How a Grizzlies fan stopped worrying and started embracing the Goon Squad.
Source: not provided
28. 28 players. 28 players have logged minutes in a real life NBA game for the Memphis Grizzlies this season. That’s the size of a large soccer squad. Or a small baseball team. That’s almost double the maximum amount of players allowed to be on an NBA roster at one time.
Only four other teams have ever played 25 or more players in a season in NBA history, including the infamous 1948-49 Indianapolis Jets, and they all finished with one of the worst records in the league that season.
Somehow, this Grizzlies team is hanging onto the fifth seed in a historically great, if top heavy, Western Conference.
Yes, the Grizzlies will be lucky to finish the season above .500 as the roster becomes more and more depleted, but being the fifth team for the majority of the season behind the supernova foursome that is the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder and Clippers is nothing to scoff at.
With the playoffs coming up, you’d think a diehard Grizzlies fan such as myself would be writhing about in fits of anxiety at the thought of going up against a healthy-ish Blake Griffin and the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs. Or the nightmare scenario that would be falling to the eighth seed and facing the Warriors who would potentially have something to prove (as absurd as that sounds) entering the playoffs if they do not break the Bulls’ 72-10 record.
The thing is, I’m not nervous at all. In fact, this is probably the least stressful I’ve felt as a Grizz fan since that glorious series against the Spurs in 2011. That was the playoff run that kick-started the Grit n Grind era into existence. There was no pressure during that series. The Grizz were an eight seed who had never won a playoff game before in franchise history going up against the Spurs of all teams.
When the first remnants of the aptly nicknamed Goon Squad starting appearing, a Matt Barnes here and a Grizzilla nee Birdman there, I was hyperventilating just at the thought of what these playoff savvy, tough-as-nails veterans would bring come playoff time.
This team, a team with Tony Allen and Lance Stephenson roaming the perimeter like a deranged Pippen and Jordan, a team with Zach Randolph holding down the fort in the paint without ever leaving the ground, was not going to be afraid of anyone.
With Marc Gasol and Mike Conley steadying the offense, I thought this team had a legitimate shot to make some noise in the playoffs. I would have even settled for taking the Clippers to seven games just to see the look on Chris Paul and Blake Griffin’s faces every time they got pushed around by P.J. Hairston or former teammate Ryan Hollins.
And then Marc went down.
The Grindhouse was suddenly the Nostromo and players were getting picked off one-by-one. A ruptured Achilles. A shoulder subluxation. An MCL sprain.
But Tony Allen, glorious Tony Allen, shone through as our Ellen Ripley, blasting fire in the face of every Xenomorph that stood in his way as he carried a team of D-Leaguers and old men on his back.
This team should not have been winning games. That unbelievable win against the Cavs may end up being the season highlight (that game deserves a retro diary of its own). All of the injuries and cobbled-together roster pieces have started to catch up to the Grizzlies, who have now lost six of their last seven.
As much as I have loved watching Matt or Lance or Vince or JaMychal Green (what a find, by the way) take turns stepping up every night, and as great as it has been to see Z-Bo putting up 20-and-10’s with ease since his return to the lineup, this team is too depleted to do any serious damage in the playoffs, especially without its two best players.
But I don’t care. It’s been a joy to watch this group fight and scrap their way to wins. I think any calls to blow the team up are ridiculous. Rarely do small market franchises get to experience a run like the Grizzlies have been on the past five years, and that’s before you even get to how well this team has identified with the city of Memphis.
I’m not a fan of the “if you’re not in the Finals or tanking then why bother mentality.” Ride out the rest of Marc and Mike’s prime. It’s okay to be a good but not elite team. I would take that over the 76ers or Suns situation every time. Plus, this time last year a healthy Grizz squad gave the Warriors their toughest challenge of the entire postseason.
The Grit n Grind Grizzlies should be back next year for a potential swan song. Until then, embrace this stitched-together basketball team. Stop worrying and love the Goon Squad while you still have time.