A few months ago, the Grizzlies were a .500 team. Nobody expected them to go anywhere. As recently as a few weeks ago, they were underdogs in the first round, and everybody KNEW, that if they managed somehow to get past the Clippers, that was as far as they would go. Even with Westbrook going down, many still thought Durant could beat the Grizz singlehandedly. The Spurs came into the playoffs injured, and playing poorly, and many thought that even without Kobe, the Lakers' big front line with Steve Nash might be able to beat the Spurs anyway. Many picked the Warriors to upset the Spurs in the second round - until Game 5. So as inconceivable as it was when these playoff started, we have a Spurs/Grizzlies Western Conference Finals. Oh boy! Two small market teams that don't get enough attention - probably a nightmare scenario for David Stern.
So Kevin, how far we have come in the few weeks since we last talked. I did make it to the Spurs/Grizzlies game. I did eat BBQ nachos. I did enjoy myself in spite of the Spurs losing. I did get some looks for cheering at the wrong spots. I didn't get beat up and the looks weren't dirty. I did seriously wish that I'd had ear protection during the fourth quarter as I did experience actual, physical pain. That place gets LOUD! And I was surprised just how many people were there wearing Spurs jerseys. And my wife spent the whole time Facebooking, except for the rare comments like "Parker looks so tiny out there" and other basketball related insights.
As we left the Fedex Forum, she commented that I should do it again. I explained that it was the last time they were to play this season, unless they met in the postseason. She asked if that was going to happen, and I started explaining the particulars of the playoff race, seedings, how tough the West is, etc. Her eyes glazed over pretty quickly, and I summarized that it was unlikely. When the final seedings came in, it became highly unlikely - unless they met in the Western Conference Finals.
Towards the end of the first round, but after Westbrook got injured, I ran into a friend of mine at Chuy's in Nashville. (Yes, San Antonians, we have Chuy's too, complete with freshly made corn chips and hatch green chilies.) I was there to get my "fix". Not quite the New Mexican fare I crave, but just about the best around here. Kind of strange to see him there, because we both live like 70 miles away. Anyway, we started chatting about the possibilities of a Grizzlies/Spurs WCF. The chances for both were now better. Grizzlies seemed to be faring well against the Clips, Spurs had the Lakers on the ropes, key injuries had occurred involving Gallinari, David Lee, and Westbrook, that seemed to make it easier for both teams to advance, but still, it seemed like a pipe dream. Yet here we are. So, I've got a few questions for you to start off.
It seems strange, but the Grizzlies have been considered the favorites to come out of the West by a lot of commentators for a little while now. How does that feel? Next, what is the state of the Grizzlies, injuries, fatigue, etc. I know Z-Bo was dealing with an ankle sprain in Round One. How are your guys looking? And finally, on a only partially-related subject, what do you think about this rash of major, season-ending injuries that we've seen, not just this season, but the past few, and do you have any thoughts on contributing factors? I only mention it because it seems like injuries are shaping these playoffs as much as the play on the court and could continue to do so.
It feels like the longer the playoffs have gone on, the more people have gotten on the Grizzlies bandwagon (and, fortunately for us, there was a lot of room). It's sort of a weird feeling. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, especially, have been playing at an absolutely 100% ridiculous level. It's unprecedented, although it's not something that Griz fans are surprised by; these guys are extraordinarily talented, and they've been developing that talent for three years of playoff basketball now.
It does feel like the Grizzlies have had good luck this postseason. Unlike a lot of people, I don't think it matters a whole lot that Blake Griffin sprained his ankle before Game 5 of the Clippers series; it felt like the momentum had already swung the Grizzlies' way and I felt like Vinnie Del Negro wasn't adjusting to the Grizzlies well enough to beat them. After Game 1, every game in that series was more in the Grizzlies' favor. With the Thunder, obviously Westbrook's injury was a huge deal. With Westbrook, the Thunder are a tougher matchup. But even without him, every game was close. The Grizzlies won 4 in a row, but it didn't seem like they had that commanding of an advantage.
The Grizzlies are in good shape, though. They're playing good team ball on offense, they're stifling other teams on defense, and there's a determination and a level-headedness in this group that comes from a lot of veteran leadership and also a determined, level-headed, tough SOB of a coach. They're in good shape. They're already the most successful team in Grizzlies history, so everything else they do from here on out is furthering the legacy of this season.
I think the game has changed to a much more explosive, athletic game over the last ten or so years. Especially with the emergence of all of these super-quick point guards who cut extremely hard. Knees aren't designed to change direction that quickly; especially not for 40 minutes a night for 82 games. I don't exactly know what there is that can be done about it, either.