It is a time of year that springs eternal in the hearts and minds of Memphis Grizzlies' fans.
The NBA Playoffs.
A time of opportunity for the home team to rise up against those who ignore them all season long. A chance to force people nationally to take notice of what kind of a basketball team these Grizzlies are. A uniting of a city behind a group of guys who personify as a basketball unit what Memphis is all about. Hard work. Imperfect but impassioned. Gloriously, aggressively, different.
All heart. Grit and Grind.
But this year feels different. The injuries and underachieving play have taken their toll, and maybe it is best that the national eye is not on Memphis. The team is exhausted, and the fan base is weathered, as Chelsea Chandler put it on "The Geoff Calkins Show" Thursday (which I was a guest on as well, and you can listen to here). Geoff made an interesting point and the conversation at large got this writer thinking; will the city get as excited for the impending playoffs as they had in the past? Has the roller coaster ride that has been the 2015-2016 season taken too much out of the team and their supporters? Has past playoff success spoiled the Grizzlies' fan base so much that the impending doom of almost certain postseason failure will dull the Growl Towel waving, "Whoop That Clip" chanting faithful in the FedExForum?
Is "Believe Memphis" dead? Or will this season resurrect it?
Rest in Peace "Believe Memphis"
You really think this team has a shot?
Have you seen their roster lately? Have you looked at their numbers the last ten games, in which they are 2-8? It isn't pretty...
|Stat||Season Averages (75 Games)||Averages Last 10 Games|
|Three Point Shooting %||33.1||29.1|
|True Shooting %||52.7||48.6%|
Down across the board, in a variety of areas. The net rating is most scary; they are a -12.1 the last ten games. That is nowhere near winning basketball. They can't score right now, and they can't defend. They are struggling in games that include the Spurs twice, sure, but also include the Lakers and the Nuggets. Two teams Memphis lost to that they should have beaten. Losses to teams like the Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks, who are playing for ping pong balls like the Lakers and Denver. Four teams who in theory have no business beating Memphis have the Grizzlies in their current predicament. How can you believe in that?
These Grizzlies don't even look like those teams of old, not just in terms of their poor play but in terms of bodies on the roster. Jordan Farmar? Ryan Hollins? Bryce Cotton, Matt Barnes, Lance Stephenson...the list goes on and on. Zach Randolph and Tony Allen are there right now, but outside of them? This team looks completely different from those previous "Believe Memphis" teams. Who exactly are we believing in? Chris Andersen?
No offense to the Birdman, but the emotional connection just isn't quite the same.
And they are supposed to somehow compete with the Clippers or Thunder in the first round? It is hard to rally behind that idea. Playoff games are fun and all, but it will be like lambs being led to the slaughter. It can't be the same. It won't be the same.
"Believe Memphis" is dead. At least for this season.
Arise, the One True "Believe Memphis"
Oh ye of little faith.
Remember how this whole "Believe Memphis" thing got started? 2011 playoffs? 1 seed San Antonio, against the lowly 8 seed Memphis Grizzlies? The same Grizzlies who hadn't won a playoff game, much less a series, in their history? Those were pretty dark and dreary times.
Then, this happened.
Completely unexpected. Not just a playoff win, but a series win over the big bad Spurs. Not just a fluke run, but pushing the Oklahoma City Thunder to Game 7 in the Western Conference Semifinals. The legends of Zach Randolph and Tony Allen were born, iconic shots and plays were made. The city of Memphis allowed for themselves to fully fall for the Grizzlies, and a special bond was forged.
It isn't just a phrase on a towel. It is so much more. It is now a Memphis thing. We grind here.
Are the characters in the story different five years later? Sure. No O.J. Mayo or Shane Battier or Greivis Vasquez. Marc Gasol is out with injury. Mike Conley will hopefully be back for the playoffs, but there is a good chance he will not be his productive self. Zach Randolph and Tony Allen are five years older, and not quite the guys who you saw in the above video anymore, at least not night in and night out.
Logically, any first round match-up favors Memphis' opponent at this point. The Clippers and Thunder have Hall of Fame players. They have athleticism, and skill, and youth on their side. Memphis has multiple players on 10-day contracts and will be without their best player. Your head may tell you there is no chance...
It probably said the same thing five years ago.
It isn't about logic. It is about belief. The roster changes, the D-League signees, the castoffs, all that does not have to be damning. For Memphis, it should be endearing! The Matt Barnes and Lance Stephensons of he world are hard to embrace for some but not so long ago so was Zach Randolph. The basketball players, with great effort and greater team unity, can possibly be rallied behind, baggage and all.
Those Grizzlies believe in their hearts they can compete with the Clippers. That belief in themselves will be invaluable if they can hold on to the five seed. Their experience against the Thunder should also give the veterans on the roster confidence in knowing that they can hold their own when they are at their best, and the new guys can take heed and follow their lead.
This is another chance for a story of resilience and defying the odds to be told. This ragtag group winning a playoff series? What a chapter to add to the book of this era in Grizzlies' history. A healthy Conley makes all the difference for this team. Brandan Wright and his length/athleticism may return as well and help solidify the Grizzlies' front court. Marc Gasol ain't walking through that door, but enough may remain to make something special happen.
Just as it did just five short years ago. The actors are different, but anything can happen in the arena with effort and belief.
Finding Your Memphis Religion
The remaining schedule for the Memphis Grizzlies is not promising.
Looking at the final seven games of the season, can the Grizzlies win two games? Maybe three? After the way Memphis has been playing the past ten games, finding one win feels like a futile exercise. Meanwhile, Portland is on the rise.
The Trail Blazers are very much on the up and up after a big win over the Celtics, as the Grizzlies seem to fade away. A match-up against the Clippers, who Memphis has wanted in a first-round match-up for much of the season according to reports from folks like Peter Fleischer of Fox 13 Memphis, is fading right alongside Memphis.
A cold stretch with possibly no end in the foreseeable future. A more and more likely showdown with two of the five best players in the NBA in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook without a full-speed Mike Conley or any Marc Gasol. That in and of itself feels insurmountable. Even if the Grizzlies find a way to hold the five seed, can these Grizzlies slow down the Chris Paul led Clippers with this roster in shambles due to being ravaged by injury? Unlikely at best, probably impossible at worst.
The unlikely has found a home in Memphis time and again, however. Memories and moments in the annals of Grizzlies history, branded in the minds of those who have followed the team and were there when a towel became a symbol. When a phrase went from a means of selling tickets to a prayer for something more, for more than a basketball team, but a community. In the worst of times, faith and belief is all that can be leaned upon to get through the darkness.
The task seems insurmountable. The odds are not in Memphis' favor. But it has been this way before, and the Grizzlies rose above. That doesn't mean it will happen this time. It may well not. The consequence of injury and roster turnover will be felt at some point. When that comeuppance will occur is yet to be determined though. Until then, these Grizzlies and their fans are wandering, searching, hoping for the resurrection of a feeling that made them buy in and believe before...
And hopefully will again.
Stats courtesy of nba.com/stats