could it really be time to move on from the Tony Allens of the world? Uncertainty abounds, and is dependent on many factors outside the control of most players and fans alike. Those events will unfold in the coming days and weeks.
Until then? Tony Allen continues to have his flaws and his flares of greatness. He has his bumbling moments and his moments of brilliance, like all of us. His season built on the narrative of limitation and limitless tenacity. And the city that the Grizzlies call home continues to love him for it. His emotion and passion feeds the team and fan base, and his unique character only endears him to them even more.
As long a he is a Grizzly, Memphians and Grizzlies fans will continue to, for the most part, support Tony Allen. They will continue to wear the shirts, to shout out "First Team All-Defense" instead of hello at times, seemingly becoming a Memphis version of "War Eagle" or "Roll Tide." Memphis carries on, living and dying with Tony Allen, loving him for everything he is despite everything he is not...even if it possibly means dealing with more years of disappointing playoff losses.
As Future, Tony Allen and thousands of Memphians say in the FedEx Forum as the heads bob at almost every home game, when it comes to the criticisms of winning a title with this core of historic Grizzlies...
"You try to break me down, Ima Go Harder."
Whether or not that translates to a championship remains to be seen.