Misfits no more: Grizzlies knock out Spurs in historic first-round upset
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- They are a bunch of misfits, this Grizzlies team. Castoffs (Zach Randolph), overpaid (Mike Conley), overrated (O.J. Mayo); you name it, Memphis has been called it. No player on the roster arrived without a question mark, no acquisition completed without a snicker.
"Every guy in here has a little chip on their shoulder," Mayo said. "Every night we go out there we feel like we have something to prove."
They proved something Friday, beating back the San Antonio Spurs 99-91 in Game 6 at FedEx Forum and becoming just the second No. 8 seed to oust a No. 1 seed in a seven-game series. It was the pickup truck vs. the Maserati, the party boat against the QE II. Memphis had good players, sure, but they aren't in the same class as San Antonio's, with its soon-to-be Hall of Fame coach (Gregg Popovich) and player (Tim Duncan) and a veteran-laden roster.
But the Grizzlies certainly matched up well in this series. They had the best player on the floor in Randolph, who has become as close to an automatic bucket as there is in the low post and proved his big-game mettle in Game 6 with 17 fourth-quarter points and 31 overall. They had the best center on the floor, too, in Marc Gasol, who makes up for what he lacks in polish with sneaky skills and raw power.
They didn't have the best point guard -- give that nod to Tony Parker -- but they did have a resilient one. Conley suffered through a nightmarish 3 1/2 quarters Friday. He committed five fouls and struggled with his shooting in that time, all while generally looking like an AAU player matched up with an All-Star. But with his team leading by only a point and starting to unravel, Conley re-entered the game with five minutes left and took control. He knocked down a jumper, dumped in a pair of clean entry passes and limited Parker to four points and two turnovers down the stretch.
"All game I was scratching my head, trying to figure out how I got myself into this," said Conley, who finished with series lows of nine points and three assists. "I knew if we were going to win, it was going to be on me."
Conley had a solid regular season (13.7 points, 6.5 assists), but scouts would routinely point to his trouble containing opposing playmakers as an exploitable weakness. San Antonio took advantage of it, too, dispatching Parker on kamikaze trips into the paint that often ended with layups, floaters or free-throw attempts.
Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins knew it. He stayed positive with Conley throughout the series, keeping his confidence up by offering encouragement during breaks in the action. Late in Game 3, Hollins grabbed Conley by the shoulders and whispered in his ear, "You have to be the man."
"He wants me to step up offensively and defensively," Conley said. "I need to not be afraid to shoot five or six times and call my own number. He tells me all the time I need to go, I need to be aggressive."
Conley helped the Grizzlies finish an improbable series victory with a decisive 20-11 run in the fourth quarter. This was a tough series for Memphis, but it was one that made everything the team had gone through this season worthwhile.
"We've dealt with a lot of adversity," Mayo said, "from Rudy [Gay] going down to my suspension to me and Tony [Allen's] little battle [on the team plane]. It didn't faze us. All it did was put a little extra gas in our tank to go and play."
When he finished, Mayo walked over to Allen for another quick high-five. The Grizzlies know what awaits them. They know Oklahoma City will be a handful in the conference semifinals, with its speedy guards, rugged big men and, oh yeah, that Kevin Durant guy. But for now, they just wanted to celebrate. Indeed, the Grizzlies have done what many thought to be impossible. The misfits have moved on.