Even in a 4-0 sweep, a sweep in which two of the games were uncontested blowouts and the smallest margin of victory for the San Antonio Spurs was nine points, the 2015-16 Memphis Grizzlies deserve your respect.
As head coach Dave Joerger said in his emotional postgame press conference: they could have quit, but they didn’t. (Which, by the way, when was the last time you’ve seen an NBA coach react to a playoff loss as if he was a college coach in the NCAA Tournament who was about to say goodbye to five senior starters. I really liked that fresh change of pace.)
In just about any other scenario, a four-game sweep in the first round would have been a colossal disappointment. This is the team that had the Warriors on the ropes during last year’s playoffs, even if for a short amount of time. Other than the LeBron James led Cavaliers, no other team in the NBA can make that claim. But, the injury-riddled scenario that played out in reality this season made a first round sweep not only understandable, but expected.
Do the Grizz win a game if they match up against the Clippers or Thunder or Blazers? Probably not, but the Spurs are the absolute worst opponent this depleted team could have faced. Gregg Popovich and company could smell the blood in the water. The whole series was like an extended Manu Ginobili back-breaking, shot clock-beating three-pointer. Just when there was a glimmer of hope, it would be dashed.
The Zombie Grizz. The Suicide Squad. The Hateful Eight. Whatever you want to call them, they kept fighting.
They held onto the five seed for as long as possible, winning what should have been unwinnable games and grinding to close victories against what were earlier in the season lesser teams. And against the Spurs they could have turned in a Rockets-esque performance, looking listless and uninspired, but the Grizz kept grittin and grindin.
Tony Allen and Jordan Farmar, fresh from Israel, ran the offense. Matt Barnes provided a bizarro-world perimeter presence. Lance Stephenson created shots. Vince Carter somehow played heavy minutes. Chris Andersen grabbed every offensive rebound available. Zach Randolph swished his beloved midrange jumpers. All while Marc Gasol and Mike Conley watched from the sideline. The veterans worked so hard just to keep games close when other teams/players would have checked out mentally, physically, and emotionally months ago.
Should the young guys played more minutes to gain valuable playoff experience? Probably. Do the Grizzlies need to yet again go after a three-point threat in the offseason? Definitely. (Although don’t count out Mario Chalmers in this regard.) Will the Grizzlies blow everything up in the offseason? I really hope not.
I want to see everyone back, including all of the hired mercenaries, D-League callups , and even Vince Carter. Keep the best 15 best, and give this group another shot. A team with this much playoff experience, heart and, of course, grit would be fascinating to watch in the playoffs, if fully healthy.
A roster of Gasol, Conley, Randolph, Allen, Brandan Wright, Lance, Chalmers, JaMychal Green, Barnes, Birdman, Vince, Xavier Munford, P.J. Hairston, and whoever else won’t exactly cause the rest of the league to cower in fear, but I would trust that team to do some damage come playoff time.
Before I get too far ahead looking into next season (that’s what offseason posts are for), I just want to say that even though it was a slog oftentimes and the playoff sweep/last third of the regular season had a cloud of sadness permanently hanging over it, I really enjoyed watching this team of underdogs, veterans, and up-and-comers get after this season.
At the very least, we can all say that we witnessed Tony Allen, Matt Barnes, and Lance Stephenson run a real NBA team’s offense in the playoffs. It was a fun ride.