For the second straight year, the Memphis Grizzlies are playing in the post-season...sort of. Though the Grizzlies currently are the youngest team in the league, they are actually more experienced in this specific part of the season than any other team participating in the play-in tournament. Last year, they lost a heartbreaker to Portland in the Bubble and just missed the playoffs. This year, that experience is providing extra energy and motivation to bring the NBA Playoffs back to Memphis.
However, last year’s run is not the only fun narrative about the Grizzlies path in the play-in tournament. Their first opponent happens to be their most familiar foe when it comes to their past playoff appearances, the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs were the Grizzlies first ever playoff opponent and have been their most frequent adversary across Memphis’s ten total playoff appearances. The Spurs and Grizzlies faced each other in 2004, 2011, 2013, 2016, and 2017. Overall, the Spurs are 14-6 against Memphis, sweeping the Grizzlies three times. The other two series officially introduced Grit N Grind to the world and also officially ended the GNG era, respectively, with a 4-2 Grizzlies series win in 2011 and the Spurs beating Memphis in six games in 2017.
San Antonio winning four out of the five series is not surprising, as they were the better seed each time. However, despite the Spurs having significantly more success overall, there were still plenty of fun moments for Grizzlies fans to enjoy over the years.
With that in my mind, here are the top five moments from the Spurs and Grizzlies playoff rivalry:
5. Conley Proves the Grizzlies Worth in Western Conference Finals
When a team gets swept in a playoff series, its hard to create a narrative that the series was actually competitive. However, its not a stretch to say that the 2013 Western Conference finals between the Grizzlies and Spurs was exactly that. Yes, the Spurs did sweep Memphis in four games, but Game 2 and Game 3 went to overtime and Game 4 was within three points in the final minute. Though the better team advanced, the Grizzlies validated the fact their best season in franchise history was no fluke.
The specific moment that showed the Grizzlies would make it a competitive series was when Mike Conley tied Game 2 to force overtime. Similar to how he had defeated the Spurs six weeks earlier during the regular season. Conley made a clutch shot near the rim to tie the game. The Grizzlies would eventually lose the game 93-89, but found their motivation to push the Spurs to the limit for two more games. Though getting swept was disappointing, this moment was still special as it occurred during the peak of the Grit N Grind era and perhaps the Grizzlies’ franchise as a whole.
4. “TAKE THAT FOR DATA”
David Fizdale’s time in Memphis as the Grizzlies’ head coach was less than ideal for multiple reasons. However, after many felt the 2015-2016 season was the end of the Grit and Grind era, Fizdale extended Grizzlies’ playoff streak for another season. He did it in a different way, opening up the offense and generating more success through a more modern style of basketball. Both Marc Gasol and Mike Conley arguably had their best offensive seasons in Memphis as a result.
The end result was the Grizzlies earning the seventh seed in the Western Conference and another encounter with the Spurs. It seemed as if the Grizzlies, much like the year before, were no match for San Antonio, as they lost the first two games by a combined 33 points. The lack of foul calls and free throw opportunities stood out to Fizdale, and the end result was one of the more memorable postgame rants and sound clips in NBA Playoff history. Though Fizdale was ultimately not in Memphis for long, he certainly provided the city of Memphis with one of its most memorable off the court moments since the Grizzlies arrived in the Bluff City.
3. Marc Gasol’s Game Winner
Perhaps motivated by the words of their coach, the Grizzlies returned to Memphis during the 2017 NBA Playoffs ready to work their way back into the series. Memphis defeated the Spurs by nine in Game 3, and were leading 88-80 with under five minutes left in Game 4. The Spurs then went on an 11-0 run, and it seemed as if the Grizzlies had run out of luck. However, Memphis battled back to force the game to overtime.
In the OT period, both teams went back and forth, and a Kawhi Leonard three pointer tied the score at 108-108. However, Marc Gasol was able to get the ball and make it to the foul line to nail the game winner and tie the series 2-2. While the Grizzlies would eventually lose the series 4-2, ending the Grizzlies seven year playoff run and perhaps the Grit and Grind era, this arguably is the best singular moment in the history of the Grizzlies Playoff History.
2. Grizzlies Earn First Ever Playoff Win
When the Grizzlies earned the 8th seed in the 2010-2011 NBA Playoffs, they were not given much of a chance to have success against the San Antonio Spurs. However, the birth of Grit and Grind in the regular season certainly gave the Grizzlies an identity they were confident in. Fortunately, it resulted in the Grizzlies winning Game 1 of the series, earning Memphis their first ever win in the NBA Playoffs.
Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol combined to score 49 points as a combination, and also did quite well in limiting the Spurs ability to score. Shane Battier hit the go-ahead three pointer with 23 second left, and Tony Allen hit two free throws to ice the game. Beyond their first ever NBA Playoffs victory, this win also proved to the Grizzlies they could compete with the Spurs.
1. Grizzlies Game 6 Victory Over Spurs
After their Game 1 victory, though the Grizzlies lost game 2, Memphis just appeared to be the more confident and aggressive team throughout the series. Of course, the biggest reason why is due to Zach Randolph being the best play in the series. He scored 25 or more points four times, with 10 or more rebounds in three of those games. He scored 31 points with 11 rebounds in Game 6.
It was the second time in NBA history that an eighth seed had defeated a one seed, and it was truly the Grizzlies franchise taken the next step in its evolution. The Grizzlies had not only made the playoffs, but they also showed they could compete with the NBA’s best. The next seven years would prove it.
Though it will be hard to expect any moment from tonight to match the moments mentioned above, this is still the first of hopefully many playoff-centric or actual playoff moments for this new generation of Grizzlies. As badly as this roster wants to earn a trip to the post season, it is clear they feel confident and that they are ready for the challenge. Hopefully, they will be able to play at the level they need to in order to make their goals become a reality.