A well-meaning cadre of NBA scribes probably has the notes for their “I told you so” columns regarding the Memphis Grizzlies already in place. If Memphis downs the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday, taking to the Western Conference finals for the first time in the franchise’s history, the immediate instinct will be to point to the team’s 35-14 record (including a Game 5 win) since the supposedly franchise-crippling Rudy Gay trade, and to remind anyone reading that the Grizzlies knocked off the currently favored San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the 2011 playoffs.
Such a crusade would probably be lead by this annoying mug, the only guy who picked Memphis over San Antonio in 2011, and one who routinely wears a Tony Allen T-shirt presumably outfitted with a pocket square and de rigueur protector for such pocket.
All those instincts should be tempered, though. Because exclaiming in that style after a potential Grizzlies second-round win would both over- and underestimate this team, all at once.
To the first point? These Grizzlies are supposed to be fully formed “in spite” of the Gay deal, and yet the still-evolving team has only won by a combined 18 points over an Oklahoma City team playing without Russell Westbrook for the first time in the franchise’s history. Toss in some suspect coaching maneuvers from Thunder head man Scott Brooks and often-disappointing play by potential second bananas Serge Ibaka and Kevin Martin, and you have a patsy waiting to fall by at least one one-sided turn out of three. Or four, considering Memphis’ tough Game 1 loss.
To the latter point?
You underestimate the Grizzlies when your instinct following the team’s ascension leads you to giddiness in the wake of a potential victory over OKC, and probable showdown with a Spurs team with whom the Grizz match up so well. You should be expecting that the Grizzlies beat a Westbrook-less Thunder squad. You should be expecting the Grizzlies to overcome the home-court disadvantage against the Spurs, once again. The playoffs aren’t a time to suddenly sneer before trumpeting a Grizzlies team that initiated a massive and much-argued-over move midstream during the winter.
You’re either in or you’re out. If a deal to send Gay away for Tayshaun Prince and other parts that coach Lionel Hollins (sadly, in the case of Ed Davis) won’t use is a boon in basketball terms for Memphis, then you should be nodding smugly instead of applauding a Grizzlies “upset” win over the Westbrook-less Thunder. Virtue is its own reward, some dork with a side part once told us, and any preening following a Grizzlies win that should be expected should come off as tacky.
“Hero ball” is terrible. The Grizzlies were awful with Gay dominating late-game possessions in the postseason last year, and statistically the worst fourth-quarter team in the NBA prior to the trade mostly because Gay wasn’t “afraid to take the big one.” Inside-out play still dominates all even in the NBA’s modern, perimeter-dominated era. And efficiency matters in the playoffs, when the rotations tighten and every possession counts.
Followers of this logic can’t have it both ways, though. The Memphis Grizzlies are supposed to be here. If they win, act like you’ve been there before.