It is not in my nature to root for the team that just vanquished Our Boys. When the Spurs finished off the Warriors in round two, I considered that sweet revenge for 1991 - that was two home arenas ago. But it satisfied my fan's heart beyond the more obvious benefit of the series win, ie, advancing in the playoffs. I am craving a Spurs-Rockets playoff matchup just for the opportunity to avenge 1995 - and for that matter, 1980 and 1981 as well. Damned Rockets.
After the Grizzlies took us out in 2011, I talked the talk. Go get 'em, Thunder. Way to go. Beat those dumb jerks, et cetera. But my heart wasn't in it. To the extent that I was pulling for anyone in the 2011 Thunder-Grizzlies matchup, I found myself rooting for Memphis.
There were two factors leading me to this unexpected emotion:
1) The Thunder were so carefully put together, built around can't-miss elite talents in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The Grizzlies were built around a flawed gem (Zach Randolph) and an underestimated, athletically underwhelming big man (Marc Gasol). Randolph was a player who hadn't really fulfilled his promise prior to landing in Memphis, courting trouble seemingly throughout his early career, and Gasol was considered by some to be nothing more than inadequate compensation for yet another Let's Get The Lakers Another Awesome Big Man trade. (How did they miss out on Robinson, Olajuwon, Ewing, Garnett, and Duncan?) It's safe to say that the Memphis bigs exceeded expectations. Essentially, OKC's story was Durant's/Westbrook's story, and Memphis' story was Randolph's/Gasol's. This made Memphis the underdog in my eyes, and I tend to root for the underdog.
2) The Grizzlies had, and have to this day, this Jason Voorhees vibe to them. (Ask the 2-0 Clippers and 1-0 Thunder) You have to admire teams that keep fighting regardless of circumstance, which the Grizzlies did. Consider the events which led to the 2011 game six clincher against the Spurs: game five was won by the Spurs after they forced overtime in improbable fashion: the off-balance, scrambling three-pointer that was only a two by Ginobili. Zach Randolph hits two free throws. Then rookie Gary Neal hits the game-ending three, extending the Spurs' season by at least five minutes. Game six comes along, and the Grizzlies jump out early, leading by fourteen at one point. The Spurs push back, an inch at a time, until they take their first lead since 2-0. In game six, the Spurs led 80-79 with 4:40 left to play.
Given no other information, wouldn't you expect the veterans with championship experience to finish off the young upstart eight seed? To force a game seven at home? Most probably would, but it didn't happen: the upstarts finished off the vets with a 20-11 surge, thus completing the fourth-ever occurrence of the #8 seed defeating the #1 seed in NBA playoff history.
It would get weirder. The Western Conference heirs apparent, the Oklahoma City Thunder, were stunned by the Grizzlies at home in game one. The Grizzlies even led the series 2-1 before OKC righted the ship and took a 3-2 series lead. Naturally, Memphis insisted on playing a game seven, so there was one. And yes, talent won out, but only after the hot blonde rammed a machete right through Jason's heart and yanked it right out of his chest cavity.
You know the old adage "Rules are meant to be broken"? Well, so is sports history. In my lifetime, I have witnessed the following weird events:
- Duke loses by 30 in 1990 NCAA Championship game against UNLV, then beats them one year later in the rematch
- This par on a par-three
- This point by 39-year old Jimmy Connors
- The Buffalo Bills' comeback playoff win against the Houston Oilers
- The 2007 Fiesta Bowl
- Jean van de Velde
- Some lefty scrub guard winning a playoff game with an illegal shot (like I have to link this one)
...amongst many, many others. And of course, the one event that got me thinking about the Grizzlies and their fighting spirit, the 2004 American League Championship series.
Oh-three is certain death to most teams. Not to the Memphis Grizzlies. Our Spurs have been on the wrong side of sports history too many times - lost after leading 3-1 in 1979, lost after leading 2-0 in 2004 and 2012, losing as #1 in a 1-8 matchup - and they cannot give this team a sliver of daylight. One day, in my lifetime, some NBA team is going to win after trailing 3-0, and these Memphis Grizzlies are as good a candidate as any. Appropriate fear, as Pop puts it, has seldom been more appropriate, more necessary than it is right now.