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'The Grind is back up in effect': Inside the Marcus Smart and Tony Allen connection

The Marcus Smart and Tony Allen connections go back further than most people know, defensive fibers connecting the Grindfather to the guard tasked with bringing a similar mentality to the Grizzlies.

In high school, Smart was at a top-100 players camp where Allen was one of the counselors. One of the other counselors was having his way during one-on-one drills against the campers.

“ 'Who can stop me?' ” Smart recalled the counselor saying. “ 'If anybody in here can stop me, let me know.' ”

Smart looked around before stepping up and accepting the challenge. That’s when he caught the attention of Allen, who played at Oklahoma State and where Smart was committed.

The result was Smart getting a stop and the gym “going crazy.”

Mar 3, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) drives between Memphis Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane (22) and guard Ja Morant (12) during the first quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 3, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) drives between Memphis Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane (22) and guard Ja Morant (12) during the first quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

“Right then and there, we had that bond,” Smart said. “To see how our careers have been similar is kind of crazy.”

Both Allen and Smart made their names in the NBA as pesky defenders on the Boston Celtics. Allen played there for six seasons and won a championship. Smart played nine seasons in Boston and made one NBA Finals appearance.

Both ultimately ended up in Memphis as their next destination. As the story goes, Allen became a major piece to the “Grit and Grind” Grizzlies era and finished his career with six NBA All-Defensive team selections. Smart has a Defensive Player of the Year award (2022) to his name, but his Memphis story hasn't begun. Count Allen as someone who is excited to see what Smart will do.

“The grind is back up in effect,” Allen said. “I’m looking forward to seeing Marcus Smart come in and lock down on the perimeter.”

The comparisons don’t end just with their basketball journeys and accolades. Allen was a 6-foot-4 shooting guard who terrorized perimeter scorers such as Klay Thompson (6-6) and Kevin Durant (6-10) — players with notable height advantages. When Smart was traded to Memphis on June 22, his 6-3 height raised concerns about his ability to guard taller players.

Because the Grizzlies lost Dillon Brooks, Smart likely will be guarding players such as Durant and Paul George (6-8). But this was hardly ever a concern for Allen, and Smart’s basketball background should be a source of similar confidence.

“I don’t care who you are, I don’t care how big you are, I don’t care how small you are,” Smart said at his introductory news conference July 7. “If you’re in front of me, my job is to try and stop you. Plain and simple, and I’m going to do that to the best of my ability. I like to think I’m kind of good at it, so I’m going to continue to do that.”

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The Grit and Grind era made a cultural impact in Memphis, but this era of Grizzlies basketball has, too, with an up-tempo playing style that showcases blocks and high-flying dunks.

Those characteristics won't change, but having Smart around might bring out a nostalgic feeling among older Grizzlies fans.

"(The Grizzlies) got a lot of legs, and they're athletic," Smart said. "I'm an old man now, so they're going to make me feel young."

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis Grizzlies' Marcus Smart and Tony Allen share defensive thread