#IMHO: Best Playoff Performances in NBA History!

With the NBA Playoffs in full swing, Grind City Media’s Kelcey Wright Johnson and Jon Roser reminisce on the greatest NBA Playoff Performances of All-Time including Michael Jordan’s Flu Game, Magic Johnson’s rookie year explosion, LeBron James coming back from down 3-1 to defeat Steph Curry’s Warriors, Zach Randolph’s Game 6 sending the Memphis Grizzlies to the NBA Western Conference Finals, Kawhi Leonard ending LeBron James Miami HEAT run in 2014, Kobe Bryant’s 28 points on a sprained ankle game, Charles Barley, Luka Doncic, and many more!

Rise & Grind

Rise & Grind: New Jerseys, Z-Bo Turkey Giveaway, and Mac & Cheese is a Side

On today’s show: Meghan and Jessica discuss the new Grizzlies jerseys, talk Christmas decorations with DeAngelo Williams, Zach Randolph discusses his turkey giveaway, and more.

(3:58) New Grizzlies Uniforms
(23:58) Niele Ivey
(27:01) College Football Rankings
(40:45) CJ’s Corner
(44:08) DeAngelo Williams
(1:06:20) Zach Randolph
(1:14:54) Pop of the Morning
-Bachelorette Recap, 2021 Grammy Nominations, Meghan Markle Reveals She Suffered July Miscarriage, Marshawn Lynch handing out turkeys in Hawaii, Iceland is re-opening, Realistic Turkey Cake, TV schedule-

#IMHO: Greatest Grizzlies Player of All Time

#IMHO: Greatest Grizzlies Player of All Time

Grind City Media’s Lang Whitaker and Michael Wallace debate who they think deserves the title of the greatest Grizzlies player of all-time.

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MikeCheck on Grizzlies: Green rebounding from rough start to snag all he can from season that’s gotten away from Grizzlies

MEMPHISJaMychal Green rose from the bench midway through the fourth quarter the other night in Chicago, unwrapped the large heating pads from around his knees and tossed aside the towel that had been wrapped around his neck.

This is typically the reentry process.

The Grizzlies were in a tight game against the Bulls and desperately trying to snap a 14-game losing streak, longest in the Memphis era of the franchise. Green, the fourth-year starting power forward for the Grizzlies, had another streak of his own going. With 11 points and eight rebounds entering the fourth quarter in Chicago, Green was all but certain to snag at least two more boards to extend his career-best streak to seven consecutive games with double figures in both points and rebounds.

So with around six minutes remaining, and with the spark starting to fade from a group of rookies and young backups who had made an encouraging run, Green rose to his feet in anticipation of the nod from interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff and waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

Ultimately, the call never came from Bickerstaff to insert veterans Green and Marc Gasol back into the game for the finish. And ultimately, Green’s streak of double-doubles came to an end as the Grizzlies’ losing streak stretched to 15 games entering Friday’s matchup against the Jazz at FedExForum.

In reality, the only thing that stopped Green from continuing the most productive stretch of what had largely been an injury-riddled, underwhelming season was his coaching staff’s decision to maximize a developmental teaching moment. A unit of younger prospects played the entire fourth quarter of Wednesday’s 119-110 loss to the Bulls.

JaMychal Green

In a season that’s also become about salvageable moments, there are no hard feelings from Green – only more hard work yet to be done in the opportunities that remain over the final month of games.

“That’s just my mindset going in, trying to finish the season strong,” said Green, who earlier this week was tied with Russell Westbrook and Andre Drummond for the most double-doubles since the All-Star break. “We’ve been going through a lot of adversity right now, so I’m just trying to be that spark for my team. My mindset has always been to go out there and work hard. One thing about me that ain’t going to change is my game is built off my energy and effort, so I’ve got to bring that every night.”

Nearly six weeks of unrelenting losses have overshadowed almost everything for the Grizzlies (18-46), who carry the league’s worst record and longest losing streak of any team this season into Friday’s game. Buried within the rubble of a lottery-bound season for Memphis is encouraging evidence of Green still working to build a foundation moving forward.

Green admitted his season got off to a rocky start after prolonged contract negotiations with the Grizzlies while he was a restricted free agent last summer. The sides didn’t finalize terms on a two-year, $17 million contract until a week into training camp, and conditioning issues slowed his progress during the preseason. Green then sprained his foot and ankle minutes into the regular-season opener against New Orleans and would miss the next 12 games.

More nagging injuries followed that cost Green three games in December with knee soreness and another five games in January with a second ankle sprain. In all, Green had missed 20 of the Grizzlies’ first 50 games this season before his productivity picked up at the start of February.

“Definitely it (all) kind of slowed me down,” said Green, who averaged 13.7 points and 12 rebounds in 33.2 minutes during the streak of six straight double-doubles. “I also had a slow summer coming in, and I didn’t really get a good chance to work out and play, condition and all of that. So, coming in, I was a little out of shape and then I got hurt. So that kind of set me back a little bit. But now, I’m starting to turn it around. I’m in great shape. I’ve got my legs back and I’ve got a good mindset.”

JaMychal Green

It’s Green’s recharged motor that’s impressed teammates, coaches – and opponents.

A 14-point, 15-rebound effort on Monday in San Antonio drew another round of praise and respect from coach Gregg Popovich, who has long regretted the roster numbers crunch that forced the Spurs to cut the undrafted Green from their development pipeline four years ago.

Last week, it was Green’s all-around impact with 10 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and two blocks against Orlando that underscores his value to Memphis. Gasol, who did not travel with the Grizzlies to Orlando for the game, said Green’s determination and effort jumped off the TV screen.

“He just plays with so much energy every possession that it’s contagious,” Gasol said. “And he’s that guy for us, because we need him to do that. He sets the tone as far as everything goes for us. Obviously, when you play with him it’s one thing. But, for example the Orlando game, you get to watch him every possession and it’s overwhelming how hard he plays, how much he fights regardless of the situation.”

Fighting is nothing new for Green. It’s an essential part of his fabric. He’s been wired that way since he left the University of Alabama and methodically worked his way into a starting role for Memphis, where he was groomed the last two years behind beloved forward Zach Randolph, who departed in free agency to Sacramento last summer.

Now, as the Grizzlies focus on developing and evaluating younger rotation prospects, Green is the experienced veteran mentoring rookie Ivan Rabb, second-year big man Deyonta Davis and third-year forward Jarell Martin in the same fashion “Z-Bo” once showed him the way.

The season has hardly worked out the way Green expected, but it’s hardly stopped him from working.

Now, he’s a proven NBA player who has to be a role model for the younger guys who are now in the shoes he was in. I am seeing maturity. What he’s done is show, no matter the circumstances, he’s going to continue to fight. In tough situations and circumstances, where it’s easy for some to say, ‘to heck with it,’ he hasn’t. He’s continued to battle.

Coach Bickerstaff

“For the longest time, he was the young guy who was scrapping and clawing his way through, trying to prove he was an NBA player,” Bickerstaff said of Green. “Now, he’s a proven NBA player who has to be a role model for the younger guys who are now in the shoes he was in. I am seeing maturity. What he’s done is show, no matter the circumstances, he’s going to continue to fight. In tough situations and circumstances, where it’s easy for some to say, ‘to heck with it,’ he hasn’t. He’s continued to battle.”

Green knows no other way. It’s impossible to lead all undrafted NBA players in rebounding average for a second straight season by giving in.

Again, rebounding isn’t simply a job responsibility for Green. It’s a way of life.

And he’s rebounded from a rough start to a difficult season.

Still, there’s more to grasp.

Marc is the leader, and I’m one of the vets now. Plus, we’ve got a young team, so we’re trying to show them you still have to come to work and go hard no matter what.

JaMychal Green

“We’ve got to,” Green said of working alongside Gasol to maintain a professional approach and high standards. “Marc is the leader, and I’m one of the vets now. Plus, we’ve got a young team, so we’re trying to show them you still have to come to work and go hard no matter what.”

Green is no longer streaking, but still certainly striving.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

MikeCheck: Durant cites Grizzlies for role in Warriors’ title march

By Michael Wallace
Grind City Media

MEMPHIS – With protective goggles hanging from his neck, the championship cocktail of champagne and sweat soaking his shirt and the Finals MVP trophy at his side, Kevin Durant explained how one of the darkest points of his season paved the way to Golden State’s ultimate success.

Consider it Durant’s shout-out to the Memphis Grizzlies.

No, Grind City didn’t make the NBA Finals, although Memphis was glued to the drama that unfolded every step of the way as a Top-5 viewership market in Finals TV ratings. But according to Durant, the Grizzlies did play a pivotal role in helping the Warriors sort through some of the early confusion and relative chemistry kinks they would overcome on the way to a historic 16-1 run through the playoffs.

The Warriors capped their dominant display with Monday’s series-clinching win over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5 of the Finals. Barring injury or ego, it’s a safe bet that this is the start of a dynasty the likes of which the NBA hasn’t seen since Michael Jordan’s Bulls in the 1990s.

But there were humble beginnings to the Durant era in the Bay Area. Enter the Grizzlies.

As Durant sat at the postgame podium Monday night taking in euphoria from his first NBA title, he took everyone back to the aftermath of a demoralizing home loss to Memphis on Jan. 6, when the Grizzlies rallied from a 24-point deficit in the third quarter to snag a 128-119 overtime victory at Oracle Arena.

“I can remember when we were in Sacramento,” Durant recalled in his postgame comments. “We just lost to Memphis, we gave up the lead, we were up 20 – I’m sure you guys remember – Draymond (Green) pulled me aside (when) we were having dinner the next night, and he told me to be myself. Don’t worry about anything, just be you, keep working, everything’s going to come around.”

This wasn’t exactly prophetic. Durant was expected to be a great fit in Golden State’s selfless system. They were destined to win a championship. What they’ve done should surprise absolutely no one with a pulse and at least a passing interest in the game. After all, Durant was already a four-time league scoring champion who also arrived with a regular-season MVP trophy in his collection.

Yet, there was still a necessary feeling-out process for Durant and the Warriors, who eventually found their footing and ended the Finals having won 31 of 33 games dating back to the regular season. Durant averaged 35.2 points and 8.4 rebounds while shooting 55.6 percent in the series against the Cavaliers.

But the unstoppable superstar, who seemed to hit every big shot the Warriors needed in the Finals, once dealt with doubts and uncertainty earlier in the season. Durant had to push through two challenging stages of adversity before he and the Warriors hit their championship stride. He sustained a knee injury in March and would miss a month before returning late in the regular season to restore his fitness.

However, it was an earlier stretch of turbulence that raised questions about his fit. That was in January, when the Grizzlies caught the Warriors and Durant dealing with some discomfort. Among the reasons that overtime loss has stuck with Durant throughout the season was that it involved a complete, late-game collapse as the Grizzlies were mounting their comeback against the disjointed Warriors.

After one offensive breakdown late in the game, when Durant called for the ball but refused to shoot during a derailed possession, Green and Durant engaged in a heated exchange on the court that continued in the huddle after an ensuing timeout. The same small-ball lineup that rang up prolific numbers in the Finals against Cleveland was once exposed by the Grizzlies late in that Jan. 6 game, when Zach Randolph punished Durant in the post on the way to 27 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.

I was struggling at that point.. To have teammates that encourage you, that lift you up, that’s what we all need in life. We came together, believed in each other and sacrificed. And we’re champions now.

Kevin Durant

To this day, most Warriors consider it their worst loss of the season. Memphis matched its franchise record for largest deficit overcome in the fourth, and it was the Warriors’ biggest blown lead since 1999. Golden State carried a nine-game win streak into that game and had won 94 of 100 games at Oracle.

“We are trying some different things and we just haven’t executed well,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said in January after Golden State lost to Memphis for the second time in as many months. “We’re trying to get guys in better position. We’ll … continue to experiment and try different things.”

The Warriors have rarely been vulnerable over a three-year span in which they’ve compiled a 207-39 regular-season record, advanced to three consecutive Finals and won two championships. But outside of the Spurs, no other team in the West has forced Golden State to take inventory quite like Memphis. The Grizzlies split the four-game season series with the Warriors and were ahead 2-1 in a second-round playoff series against Golden State two years ago during its first championship season.

Earlier this season, Green drew some criticism from within and outside his locker room when he strongly suggested after the overtime loss to Memphis that the Warriors needed to lose that game.

“I’m actually happy we lost, because there are some things we need to correct in order to win a championship,” Green said at the time. “That’s our goal. Our fourth quarter offense has been atrocious.”

With as much talent as the Warriors assembled, it was only a matter of time before they cleaned up their act. The Grizzlies’ unique style of play, largely predicated on physicality and minimizing possessions, contrasts with Golden State’s free-flowing, high-scoring offense. It’s made for some uncomfortable matchups over the past few seasons.

For Durant, facing the Grizzlies six months ago provided a humbling turning point amid a less than seamless transition with his new team. His post-Finals reflection added some necessary perspective to a championship journey the Warriors ultimately made appear as if it were a cakewalk.

“I was struggling at that point,” Durant said Monday night of the January breakdown against Memphis that forced the Warriors to regroup in Sacramento. “To have teammates that encourage you, that lift you up, that’s what we all need in life. You call us a super team. But there are a lot of super teams that haven’t worked. We came together, believed in each other and sacrificed. And we’re champions now.”

The Grizzlies are among 29 teams facing the daunting task of taking down a fledgling dynasty.

But in the midst of celebrating his first title, Durant singled them out for their contribution.

They provided an early challenge that helped these Warriors pull themselves together.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

MikeCheck: Grizzlies push, punch back in series after being ‘punked’ by Spurs

By Michael Wallace
Grind City Media

MEMPHIS – Two takeaways from the Grizzlies snapping a 10-game playoff losing streak Thursday with a 105-94 victory over San Antonio, and a look ahead to Game 4 on Saturday at FedExForum.

TAKE ONE … Grizzlies found kryptonite for Kawhi

Among the many adjustments the Grizzlies made on the way to closing the series deficit to 2-1 against the Spurs was finding a way to limit Kawhi Leonard’s robotic dominance on the game. Grizzlies’ coach David Fizdale paid Leonard the ultimate compliment entering Game 3 when he essentially described the Spurs’ MVP candidate as basketball’s version of The Terminator.

“I think he bleeds antifreeze,” Fizdale said of Leonard, who had been averaging 34.5 points on 71.4 percent shooting from the field through the first two games.

Leonard remains perfect from the free-throw line through three games, having made all 32 of his attempts from the foul line. But one of the key components to their breakthrough victory in Game 3 was that the Grizzlies were in a far less charitable mood when it came to sending Leonard to the foul line.

After attempting nine free throws in Game 1 and then a whopping 19 foul shots in Game 2, Leonard was limited to just four trips to the charity stripe on Thursday. He was contained to just 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field, with four rebounds and three assists in 30 minutes.

The lesser heralded of the two lineup tweaks the Grizzlies made was designed to slow Leonard. James Ennis III was moved into the starting lineup for Game 3 and shared the Leonard defensive assignment primarily with rookie guard Wayne Selden. The two triggered a defense that funneled two or three bodies toward Leonard whenever he caught the ball and eliminated his operating space on the wing. Ennis and Selden also contributed offensively in combining for 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting.

With All-NBA defender Tony Allen sidelined for the first-round series with a calf strain he sustained in the final game of the regular season, the Grizzlies needed another answer for Leonard. Before Game 3, Leonard had averaged nearly 13 more points, shot 15 percentage points higher and attempted twice as many free throws against the Grizzlies in games when Allen wasn’t available this season.

I just didn’t play. I shot the ball like twice; they doubled me all game.

Kawhi Leonard

This time around, Leonard was held to only two points in the second half just a game after ripping the Grizzlies apart with 37 points, including 19 free throws, in a performance that landed Fizdale a $30,000 league fine for complaining about unbalanced officiating.

“I just didn’t play,” Leonard said. “I shot the ball like twice; they doubled me all game.”

Ennis said maintaining energy and aggression are essential in trying to contain Leonard.

“I think I’m always going to be nervous, because the atmosphere is just crazy,” Ennis said. “I just go out there and give it my all and I play hard. So wherever that takes me, it takes me.”

TAKE TWO … Vintage Randolph to the rescue

Fizdale’s other adjustment worked to near perfection, with Zach Randolph moving into the starting lineup and dropping 21 points, eight rebounds and a block – and even a dunk – on the Spurs in Game 3.

While Fizdale insists the lineup change was borne out of desperation after Memphis struggled to maintain any rhythm on offense the first two games, it was also a methodically cultivated decision. Randolph always believed he was a starter, although the 15-year veteran also never publicly complained about having to accept a full-time reserve role for the first time since his third NBA season.

There’s a bit of irony in Randolph returning full-circle to a starting assignment. Fizdale’s first bold move when he took over as coach this season was replacing Randolph as the starting power forward with JaMychal Green. Throughout the season, Fizdale defended the controversial move as one that was designed to create maximum space on the floor for Mike Conley and Marc Gasol to operate, and to also give the second unit a proven, veteran scorer in Randolph.

Now, Randolph is back in the starting lineup largely because it helps create more opportunities for Conley and Gasol to operate more freely and not have to deal with the Spurs’ collapsing defense. When the Spurs loaded up their defense on Conley in Game 1, Gasol erupted for a playoff career-high 32 points. When Conley got going in Game 2, Gasol struggled in the first half and never got on track.

Inserting Randolph alongside Gasol and Conley essentially eliminated opportunities for San Antonio to double-team anyone consistently. That meant one of the three would work against single coverage. As it turned out, it freed up all three of them to be effective. Randolph, Conley and Gasol combined for 66 points on 55.8 percent shooting from the field.

“For us to win this series, we’re going to have to do that,” Randolph said. “It definitely felt good.”

It was just the fifth time this season Conley, Gasol and Randolph each scored at least 20 points in the same game. The Grizzlies’ record when that’s happened?


“I felt like he was a secret weapon and we finally unleashed him,” Conley said of Randolph’s impact in the starting lineup. “It’s fun to see him succeed. It’s fun to see him do the things he’s accustomed to doing. He really changed the game and hopefully changed the series, and will give us some confidence.”

TAKE THREE … Grizzlies, Spurs seeing eye to eye entering Game 4

The Spurs hold a 2-1 series edge heading into Game 4 on Saturday, but the Grizzlies have played them about as evenly as they did during the regular season when the teams split their four matchups.

Through the three playoff games, San Antonio won five of the first six quarters played in the series while Memphis has either tied or held the edge in four of the last six periods. Overall, both history and home-court advantage still favor the Spurs, who are 27-2 in postseason series in which they started by winning the first two games.

Yet the Grizzlies don’t have to search far to find the last time they rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win a series. That happened in the first round of the 2013 playoffs, when Memphis won four consecutive games against the Clippers after dropping the first two in the series.

In other words, Saturday at FedExForum shapes up as a series-shifting showdown.

“We’ve played Memphis a lot in the playoffs – we know what to expect,” Spurs guard Tony Parker said. “They were hard on us in the regular season. Now, we have to come back. We have to play better in Game 4 and come back strong.”

Now, it’s on to Round 4.

“The Spurs were punking us; let’s be real about it,” Fizdale said. “Of the first eight quarters, they bullied us for five and a half of those. You’re not going to beat the Spurs letting them dictate everything. We had to match it. Otherwise, we were going to get pummeled. We stepped up and took the challenge.”

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

MikeCheck: Changes in store for Game 3 as Grizz seek to slow Spurs

By Michael Wallace
Grind City Media

MEMPHISZach Randolph has waited all season for an opportunity like this.

“I always think about being a starter, still being who I am,” Randolph insisted as the Grizzlies entered their first-round playoff series against San Antonio. “So I just keep that mind frame when I go in there and compete. I’m not going to say this has been easy, because I think I’m still a starter in this league. But as I’ve said all season, whatever is best for the team is what I’ll go out there and do.”

What was pushed to be ideal and necessary for the Grizzlies during the regular season might not be what’s best for Memphis right now as the team attempts to rally from a 2-0 deficit against the Spurs.

Entering essentially a must-win situation in Game 3 on Thursday at FedExForum, Randolph may reclaim an old role in a familiar place alongside Mike Conley and Marc Gasol in the starting lineup. Grizzlies coach David Fizdale confirmed after Thursday’s shootaround that a change will be made in the starting lineup, although the first-year coach won’t reveal specifics until just before the start of the game.

But there have been strong indications Memphis will start the unit that provided it the biggest boost of the series in Game 2, when it cut a 26-point deficit to four before falling 96-82 on Monday in San Antonio. After trailing 56-37 at halftime of Game 2, Fizdale moved rookie guard Wayne Selden and forward JaMychal Green to the bench and inserted Randolph and James Ennis III into the starting group with Conley, Gasol and Vince Carter to open the second half.

The Grizzlies shot 52.6 percent from the field, outrebounded the Spurs by three and forced five turnovers on the way to a 28-19 edge in the quarter. It was the most complete quarter for the Grizzlies in an otherwise lopsided series in which San Antonio has outscored them by a combined 43 points. Through two games, Memphis has shot just 38.5 percent from the field overall, 29.8 percent from three-point range and has the lowest scoring output of all playoff teams at 82 points a game.

“I’m going to make some changes, but I’ll let them know later,” Fizdale said Thursday. “We’ve got to be deeply engaged in the competition, right form the jump. And that’s competition with discipline. Again, we are talking about the Spurs, the greatest execution team you’ll ever come across. So you have to bring raw competition to it and do it with a focus.”

It’s just all about trying to bring energy from the outset of the game.

James Ennis

Randolph had 18 points, 10 rebounds and three steals in 36 minutes on Monday while Ennis took over as the primary defender on Spurs’ forward Kawhi Leonard. Ennis closed Game 2 with seven points, eight rebounds, two assists and two steals but also had five fouls while defending Leonard. Still, Ennis emerged from the game as the lone Grizzlies’ player with a positive (plus-5) in total plus-minus rating.

“It’s just all about trying to bring energy from the outset of the game,” Ennis said Thursday.

During a season in which the Grizzlies have used 25 different starting lineups, Fizdale had tried just about everyone in the opening group – with the exception of Randolph. The rationale was that Memphis needed the 15-year veteran’s scoring punch on the second unit, and it’s resulted in Randolph leading all NBA reserves with 20 of his 21 double-doubles this season coming off the bench.

But when Fizdale has typically found a unit that’s produced, he’s remained with that combination until the results determine otherwise. With the Grizzlies having shown encouraging signs from a second half when they outscored the Spurs 45-40 in Game 2, the evidence is as obvious.

The lineup decision appears to be as well.

“You’re down 0-2 … you have to really make the moves necessary to get a win,” Fizdale said as he stopped just short of confirming any intentions. “Hopefully, you can pull it off. You’re always looking for a positive, and the way we played that second half was a big positive for us. From a competitive standpoint, overall, it was some of our better execution.”

By playing Randolph with Conley and Gasol from the outset, it gives the Grizzlies three scoring options for the Spurs to contend with on the court. Conley believes the change would be seamless because the three have been starters for much of the past seven consecutive seasons they’ve made the playoffs.

Get pumped for tonight’s Game 3 matchup against the Spurs at 8:30pm at FedExForum.

That core also knows what it takes to overcome a 2-0 series deficit, which Memphis did when it rallied with four straight victories to get past the Clippers in the first round of the 2013 playoffs. That team ultimately advanced to the Western Conference finals and lost in four games to the Spurs, who now carry a 10-game playoff winning streak against the Grizzlies into Thursday’s matchup.

“Just from our experience being down 0-2, it is possible to come back, it is possible to change a series,” Conley said. “You just have to find that one tweak, that one adjustment you might find and stick to it. And hopefully we can find that going into Game 3.”

So I’m going to check the rule book and find out if robots are allowed to play in the NBA… He bleeds antifreeze. He’s special.

Coach Fizdale

Another essential adjustment is figuring out a way to limit Leonard’s impact on the series, which starts by preventing the MVP candidate from routinely getting to the free-throw line. Leonard is averaging 34.5 points and seven rebounds while shooting 71.4 percent from the field. He’s also made all 28 free-throws he’s attempted in the series. Fizdale has witnessed this level of dominance before from Leonard, who was Finals MVP when the Spurs blitzed the Heat in 2014, when Fizdale was an assistant in Miami.

“I’ve seen this movie – I don’t want to keep going down this road with him, so we have to make some adjustments,” Fizdale said. “He’s a big-time player, first-class individual, tireless worker from everything I hear about him. He was standing next to me the other night and wasn’t breathing. So I’m going to check the rule book and find out if robots are allowed to play in the NBA. Somehow, (Spurs coach Gregg Popovich) and them have figured out something I didn’t know about. He bleeds antifreeze. He’s special.”

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

MikeCheck: Fizdale’s viral rant lays foundation for Grizzlies to regroup

By Michael Wallace
Grind City Media

MEMPHIS – Instantly, it’s become the GIF that keeps on giving.

Clips of Memphis coach David Fizdale’s postgame rant, which ended when he smacked the table, shouted “take that for data,” and stormed off the dais after a Game 2 loss to the Spurs, have gone viral on social media about as fast as Kawhi Leonard gets to the free-throw line.

Both Fizdale and the Grizzlies were bracing for a significant fine from the league on Tuesday for comments that included the first-year coach saying “it was a poorly officiated basketball game,” and using terms “unacceptable” and “unprofessional” to describe the conduct of referees. Dan Crawford, Rodney Mott and Bill Spooner comprised the three-man crew that officiated Game 2, during which Leonard alone outshot the Grizzlies 19-15 from the free-throw line.

The rant heard around the NBA world made Fizdale a sympathetic figure in some circles and a hoops hero in others for defending veterans Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph during a series in which the No. 7-seed Grizzlies have been overmatched by the No. 2-seed Spurs through two games.

But this was hardly a spur-of-the-moment outburst from Fizdale. He’s been privately stewing for nearly a month over some puzzling developments with the officiating in recent matchups between the Grizzlies and Spurs. Counting the regular season, these teams have played five times since March 18.

Memphis and San Antonio split the regular-season series 2-2, but the skepticism that ultimately boiled over on the postgame podium Monday first began to simmer entering a March 23 loss to the Spurs. That’s when the Grizzlies’ staff discovered a CBSSports.com report, citing a social media account that tracks NBA referee statistics, that revealed the Spurs were 20-0 at home over the past 10 seasons with referee Sean Wright as the crew chief.

The officiating crew chief that night for the Grizzlies’ 97-90 loss to the Spurs? Sean Wright. Perhaps it was unfortunate timing, but the coincidence wasn’t lost on the Grizzlies. In that March 23 loss, the Spurs were called for one more foul than the Grizzlies (19-18) but shot eight more free throws.

When the teams met again a week later in San Antonio, frustrations resurfaced when Conley was forced out of the game in the fourth quarter with a cut above his right eye after he bumped heads with Leonard. Conley was called for an offensive foul for the inadvertent clash as he attempted to evade Leonard’s face-guarding defense under the basket. Following the 95-89 overtime loss, Fizdale and Conley furiously questioned how Conley could have been called for the foul in that situation.

So there was already a level of uneasiness entering the playoff series, bad blood was already in the water. Therefore, when Fizdale was presented the statistical disparities late Monday night during what is otherwise considered the “cooling off” period – the 10 minutes immediately after a game and before teams are made available to the media – he built his case.

Because Gregg Popovich was the winning coach in Game 2 and designated to address the media first, Fizdale had a few more minutes to check and recheck the data from the game. Before he emerged from the locker room, Fizdale asked his assistants to check the numbers again to make sure they were accurate. He zeroed in on metrics that showed how many shot attempts both teams had from the paint as compared to how many free-throw attempts resulted from those trips to the lane.

Kawhi shot more free throws than our whole team. Explain it to me. I’m not a numbers guy, but that doesn’t seem to add up.

Coach Fizdale

With each step Fizdale took through the halls of the AT&T Center to get to the postgame press conference room, he cemented his case. Back in the visitors’ locker room, players were essentially advised to save their money and proceed carefully if asked about the officiating.

Leave it to Fizdale, who had all the reasonable information necessary. It was only a matter of which question posed by a reporter was going to offer the coach the runway to articulate his closing argument. Three questions in, the opportunity arrived.

“Overall, 35 times we shot the ball in the paint, we had 15 free throws in the game,” Fizdale said. “They shot 18 times in the paint and had 32 free throws. Kawhi shot more free throws than our whole team. Explain it to me. I’m not a numbers guy, but that doesn’t seem to add up.”

From there, no other questions were necessary. Fizdale had the floor, and he was guiding the discussion where he wanted it to go, where the desperate coach of a desperate team in a 2-0 hole needed it to go. Much like an old Baptist preacher at revival, revving toward his sermon’s climax, Fizdale pointed out how gracious Conley has been throughout a 10-year career that includes being hit with zero techs.

Yet …

I know Pop has pedigree and I’m a young rookie coach…. But they’re not going to rook us.

Coach Fizdale

“He just cannot seem to get the proper respect from the officials that he deserves,” Fizdale said. “Mike Conley doesn’t go crazy. He has class and just plays the game.”

Fizdale then surmised how Randolph played 36 minutes, got 18 points, got 10 rebounds and got his headband knocked off at least once on a shot. And yet, ZBo didn’t get one free throw.

“The most rugged guy in the game had zero free throws,” Fizdale moaned. “Somehow, Kawhi had 19.”

To some, that’s not analytics. That’s asinine.

And in keeping it all classy but simultaneously callous and calculated, Fizdale dropped in props for Pop while also accepting his own lot as a novice coach in the league.

“I know Pop has pedigree and I’m a young rookie coach,” Fizdale said as he reached the apex. “But they’re not going to rook us.”

Rook us? Seemed to make sense at the time. Simply chalk it up to the South Central coming out of the 42-year-old Fizdale, a proud native of inner-city Los Angeles. Fizdale explained how he tried to make a well-reasoned, data-driven case in sticking up for his team. He didn’t use profanity at the podium. He didn’t disparage the Spurs. He didn’t disrespect the media.

“It wasn’t about emotion,” Fizdale said. “It was about facts.”

Ultimately, this wasn’t about the Spurs. It was about the disparities. The Grizzlies will enter Game 3 on Thursday at FedExForum fueled by the fact they fought back and cut a 26-point deficit to four, with a chance to steal that game in San Antonio. They outscored the Spurs 45-40 in the second half. That’s when each team attempted nine free throws over the final two quarters.

Call it fairly even and the Grizzlies like their chances.

“We needed to see if we could compete with this team on a high level,” Fizdale said of a second half run that started when he inserted Randolph alongside Conley and Gasol to open the third quarter. “It got our confidence back.”

Before the game, Fizdale’s message to his team was that everyone – including the coach – needed to check their egos at the door and do whatever is necessary to help the team win. Fizdale checked his own ego and season-long logic by elevating Randolph back into a starting role in Game 2.

That experiment must continue in Game 3, because prioritizing bench production isn’t working right now for Memphis. Against these Spurs, you have to stay with them from the outset and avoid falling into too large of a hole. It’s tough enough to overcome them when it’s five-on-five, let alone when you’re also battling the notion that the refs aren’t calling it squarely.

Fizdale isn’t too stubborn to see that much. So there’s a risk in carrying complaints too far.

Still, the Grizzlies found something that worked.

It also cost them quite a bit, too.

And it’ll hit Fizdale’s wallet hard. Perhaps the fine can be offset by proceeds from new T-shirts the team is selling with a slogan from Fizdale’s Game 2 outcry.

If it helps get the Grizzlies back into this series, it’s worth the investment.

In Fizdale’s famous final words, as he slapped the table South Central-style as if he just laid the winning domino …

Take that for data.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Weekend Focus: A Fighting chance

By Michael Wallace
Grind City Media

MEMPHIS – The photo serves a painfully significant purpose.

It’s housed deep in the gallery of JaMychal Green’s cell phone, but not stashed quite far enough to ever be forgotten. It’s one of the very few remnants that carries meaning from last season’s dreadful, injury-riddled limp into the playoffs for the Grizzlies and that merciless, first-round sweep by San Antonio.

Memphis was without floor leader Mike Conley because of an Achilles injury, without franchise center Marc Gasol due to foot surgery, without midseason sparkplug Mario Chalmers and others victimized by various ailments. It all left the Grizzlies without any real hope when that series with the Spurs began last April. Four games later, it ultimately left Green with an unintentionally symbolic white towel draped over his head as he contemplated the crushing reality for his prideful but pounded group of Grizzlies.

“We knew we didn’t have a good chance, but there’s still nothing that makes you sick like that feeling when the season is finally over,” Green recalled. “Someone snapped a picture of me just sitting there in shock, with a towel around my head. Someone sent it to me, and I kept it all this time. I’ve looked at that picture in my phone this year from time to time to motivate me. I don’t want to feel that way again, so we have a chance to go out and change that. This time we’re healthier, so they better watch out for us.”

The opponent is the same. So are the seedings for the No. 2 Spurs and No. 7 Grizzlies. But there’s one reason above any other Memphis enters its opening-round rematch with a legit puncher’s chance to rattle the NBA postseason landscape. This time, the Grizzlies are going in as the real, actual, Grizzlies.

That’s because this time, Conley is coming off a career season in scoring and isn’t in street clothes stylishly matching designer jeans with a walking boot. This time, Gasol has stretched his game out to the three-point line and isn’t confined to pacing the sidelines and locker room for moral support. This time, the Grizzlies have four games of empirical evidence from an evenly-matched regular-season series against a Spurs team that had tortured them more than any other opponent in recent years.

The playoffs are a different animal, the saying goes. And that’s true. But that theory doesn’t necessarily or completely apply to two teams that have spent the past month hammering one another as if the much more were at stake. The Grizzlies and Spurs split the season series 2-2, with Memphis taking the first two before falling by seven in the third matchup and losing in overtime in the last one. The final three meetings were all crammed into a stretch of 18 days, from mid-March to early April.

That level of familiarity would only breed even more discomfort between Southwest Division rivals who have endured a long and lopsided history together. The Spurs have been hell bent on destroying the Grizzlies since Zach Randolph ripped them to shreds in the 2011 postseason, when eighth-seeded Memphis stunned the top-seeded Spurs 4-2 in the first round.

Gregg Popovich refused to be haunted by residual ZBo nightmares. Perhaps that explains how the Spurs, counting the playoffs, won 24 of the next 28 meetings with Memphis entering this season. But Conley insisted the Grizzlies are no longer psychologically shackled by San Antonio’s lockdown.

Instead, the Grizzlies are buoyed by the boost of relative health.

“They had our number mentally for so many years after that upset we gave them in 2011,” Conley said. “I think getting the wins we got this year, playing the way we played against them, really helped our confidence, really helped the way we’ve viewed the situation. We’re confident going in and know we have to steal one down there to get past them.”

The Grizzlies go in mentally free mainly because their best bodies are physically available for the playoffs. Ultimately, that was the top priority in David Fizdale’s first season as the Memphis coach – to deliver his team to the most meaningful part of the season as intact as possible.

It was hardly easy, considering Conley missed three weeks after fracturing vertebrae in his back in November, marquee free-agent signee Chandler Parsons was shut down in early March for the season with knee issues and Gasol was sidelined into April for five games with a strained left foot. Yet, with the exception of Parsons, the Grizzlies survived.

That process required the use of 25 different starting lineups for a team that entered the April 12 regular-season finale against Dallas with 153 total games missed to injuries. By comparison, the Grizzlies used 28 starting lineups last season and endured 293 total games missed because of injury absences.

“That has been my most difficult challenge, no doubt about it,” Fizdale said of the constant juggling of the rotation that started in training camp and never ceased. “The fluctuation in the roster and different guys I had coming in and out of the rotation, getting in a game shape, managing minutes, going from a young team to older team and now to a different sort of mix of it all, that’s impacted the consistency.”

Although the Grizzlies have played to wild extremes much of this season, their most consistent performances have come against the Spurs, with the two teams posting nearly identical statistics overall through the four games. Memphis has outscored San Antonio by an aggregate of 372-362, and was the only Western Conference team to hold the Spurs below 100 in every matchup. San Antonio’s 90.5 points a game against Memphis was nearly 15 points lower than its season scoring average.

Those numbers had the Grizzlies encouraged about their defense and depth entering the playoffs. It’s simply a stark contrast from where things stood a year ago. That was when, after losing the first two games of the series by a combined 58 points, former Grizzlies swingman Matt Barnes said Memphis was “coming to a gunfight with spoons” as compared to the firepower of the 67-win Spurs.

Green, Zach Randolph, Vince Carter and Tony Allen are the lone holdovers who participated in that series and maintain the scars to prove it.

“We just wanted to go out there, shoot for the fence, play carefree and see what happens,” Carter said of the difference between then and now. “Now, it’s not like we have to dummy down anything. We can have our complete offense, we can try to make meaningful adjustments, the whole nine. We know we have a chance to compete this year, and people will give us a chance. We know who we are and what we have. We can compete with the best teams, and we’ve proved that all year.”

Allen detailed how everyone persevered.

That meant coping with nagging knee soreness for much of the season for Allen, who missed a handful of games to prioritize treatment and recovery. Conley and Gasol entered the season on minutes’ restrictions as they worked their way into peak form from last year’s season-ending injuries. Randolph accepted a sixth-man role and fewer minutes, yet led the NBA in double-doubles off the bench.

“Every year, there’s been a concern about somebody going down,” said Allen, whose Grizzlies have made the playoffs all seven seasons he’s been on the roster. “Last year, everybody knows what happened. The year before that, when we played the Warriors in the second round, I had that hamstring and Mike basically broke his face. But you look at us now, and we feel great going into the playoffs. Mike feels great with all he’s been through, and we’ve got Big Spain healthy, too. The sky’s the limit.”

At the very least, the sky hasn’t already fallen before the playoffs start.

“We were all very eager to get back again this year, so you could tell that we were excited for another chance against the Spurs with our guys in the lineup,” Conley said. “It’s very important for our team to have, should I say, only one or two guys down right now instead of five or six or 10. Our big guns are moving well and playing. So we’re confident.”

The longtime Grizzlies’ core is also cognizant that this could be its last, best shot intact. The Spurs are the only team in the West with a streak longer than the seven consecutive playoff appearances the Grizzlies have made with Conley, Gasol, Randolph and Allen collectively anchoring the franchise.

While Conley, 29, and Gasol, 32, still have multiple seasons remaining on max salary contracts, both Randolph, 35, and Allen, 35, are in the final season of their deals, and are headed to free agency in July.

“This might be the last ride for us, so we’ve got to make the best of it right now,” Randolph said. “We’ve been down this road before with a team we’ve battled several times. We know what we’re facing. Coach Pop, in my eyes, is the greatest coach of all times. He’s like a machine out there. It’s going to be our strengths versus their strengths, and we’ll see ultimately who wins the battle.”

Should Memphis pull off another 2011-style upset, Green can update the photo gallery in his phone.

“We’ve got all our key vets now,” Green said. “It should be a different story.”

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

MikeCheck: After sputtering to finish line, Grizz shift into playoff gear

By Michael Wallace
Grind City Media

MEMPHIS – Two takeaways from the Grizzlies’ 43-39 regular-season finish and a look at this week’s final Grind City NBA Index poll, with first-round playoff predictions, heading into the postseason.

TAKE ONE … Fizdale’s first-year learning curve

David Fizdale spent nearly two decades in the NBA as an assistant, traversing the league map from Golden State to Miami, before landing his first head coaching job this season with the Grizzlies.

How does he evaluate his rookie year in the lead spot? About the same as he evaluates the rookies on his roster who have been thrust into key rotation roles for various reasons throughout an erratic regular season that ended with Wednesday’s 100-93 home loss to the Dallas Mavericks.

“I know for a fact I’m my toughest critic, so my grade probably won’t be too good right now,” Fizdale told Grind City Media before expanding on that evaluation after Wednesday’s game. “I felt like I’ve learned a lot – through good stuff and through some hard lessons. I was really trying to be open-minded about this year and really challenge myself and push myself to grow.”

I think a lot of circumstances this year pushed me to be a better coach… Whether I made the right decisions or not, I tried to learn from them.

Coach Fizdale

Through a season filled with rotation tweaks, injuries, painful losing streaks and a few breakthrough performances that stunned some of the top teams in the league, the Grizzlies persevered enough to advance to the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season. That’s the third-longest active streak of postseason appearances in the league behind the Spurs and the Hawks.

After having sputtered to a 9-15 finish since the mid-February All-Star break, Fizdale and the Grizzlies will need a significant growth spurt to get them past the first round against a Spurs team that posted consecutive 60-win seasons for the first time in the history of a franchise that has won five titles. The Grizzlies and Spurs open their series with the first two games in San Antonio on Saturday and Monday before shifting to Memphis for Games 3 and 4 on April 20 and April 22 at FedExForum.

On the surface, there’s very little about Memphis’ 43-win season that would suggest this team did anything other than slightly underachieve, especially considering it’s only one more victory than the total from last season’s epic, injury-riddled meltdown. But that’s where deeper perspective and inspection are necessary to evaluate in which direction the Grizzlies are trending.

Offensively, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, JayMychal Green, Troy Daniels, Tony Allen and Zach Randolph are among those who have registered career highs in one statistical category or another, or have delivered their most efficient seasons in a Grizzlies’ uniform. Having been perennially one of the least productive three-point shooting teams in the league in recent years, the Grizzlies jumped to 15th in the NBA in that category and set franchise records for both makes (767) and attempts (2,169) this season.

Defensively, however, the Grizzlies have been cratering since January, when they were the top-rated unit in the league. Despite the constant shuffling of a roster in which Fizdale used 25 different starting lineups as a result of injuries or inconsistent play, Memphis still finished the season ranked seventh in defensive rating. Fizdale is focused on steadying his team’s play after a season of drastic ups and downs.

“I think a lot of circumstances this year pushed me to be a better coach,” said Fizdale, who was an assistant on Heat teams that advanced to four NBA Finals and won two championships. “Whether I made the right decisions or not, I tried to learn from them. This thing went fast, but it’s my favorite time of the year, the playoffs. Our team is honored to be there, and I think we will display it with our effort.”

TAKE TWO … Allen ailing as series looms

It was an injury that “scared the crap” out of the Grizzlies.

Seeing defensive stalwart Tony Allen curl around a screen and clutch his right calf six minutes into the regular-season finale against Dallas was a frightening scene, especially after the veteran guard immediately headed to the locker room and didn’t return to the game.

Allen will be reevaluated Thursday with what the Grizzlies disclosed during the game was a lower right leg injury. Allen had already left the arena by the time Wednesday’s game ended and was not available for comment. The Grizzlies are scheduled to practice Thursday afternoon and will hold another workout Friday before flying to San Antonio later that day in advance of Game 1 Saturday against the Spurs.

The extent of Allen’s injury and availability shapes up as one of the biggest storylines entering the series, considering the perennial All-NBA defensive team standout is expected to be the primary defender on Spurs MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard. Allen’s coaches and teammates seemed encouraged about his prospects, but the timing of the injury couldn’t have been worse for Memphis.

“We know T.A., he’s a fighter – he’ll be back,” Green said. “It was the last game of the regular season, so it was important for him to get ready for the playoffs and be ready. I know he’ll be ready.”

Earlier this week, Fizdale said his decision to play the Grizzlies’ veterans for at least the first half of the final games was based on data and recommendations from the team’s medical and training staffs. Fizdale said the team decided it was best to maintain fitness and conditioning levels by playing limited minutes rather than sitting players out completely for rest with the playoffs looming.

“Hearing me play doctor right now, I don’t think it’s a big injury or anything like that,” Fizdale said. “Obviously, it scared the crap out of us when he got kicked. We are going to assess it and go from there.”

TAKE THREE … Final Grind City Power Index

  1. Golden State Warriors
  2. Kevin Durant’s first play back from a month-long injury absence was a baseline reverse dunk. Order is restored. Expect the Warriors to cruise to a 4-1 series win over Portland. Last Week: 1

  3. San Antonio Spurs
  4. Ex-Grizzlies star Pau Gasol crossed the 20,000-point plateau in the regular-season finale. Now, the family feud begins with younger brother Marc. Spurs will need all seven to get past Memphis. LW: 2

  5. Boston Celtics
  6. Guiding the Celtics to the East’s No. 1 seed for the first time since the Big 3 era of Pierce, Garnett and Allen should land Brad Stevens the coach of the year award. Celtics over Bulls in six. LW: 5

  7. Cleveland Cavaliers
  8. LeBron and Co. spent the past month dismissing the importance of losing the No. 1 seed. But they never fixed a defense that can’t stop hemorrhaging points. Still, Cavs over Pacers in 5. LW: 3

  9. Houston Rockets
  10. This has been Mike D’Antoni’s best coaching job yet. Innovating offense, James Harden’s dominance and the Rockets’ depth equate to a legit title darkhorse. Rockets in five over OKC. LW: 4

  11. Los Angeles Clippers
  12. They snatched the No. 4 seed and homecourt advantage from Utah by ending on an NBA-best, 7-game win streak. They’re also 43-18 with Chris Paul in the lineup. Clippers in six over Utah. LW: 9

  13. Toronto Raptors
  14. With Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan healthy and peaking at the right time, Toronto posted consecutive 50-win seasons and looks to return to the conference finals. Raptors in six over Bucks. LW: 6

  15. Washington Wizards
  16. Washington had a chance to push for its first 50-win season since the Jimmy Carter administration. Instead, the Wizards opted for rest and 49 victories. Wizards over the Hawks in 7. LW: 10

  17. Utah Jazz
  18. After missing the playoffs by one game last year, the Northwest Division champs are postseason bound for the first time since 2012. But being clipped by the Clippers for homecourt will prove costly. LW: 7

  19. Oklahoma City Thunder
  20. One of the most emotional scenes of the NBA season unfolded in OKC when Oscar Robertson literally passed the triple-double crown to Russell Wesbrook and proclaimed him MVP. LW: 8

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.