For two months now O.J. Mayo has heard the rumors about the aborted deadline deal with the Celtics for Ray Allen, how it was he who quashed the trade that would have broken up Boston's Big Three. He heard reports coming out of Boston of a conversation he allegedly had with Celtics president Danny Ainge, of how he told Ainge he wasn't interested in winning championships, that Boston's rich history didn't count for much.
Here's the thing, Mayo says: None of it is true. He didn't have a single conversation with Ainge. He didn't even discuss the deal with his own general manager, Chris Wallace. Trade rumors are nothing new for Mayo, who for a versatile scoring guard and an elite sixth man has seen his name splashed in cyberspace far too frequently. But this one didn't hold up.
"I'm not about winning?" Mayo told SI.com. "That's crazy. I'm all about winning. I didn't talk to anyone in Boston. But if I did I would have told them I'm happy as a Memphis Grizzlie. This is where I want to win."
Memphis did win on Wednesday night, bouncing back from a horrifying Game 1 defeat to outlast the Clippers 105-98 and even this first-round series. They won, and it was a Grizzlies win. The team that squandered a 27-point second-half lead on Sunday looked nothing like the Memphis team from the last two seasons. Chucking three-pointers, getting beat up in the paint, that Memphis team was almost unrecognizable. This one looked more familiar. They dominated the glass (37-28), won the war in the paint (46-38), forced turnovers (21) and took advantage (25 points) when they did. In the locker room before the game Lionel Hollins' message was simple: We're not going to shoot 11-for-16 again from behind the three-point line, so stick with what you know.
"We're not a three-point shooting team," Hollins said. "But when we attack and we're aggressive, we're pretty good. I thought that was our game, and we got it [tonight]."
Said Mike Conley, "This is more our style. Grind it out and play defense. Turn them over and get in transition. That's what we do."
They went with what works for them, and it did. They pounded the ball inside, feasting on the offensive glass and getting to the free throw line a whopping 39 times. They couldn't buy a bucket from behind the three-point line (16.7 percent) but shot 53.9 percent from everywhere else. Rudy Gay (21 points) followed up a so-so playoff debut with a solid one, knocking down nine of his 13 shots.
Then there was Mayo. As maligned as Mayo has been in his four seasons in Memphis, his play has been steady, at times spectacular. He poured in 17 points in a losing effort in Game 1 and chipped in 20 more on in Game 2, including 10 in the fourth quarter. He took over the backup point guard duties when Hollins elected to go big at the two with Quincy Pondexter and did a serviceable job making Chris Paul work for every shot.
Yes, it's a series again, and the Grizzlies has to be comfortable with where they stand. Sure, they lost home-court advantage, but they lost it when they lost their identity. They got hot from the three-point line in Game 1, fancied themselves shooters and couldn't slow the Clippers momentum when they started rolling. They screwed up, and they know it.
But the Grizzlies know they can control the inside when they want to. And that they have yet to show all their strength. Marc Gasol was a non-factor offensively (eight points) on Wednesday while Zach Randolph isn't overwhelming Blake Griffin the way he overwhelmed the Spurs front line a year ago. Memphis expects Gasol and Randolph to bust out in this series, and they probably will.
The Game 1 loss was brutal, but Memphis still believes it is destined for big things. Hollins wore his 1977 NBA championship ring on Wednesday. A title wasn't expected from that 49-win, second-place in the Pacific Division Trail Blazers team. Just like one isn't expected from the Grizzlies this year. But that team worked hard, stuck together and won. Hollins believes this group can do the same thing.