I promise I’m not overreacting to beating a full-strength San Antonio Spurs squad Saturday night. This is a thought I’ve been stewing on for half a season; but post-Spurs is as good a time as any to articulate it.
The Grizzlies have defeated every playoff team this season with the exception of Boston and Indiana (whom they will face again in the last dozen or so games of the regular season). And other than Cleveland, the Grizzlies have beaten all those teams at their full capacities, AND they’ve beaten the best of the west in away games (not including the Spurs, as they will play their first game in San Antonio on Thursday). They have beaten the Spurs twice, Golden State twice, Houston twice, and Utah thrice.
What I’m trying to say is that Memphis has proven that it can beat every team in this league, and perhaps that it can beat every team in a seven game series.
Coincidentally (and amazingly) ESPN’s Tim MacMahon posted a tweet which sums up my thesis perfectly as I was in the midst of writing the above two paragraphs:
Grizzlies vs. West's best:— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) March 19, 2017
2-1 vs. Warriors
2-0 vs. Spurs
2-2 vs. Rockets
3-1 vs. Jazz
Nobody hopes to match up with Memphis in playoffs.
Statistically speaking, there’s no metric that has the Grizzlies as equal with the title favorites. The Grizz’s offense has been average or sub par with the rest of the league while their defense has been above average, exactly what you’d expect from them.
Additionally, according to Basketball Reference’s expected record, the Grizzlies should be 37-33 instead of 40-30. And if you ask Vegas, the odds of Memphis winning the Finals stay steady around +10000—that’s roughly the 10th or 11th best chances, worse than Oklahoma City, Washington, and Toronto.
But what gives Memphis an edge is not its numbers, but its intangibles: its continuity, its hustle, and its heart. Memphis plays a brand of basketball which is well suited for grueling, intense match-ups. It also plays a brand of basketball which is taxing and vexing for opponents to have to deal with, especially on a repeat basis.
Yet its offensive shortcomings in years past aren’t as glaring this year.
For the first time in the Grit-n-Grind era the Grizzlies are not at or near the bottom of the league in three-point shooting. They’re actually an average three-point shooting team! (It feels weird that that sentence deserves an exclamation mark.)
The evolution of Marc Gasol and the consistent rise of Mike Conley have given Memphis the kind of star caliber needed on a title team.
The rotation flux which crippled the Grizzlies in their most recent slump has abated, and the right guys are getting the right time on the floor. (Note: I am not blaming Chandler Parsons. I’m still on board with the Parsons experiment.)
And, with the exception of a backup point guard, the bench has been as good as it’s ever been in franchise history, due in no small part to the unselfish preseason move to the pine by Zach Randolph.
There are certainly still weak spots like Tony Allen’s offensive woes, the aforementioned lack of point guard depth, transition defense, etc., but this team has the right ingredients to do something special, to pull off an upset, to beat the odds. There has never been a better time to be a Grizzlies fan than there is today, tomorrow, and every day left in this season.
Call me a homer, but I #BelieveMemphis.
The Grizzlies can win the NBA Finals this year.