Grizzlies just paused hoops revolution

ByJ.A. Adande ESPN logo
Wednesday, May 6, 2015

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Memphis Grizzlies didn't just disrupt a party, they paused the basketball revolution. This was supposed to be a celebration. The Golden State Warriors were going to honor the NBA's Most Valuable Player, their own Stephen Curry, then keep right on splashing to the NBA Finals. They logged on to Spotify and prepared to stream Drake. Then the Grizzlies arrived on the scene, set up a record player and started blasting the 1970s jams.

"Con Funk Shun," Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph said. "Ohio Players."

That's the appropriate soundtrack for the way the Grizzlies play. Their games should be broadcast in black and white, not HD. And yet, as out-of-date as their style of play might be, it's currently just as close to winning an NBA championship as any other team in the league after they beat the Warriors in Oracle Arena 97-90 on Tuesday night. They're 1-1 in this series and their five postseason victories are as many as anyone has posted so far.

It's the way they're doing it that stands out. They're attempting 12 3-pointers per game, last among playoff teams and about half the number as most others. Remember post-ups? Feel free to ask your dad about them if you're unfamiliar with the concept. Randolph and Marc Gasol have the most post-up chances and points in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, they squeeze the life out of opponents defensively. Golden State's 90 was the fewest points the Warriors have scored at home all season.

"We play a certain style no matter who we play," Tony Allen said. "It's just a game of basketball. You've got to get back in transition. With a team like [Golden State], you've got to defend the perimeter. And once we get the ball, we're going to our horses."

The Warriors and the new NBA wave were supposed to be able to neutralize such defenses by shooting from too far away to be covered, or by using the threat of the 3-pointer to open up the inside. The Grizzlies were supposed to be left behind because they didn't have the offensive firepower to keep up. So what are they still doing in the thick of the championship chase?

"I honestly don't know," said Vince Carter, a newcomer to the Grizzlies but a 17-year NBA veteran who has seen the league change so much since 1998. "You have to have guys that buy into it. You have to have old-school-type players. Zach is an old-school-type player. Marc can play the old school type. Tony [Allen's] an old school-type player. I'm old school. Everybody buys into it. It's tough, particularly if you come from a different style somewhere else. It works for us. Defensively is where this team has always hung its hat."

That's why Randolph didn't sound as excited about his 20 points as he did about the time he switched out onto Stephen Curry in 3-point country and kept the league's deadliest outside shooter from either launching a shot or embarrassing Randolph with a meme-making dribble fake.

"I got low on him," Randolph explained, crouching to demonstrate his defensive stance in the locker room.

It's why Allen nearly stole the show from Mike Conley's 22-point return from a facial fracture. Allen stole just about everything else, including the ball from Klay Thompson when Thompson was trying to lead a fast break midway through the third quarter. He finished with four steals and a constant stream of reminders of his "first team all-defense" status that the television microphone picked up from him and Twitter feasted on.

"That's just something I say to get me amped up," Allen said. "Whenever I get a stop I'm going to continue to say that, because that's what I believe."

The Grizzlies got stops by crowding and contesting the shooters. They got them by forming a late wall of defense by the rim. They covered the cutters and denied passing lanes. The Warriors shot 42 percent from the field, 23 percent on 3-pointers, with most of the bricks coming from Curry and Thompson, who shot a combined 3-for-17 on 3s. They rushed shots when they did get open looks, as if they feared they wouldn't get that opportunity too often and tried too hard to make them count. "We were too quick with our intention to score," was how coach Steve Kerr put it, which sounded odd for a team that normally seems intent on scoring as quickly as possible.

"I thought we did an amazing job of putting pressure on the ball," Gasol said. "That gives them only one way to go, and that makes my job a lot easier guessing which way Steph and Klay are going to go that high on the ball. After that, it's just effort. You're out there, you help, somebody will help you, then when the shot goes up, you have to try to position and get the rebound.

"So you go into scramble mode, but it's a team effort. You need five guys to be working together, to be tied together."

The Warriors are far from finished. The style war will continue to be waged. Curry was already looking forward to a different attack against Allen in Game 3: "Move side-to-side and make him have to make decisions as opposed to just being locked in on one-on-one defense, which is probably his strong suit."

The Grizzlies ruined the party for the Warriors, sent their fans home early, clutching their "Congratulations Curry" signs. It has been such a magical ride for the Warriors, who basked in the reflection of what they've done to date during Curry's MVP news conference Monday afternoon and once again when Adam Silver handed him the trophy before the game. They had been floating through the air.

The Grizzlies like things down on the ground, which is where Allen remained after that Thompson steal, while his teammates converted at the other end. He wasn't hurt, he was in his element. For one night, at least, the series and the NBA weren't about high-arching 3s splashing through the net.

For one night, at least, the Grizzlies' way prevailed.

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