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HANGIN' WITH THE GRIZZ

May 20, 2013
May 20, 2013

Table of Contents
May 20, 2013

GOLF PLUS
LEADING OFF
THE MAIL
NBA PLAYOFFS
SPECIAL REPORT
  • AT A TIME WHEN FOOTBALL SAFETY HAS NEVER BEEN MORE SCRUTINIZED, CHANGES IN THE UNIVERSITY'S ONCE-EXEMPLARY MEDICAL CARE BELIE PROMISES TO REIN IN THE ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT AND OPERATE TRANSPARENTLY

FORTUNATE FIFTY
MATT HARVEY
Departments

HANGIN' WITH THE GRIZZ

FOR SEVEN DAYS SI WENT BEHIND THE SCENES WITH MEMPHIS AS THE WESTERN CONFERENCE CONTENDERS IMPROVISED A GAME PLAN FOR THE THUNDER, BOUNCED BACK FROM A GRUELING DEFEAT—AND GOT THEIR HAIR CUT JUST RIGHT

SUNDAY, MAY 5

This is an article from the May 20, 2013 issue

Game 1, Oklahoma City

The alarm clock buzzed at 8:15 a.m., painfully early by NBA standards, in Quincy Pondexter's room on the ninth floor of the Skirvin Hilton Hotel. Pondexter could feel the ache in his legs of an 82-game season followed by a six-game first-round playoff series, but the dawn of the Western Conference semifinals proved a powerful elixir. I've dreamed about this my whole life, Pondexter told himself. There's no pain. The 25-year-old reserve swingman for the Grizzlies slipped on a gray sweater, khaki pants, navy canvas shoes and a beaded gold necklace. A gold Jesus pendant hung from the chain. Pondexter maintains many superstitions—he won't even cut the skinny piece of plastic connecting a price tag to a new pair of sneakers—and the Jesus head is one of his charms.

Memphis had ousted the Clippers two days earlier, then flew to Oklahoma City on Saturday and braced for the Game 1 tip-off at noon on Sunday. The Grizzlies gathered for breakfast on the 14th floor in the Venetian Room, under its etched ceilings and crystal chandeliers. Pondexter dug into a plate of eggs and bacon, resisting his preference for pancakes and French toast. Memphis had faced the Thunder 18 times over the past three years, including seven in the 2011 Western semis, but never without OKC point guard Russell Westbrook, who would be sidelined with a torn right meniscus. At the front of the room a television played footage of their March 20 game, but just the 12 minutes Westbrook sat on the bench. That sliver of tape offered the only clues into how the Thunder would play without Westbrook. "They're totally different," Pondexter observed.

Assistant coach Henry Bibby ate his unorthodox morning fare—salmon and potatoes—at a table with the Grizzlies' guards. Given the 36-hour turnaround between series and the overhaul of the Oklahoma City backcourt, Bibby admitted there was no way his charges could be fully prepared. Reggie Jackson, Kevin Durant and Derek Fisher would handle the ball, but when and in what lineups remained uncertain. Bibby, who won three national championships as a point guard at UCLA in the early 1970s, copped a line from his former coach John Wooden: "It can't be about what they do. It has to be about what we do."

Memphis swingman Tony Allen arrived at Chesapeake Energy Arena in a red hooded sweatshirt pulled taut over his head, muttering the chorus to a song by the rapper Future: "Who you think you is? Who you think you is?" He tore open an energy bar with his teeth. In the locker room Pondexter did push-ups with an excitable Memphis businessman, and power forward Zach Randolph reviewed Floyd Mayweather's battering of Robert Guerrero, which the team watched in a private dining room the night before.

The Grizzlies are heavyweights, not welter, an antidote to the rest of the go-go Western Conference and a throwback to the days when large men stood on the block with their backs to the basket. They attempt the fewest three-pointers in the NBA and play at the second-slowest pace, lobbing passes inside to Randolph and center Marc Gasol, 260-pound bulls with the footwork of ballerinas and the touch of locksmiths. "I take the worst beating in the league," Randolph says. "But people tell me I give it out, too."

Memphis is a pain to play against, and not just because its tight-fisted defense allows the fewest points in the NBA. When the Oklahoma City public-address system bellowed, "We ask that you refrain from any disruptive behavior—such as fighting," it seemed to be directing the warning at Randolph, who nearly brawled with Thunder center Kendrick Perkins early this season. "I don't bluff," Randolph crowed afterward, spawning a slogan that now adorns gold towels in Memphis, the Bluff City. In the spirit of the PSA, Randolph gave Perkins a peaceful fist bump at tip-off.

The Grizzlies momentarily forgot, as Future might say, who they is. They jacked up 19 threes. They lost the battle of the boards. They allowed Durant to score 35 points, but more galling, sixth man Kevin Martin chipped in 25. Allen, the NBA's premier perimeter defender, was benched for Pondexter. A bit player in New Orleans, Pondexter was traded to Memphis two years ago, and he brings range the Grizzlies lack. He erupted for 13 points, including three threes, one a double-clutch half-court heave to end the third quarter. Memphis led by three in the final minute but wasted three possessions, while Durant torched forward Tayshaun Prince for two jumpers. With 1.6 seconds left Memphis trailed by three, and Pondexter headed to the line for three free throws. He needed them all.

Loud City, as the Oklahoma City crowd calls itself, rose in their matching blue T-shirts. "It was deafening," Pondexter said. He focused on the mechanics of his stroke: bending his knees, lifting his elbow, snapping his wrist. He let the first one fly. The ball bounced off the back of the rim.

"A little bit long," Pondexter groaned. "Just a little bit long." As he sat on a metal folding chair in the locker room after the 93--91 loss, rubbing the Jesus head in his right hand, his Twitter account filled with hideous messages: "You're the Definition of Trash"; "Go home & cry yourself to sleep"; "You deserve too F------ Die." Teammates took turns consoling him—"If it weren't for you, we wouldn't have been in position," one insisted—but Pondexter's contributions seemed as irrelevant as a day-old box score. "It's all gone," he said. "I don't even care about that half-court shot. I let down my team." He wished the game had been at night so he could climb into bed. "Now I've got hours to think about it."

While the Grizzlies dragged Pondexter across the street to the Bricktown 16 movie theaters, where they commandeered their own row for a showing of Iron Man 3, coach Lionel Hollins retreated to his room at the Skirvin. There he pulled out a five-by-seven-inch note card and scrawled a plan to get even.

MONDAY, MAY 6

Off day, Oklahoma City

Hollins can sound like a character from a Steinbeck novel. He was born on the plains of Arkansas City, Kans., and raised in the desert north of Las Vegas. His parents divorced when he was three. His mother died when he was 13. He has one early childhood memory of his father, and he's not sure it's real. His grandmother, Margaret, used to tell him, "Life throws you knives. You either catch them with the handle or the blade." Hollins thought about Grandma Margaret on Monday. "If you win by 50, you never find out anything about yourself," he says. "But if you overcome and battle back and deal with adversity, that's when you're rewarded."

After every game, Hollins fills a note card with his thoughts, which set the agenda for the following practice. Monday's card was jammed with strategies to slow Durant, who has become Oklahoma City's 6'9" primary point guard. "We have to treat KD the same way as Russell Westbrook or Chris Paul," Hollins said. "He can't just dribble down the floor and see one guy. He has to see three guys." The Grizzlies spend roughly 60% of practice on defense, and with Chesapeake Energy Arena silent except for Hollins's voice, they fortified their plan for Durant. Two help defenders would shade toward him, far enough to obstruct his line of vision, but not so far they couldn't scramble back to open shooters.

Two players missed the bus back to the hotel. One, guard Jerryd Bayless, took extra shots. The other, Randolph, made a wrong left turn out of the arena and wound up near a Quiznos on Robinson Avenue. "I got lost in downtown Oklahoma City," Randolph acknowledged, not an easy thing to do. A Thunder staffer spotted the amiable giant, posing for pictures with fans on the sidewalk and steered him to the Skirvin. Shortly after Randolph surfaced, point guard Mike Conley piled into a taxi with Pondexter and backup forward Jon Leuer, bound for The Cheesecake Factory at Penn Square Mall, haute cuisine for the mid-20s NBA set. Hollins requested a slice of lemon meringue to go.

The Cheesecake Factory has become a basketball landmark in Oklahoma City because it's where guard James Harden fielded the call in October telling him he had been traded to the Rockets. When Conley studied the first-round series between Houston and Oklahoma City, he noticed how easily Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley snuck into the lane without Westbrook in his path. But Houston, thanks to all its snipers, is able to spread the floor in a way Memphis cannot. Conley found the paint clogged in Game 1, which is why the Grizzlies spent much of practice setting higher screens. "We've got to get Mike in space," Hollins told the team. "If we pull up, they're happy. If we attack, they're not happy."

Conley has been attacking since Jan. 30, when Memphis shipped small forward and leading scorer Rudy Gay to the Raptors in a three-way blockbuster that pared salary and netted Prince. "We wanted to bet big on Mike Conley," said CEO and managing partner Jason Levien. The Grizzlies' front office features two former agents (Levien and Stu Lash) as well as two former sportswriters (John Hollinger and Chris Wallace, the longtime G.M.). Their approach is heavy on analytics, but their club is defined by its guts, one quality that still can't be quantified.

In a locker-room meeting a few days after Gay left, Conley said, "This is who we've got. We don't have superstars. We have to be the hardest-working team in the league." Without Gay, Conley was emboldened to look for his own shot, and he examined how Paul and Tony Parker sustain their dribble to probe defenses. Memphis won 14 of 15 games, and after the All-Star break, Conley averaged 16.7 points and 6.3 assists—both better than his career highs. Levien's bet paid off. "I got a chance to show the world I can do the same thing as those other great point guards," Conley said, over a Shirley Temple and a Cheesecake Factory creation called Buffalo Blasts.

Conley packed two books for Oklahoma City, A Divine Revelation of Heaven and A Divine Revelation of Hell. "I'm reading Heaven first," he said. Pondexter looked up from his chicken Madeira. "But then you have no chance for a happy ending," he deadpanned. Conley was also trying to lure teammates to another movie, Evil Dead, even though Pondexter disdains horror flicks. "Is The Great Gatsby out yet?" he asked.

Pondexter was already spooked by the 102-year-old Skirvin, which, according to local myth, was haunted when the mistress of the original owner jumped out of a 10th-floor window and killed herself. "I looked it up," Conley said. "It's true." When Pondexter was with the Hornets, he once received a call from the front desk, informing him that all phones would be out of order for the night and should be left off the hook. The next morning, he asked his teammates if they heard the same alert, but none did. When he questioned the front desk, he was told there had never been a problem with the phones.

As the group swapped ghost stories, Pondexter glanced down at his cell and cracked a half-smile. Jimmy Goldstein, the roaming NBA superfan who always sits in the front row with his snakeskin hats, leather pants and attractive companions, tweeted, "Quincy Pondexter may have missed a crucial free throw, but he has played fantastic all-around basketball for the Grizzlies." "What did he say?" Conley asked, peeking at the phone. Pondexter covered the screen with his palm. "None of your business," he replied.

In lieu of Evil Dead, Conley hosted a Warriors-Spurs watch party in his 11th-floor room. "Evil Steph Curry," Conley joked. He broke out the Xbox, ordered room service and picked up the tab for Gasol, forward Darrell Arthur and backup guard Tony Wroten. They found Curry, the Warriors' ace, more captivating than any video game. "I'm in awe of what he's doing," Conley raved. "I've never seen anything like it. He's putting up shots you're not supposed to take. And he's making them."

If he wasn't envious, he was at least inspired.

TUESDAY, MAY 7

Game 2, Oklahoma City

A pub sits between the visiting locker room at Chesapeake Energy Arena and the court, and on the walls are pictures of players from Oklahoma who starred in the NBA. Allen grew up in Chicago, but he went to college at Oklahoma State, and his likeness was nowhere to be found. "I'm going to have to do something about that," he said. Allen used to memorize scouting reports until he realized that players were doing the exact opposite of what the reports predicted. "They'd be telling me a guy loves going left, but he just hit me with three straight step-backs to the right," Allen said. "So I started getting the information myself."

The Memphis video department loads footage directly onto his iPad, and after Game 1, Allen requested everything they had on Martin. "If you were guessing, with Westbrook gone, who on their team besides KD is capable of scoring 25?" asked Allen, head buried in his tablet. "It's Kevin Martin, right? He's the biggest threat. If he doesn't score 25, we win." Allen used to guard Durant, even though he is six inches shorter, but Durant seemingly grew too strong for him. "He posts me up every time," Allen lamented. He did not expect a Durant assignment, but as a precaution he requested cutups of Durant's post moves to see which direction he's been driving and fading away.

Allen was so focused during Tuesday's 11 a.m. shootaround, he barked at forward Donte Greene, "Stop talking," strange coming from an outrageous extrovert who is usually in full song. Randolph provided the levity, glancing up at the arena's LED ribbon and noticing an ad for an upcoming concert. "Hey," he blurted, "Beyoncé is coming!"

After another brunch in the Venetian Room, players scheduled massages and took naps. "In the regular season I sleep fine," Randolph said. "In the playoffs I just toss and turn thinking about the game." Allen caught the early bus to the arena, at 6:15, and when the rest of the Grizzlies arrived, they could hear him crooning in the locker room before they even opened the door. Quiet time was apparently over. Randolph tried to decipher Allen's unintelligible lyrics. "What are you saying?" he finally asked.

The Grizzlies huddled in the hallway before they took the floor and voices shouted from the middle of the mosh pit: "That last one was bulls---.... This is our game.... Go get it!" The Grizzlies fell behind the Clippers in the first round, 2--0, and came back to win four straight. They could not expect to pull that off again. Allen described the team as "desperate" and himself as "a thirsty dog."

Memphis held Martin to six points but trailed by a basket with 3:18 left because Durant still couldn't miss. Randolph tore off his headband and spiked it. Hollins, alternating four defenders on Durant, had decided in advance he would use Allen down the stretch. He just didn't tell anybody, not even Allen. Prince made more sense as a matchup—he is 6'9" and perhaps the only person on the planet with arms as long as Durant's—but Allen's tenacity can compensate for his lack of length. Durant didn't take him down low and didn't score in the last three minutes, going 0 for 3.

Meanwhile, Conley bounded around those high screens, scoring 26 points and delivering a sequence of fourth-quarter jumpers as awe-inducing as Curry's. The day before, during lunch, Conley and Pondexter demonstrated their three-point celebrations. Pondexter underlines the letters on his jersey and points to the sky with both hands; Conley forms a circle with his thumb and forefinger that he places over his left eye. They both flaunted their choreography on national television.

Instead of dribbling out the clock with seven seconds left and the outcome secure, Allen flew in for a stanchion-rattling dunk, the kind of snapshot you could hang on a pub wall. Randolph threw a meaty arm around Conley's shoulder and growled in his ear, "It opened up!" He was referring to the heart of the Oklahoma City defense, but he might as well have been talking about a road to the Western Conference finals, a place the franchise has never been. As Randolph and Conley disappeared into the locker room, Westbrook hobbled down the hallway, a specter in a black sweat suit. His crutches clicked loudly against the ground.

While Allen belted "Smooth Operator," Hollins stood next to his temporary office, picking at a large box of popcorn and reviewing a set with Gasol on the grease board. With three off days coming, Hollins told players and coaches to get away from basketball for the next 24 hours. "Yeah, I'm sore. Yeah, I'm hurting, but you have to suck it up," Randolph said. "This is what it's all about."

He and Conley were the last ones out of the arena and onto the bus, which took the team to a private airstrip 15 minutes away at Will Rogers World Airport. Through the inky darkness they climbed the steps to a Delta A319, with its 54 first-class seats. Hollins carried a book of crossword puzzles for the flight, but he fell asleep after takeoff. The team landed in Memphis at 3 a.m., having snared the knife by the handle.

WEDNESDAY, MAY 8 THROUGH FRIDAY, MAY 10

Off days, Memphis

Assistant coach David Joerger hopped on his John Deere lawn mower on Wednesday and rode across his five-acre property in Millington, Tenn., 20 miles north of Memphis. Joerger jokes that he owns 5½ horses—"One is really small," he said—because his wife, Kara, is an award-winning barrel racer. It was Joerger's first day off since the playoffs began on April 20, and he was trying to clear his head, but Durant kept creeping in.

There are two schools of thought on how to deal with a prolific scorer: Suffocate him and dare everybody else to shoot, or let him fire and eliminate the others. Joerger, the architect of the NBA's stingiest defense, refused to surrender anything. The Grizzlies aren't fast enough to deny Durant full-court, as the Rockets did in round 1, but Joerger felt it was time to pick him up farther behind the three-point line. At practice on Thursday he took a cue from football coaches everywhere and threw a red jersey on Donte Greene, a nimble 6'11" forward. "This is Kevin Durant!" Joerger announced.

Greene, who signed with Memphis less than a month ago and has yet to play in a game, suddenly attracted more attention than ever. When the scout team scored, Joerger hollered, "Find Durant! Find Durant! He's got to see a crowd!" Greene dribbled downcourt and was smothered behind the arc, falling down and losing the ball. "KD came at us with too much speed," Joerger told the players. "We've got to get up on him." The Grizzlies then ran five-man weaves—scoring 126 baskets in five minutes—and Allen made a wild double-pump layup even though there was no defender in sight. "That's what we don't need," Hollins said. "Just lay it in."

"What?" Allen replied. "I'm drawing a foul."

Less than five hours after practice Pondexter was back on the practice court at FedExForum, accompanied by his four-month-old husky, Buckets. He bought the dog after a nasty breakup and chose the breed because he went to college at Washington. When the Grizzlies' p.r. staff asked Pondexter to represent the team at the upcoming World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest in Memphis, they tried to entice him with the prospect of a future girlfriend. "Yeah, sure," Pondexter said. "They'll all be like, 'There's the guy who missed the free throw!' " He eventually relented, agreeing to his 38th community appearance of the season, which the Grizzlies believe to be some kind of record.

Pondexter's father, Roscoe, started the evening workout by grabbing a ball and walking to the free throw line. "You have to feel the seams," instructed Roscoe, who played forward at Long Beach State. Roscoe sank the first free throw. "O.K., now make two more," his son said. "And add 20,000 people—that's all." Roscoe missed the second. Pondexter snatched the ball from his dad and buried approximately 350 of the next 400 shots, pausing only to clean up after Buckets, who had relieved himself by the baseline.

On the road the Grizzlies are basketball players. At home they are husbands, fathers and dog owners. On a rainy Friday morning Allen sat in the kitchen of his two-story brick house in East Memphis, eating eggs, grits and sausage at the bar with his 13-year-old daughter, Antekia, and his fiancée, Desiree Rodriguez. "When I'm away, I'm Tony," Allen said. "When I'm here, I'm Anthony." He drove Antekia—Kiki for short—to school at the Bowie Reading and Learning Center, gushing about her last report card, all A's with a stray C. Kiki's birthday is next week, and Allen wondered if it's acceptable to throw a Sweet 14 party.

Kiki plays basketball, but she says her left hand needs work, and her dad never lets her score. Naturally she thrives on defense. When father and daughter played one-on-one at the Grizzlies facility over the All-Star break, she stripped him at half-court, still a sensitive subject. "Keep that on the down low," Allen whispered.

At the end of Friday's practice, Memphis walked through its plays, focusing on pick-and-rolls. Thunder big men showed hard against Conley in the first two games and Grizzlies coaches wanted him to take advantage, either by throwing a quick pocket pass or stringing out the double team long enough for the screener to pop loose. After three empty days, Game 3 was upon them, and players clapped as they gathered at center court. "Together!" they yelled on a count of three, and Randolph bolted to South Main Street for his final act of preparation.

Chris Rhodes has been cutting Randolph's hair for the past 10 years, ever since Randolph saw his work in a video featuring Memphis-based rapper Yo Gotti. When Randolph played for the Blazers, Clippers and Knicks, Rhodes flew to him once a week. Then Randolph was traded in 2009 to Memphis, home of Christyles, the barbershop Rhodes co-owns in the arts district with former NBA star Penny Hardaway. Randolph swings by every Friday or Saturday. He also stops in before certain nationally televised games. He'll even summon Rhodes to his house after arduous road trips, as late as 3 a.m. Randolph doesn't watch much film, but he does pay close attention to frizz. "He'll tell me, 'I don't feel right, I need to get cleaned up,' " Rhodes says. "It's mental for him. You look better, you play better."

Randolph ducked in the door, and five barbers on duty put down their razors. "Z-Bo!" they shouted, and he bear-hugged them all. At Christyles, eight red leather chairs swivel along the wall, and Randolph plopped down in the first one. He slipped a black gown over his cherubic face and sat silently as Rhodes shaved his head with one-guard clippers, then lined him up with a straight-edge razor. He seemed to be meditating. "This is my time to space out," Randolph said, "and listen to everybody else." Memphis senior forward D.J. Stephens was talking about his upcoming graduation ceremony. Grizzlies forward Austin Daye was bragging about his recent performance in an NBA 2K13 video game. A barber, Donald Lockett, claimed to have scored 116 points in 40 seconds on the Christyles pop-a-shot machine, more than Hardaway and Randolph. Z-Bo didn't bother to protest. He lifted his chin, slathered in shaving cream, and let Rhodes trim his whiskers.

The cut took 45 minutes, and when Randolph removed the gown, he gleefully ran a paw over his shorn scalp. He hugged the barbers, promised a pop-a-shot rematch and strolled out into the rain. "He looks good," Rhodes said. "He's ready."

SATURDAY, MAY 11

Game 3, Memphis

FedExForum is nicknamed the Grindhouse, and to get there, Gasol drives his Mercedes sedan west on Interstate 240, under a billboard with his picture next to the slogan LET'S GET TO WORK. "I see the same sign on the way home, too," Gasol said. He was born in Spain but raised in Memphis after the Grizzlies drafted his older brother, Pau, with the third pick in 2001. He blends Europe's finesse with America's physicality, the best of both basketball worlds. Gasol grew up going to Grizzlies games, the arena half empty, and now it's as crowded as B.B. King's at Blues Fest. "There's a lot of pride in doing this at home," Gasol said. He lay on a training table before Game 3, across from Randolph, who was discussing the summer vacation he has arranged to Gasol's other native land. "I want to know where the nude beaches are in Spain," Randolph joked.

"They're all nude," Gasol responded.

"Oh, yeah," Randolph purred.

Coaches often fret that players won't apply adjustments after wins the way they do after losses because complacency creeps in. Hollins told the Grizzlies he planned on installing several smaller lineups, with three guards, to spread the floor so they could drive. "This is to get the defense out of the lane," he explained to them. Levien, the CEO, sent Conley a text message on Saturday morning informing him that he scored more points per possession on isolation plays than any other player in the league. "This is your time," Levien wrote. "Your moment."

The three-guard groupings meant that Conley's backup, Keyon Dooling, would also see significant minutes, stunning considering he was retired six weeks ago. Last August, Dooling was eating at one of his favorite restaurants, Metropolitan Grill in Seattle, when he got up to use the restroom. Standing in a stall with the door unlocked, Dooling felt a male patron grab him from behind and flew into a rage. "I choked the guy," Dooling said. "If I didn't have a friend there to hold me back, I'd be behind bars right now." The episode unlocked memories that Dooling, 33, had hidden even from his wife. He was sexually abused in elementary school by predators of both sexes, one a family friend.

Dooling flew home to Boston, where he was under contract for another year with the Celtics, and struggled to eat or sleep. He was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for four days and diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Dooling told the Celtics he could no longer play and committed himself to therapy, yoga and meditation. He worked as a player development coordinator in Boston's front office, went to appointments at Harvard with Timothy Benson, a psychiatrist, and launched a foundation called Respect to raise money for treatment of sexual abuse victims who can't afford it. "The most embarrassing part of my life became the most empowering," Dooling said. He started to miss basketball, and in April the Grizzlies signed him.

On Friday, Dooling met for nearly an hour at FedExForum with a young fan who was abused. The next day he went through his normal pregame routine: whirlpool, ankle tape and a light lift in the weight room, surrounded by 14 TVs showing video of previous Thunder-Grizzlies matchups. As Dooling and his teammates gathered in the hallway, Allen punched each of them in the chest. "Don't leave nothin' to chance!" he shrieked. Equipment manager Chuck Sweeney wrote a message with his fingertip in the mound of rosin on the scorers' table: WIN.

The Grizzlies' small-ball lineup built a 10-point first-half lead but squandered it with outside shots. "The threes are killing our momentum!" Hollins chirped on the sideline. The second half, though, was classic Grizz. They held the Thunder to 33.3% shooting. Gasol scored 16 points. Dooling drilled a huge three. So did Pondexter. And in the final minute, with the Grindhouse in full throat, Durant missed two free throws. It can happen to anybody. On the other end Conley nailed his, and the Grizzlies took a 2--1 series lead.

"Oh, dear God," Gasol sighed on the way to the locker room, and Conley parroted him: "Dear God is right, baby." Inside, Allen was yammering about sitting on Durant's left hand, needing better spacing, but grinding and clawing and fighting all the way to the end. Gasol and Conley chuckled. "You're freaking out," Gasol said. The 7-footer dropped two feet in a yellow janitor's bucket filled with ice. Conley started getting ready for dinner with his parents. Pondexter considered what movie he should see. "I think it will be Gatsby," he concluded.

Hollins walked in and stood in the middle of the room. He wiped the sweat from his face. "You guys are crazy, crazy, crazy competitive players," he started. "You're all yelling at me and yelling at each other, but you go out and you compete your asses off, and that's what I love about you. We did not play well today, but we persevered and we won." Hollins paused for a moment and tried to recall the time of the next practice. In the playoffs the calendar can get confused, and even holidays are forgotten. "Is it Mother's Day tomorrow?" he asked. The group reminded him it was.

"Let's get out of here then," he said, "and praise our mothers."

Pondexter's Twitter account filled with hideous messages: "You're the Definition of Trash."
Hollins took a book of crossword puzzles for the flight, but he fell asleep after takeoff.
"This is my time to space out and listen to everyone else," Randolph said at the barbershop.

5/5/13

CONLEY (RIGHT) KEPT HIS HEAD UP AFTER PONDEXTER'S CRUCIAL GAME 1 MISS.

5/6/13

GASOL (LEFT) STRETCHED AT PRACTICE, THEN IT WAS BACK TO THE HOTEL.

PONDEXTER AND CONLEY DISCUSSED THE AFTERLIFE AND GHOSTS AT THE CHEESECAKE FACTORY.

5/7/13

THE GRIZZ WERE SERENE BEFORE GAME 2.

PONDEXTER (LEFT) GOT TAPED BEFORE CONLEY TOOK IT TO THE THUNDER.

5/8/13

THE TRIP HOME WAS AN EARLY-MORNING FLIGHT.

5/9/13

CONLEY FOUND A MINUTE TO RELAX, BUT RANDOLPH WAS SWARMED.

AN INDIFFERENT BUCKETS MARKED HIS TERRITORY ON THE BASELINE WHILE PONDEXTER HONED HIS SHOT.

5/10/13

ALLEN ATE WITH KIKI, THEN WENT TO PRACTICE, WHERE HOLLINS CHATTED WITH CONLEY AND DELIVERED A MESSAGE.

RANDOLPH KEPT UP HIS BIG-GAME TRADITION BY GETTING A TRIM FROM RHODES.

5/11/13

PONDEXTER ROCKED THE RIM AS THE GRIZZ WON GAME 3, THEN HOLLINS DELIVERED A PEP TALK AS GASOL CHILLED.

TABLET EXTRA

SI's digital edition features more behind-the-scenes pictures and a podcast with Lee Jenkins, available free to subscribers at SI.com/activate

PHOTOPhotograph by ROBERT BECK/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED5/11/13 GRIND HOUSE PARTY Game 3 was physical and seldom pretty, but to Gasol (33), who had 20 points and nine rebounds, the banging was worth the result: an 87--81 win that put the Grizzlies ahead 2--1.NINTEEN PHOTOSPhotographs by ROBERT BECK/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED