Memphis began the 2013-14 season slow. The grind was there, but the grit just wasn't. After trading wins and losses, the Grizzlies fell to 3-5 and all was not okay.
Then, the Grizzlies we all came to know, love and yes, occasionally fall asleep on, returned. They've won their last four games, including two victories over Chris "I'm a Basketball God" Paul's Los Angeles Clippers and Klay "Where Was Stephen Curry for This One?" Thompson's Golden State Warriors.
With the latest victories, balance has been restored in Memphis. And opposing offenses thwarted everywhere else.
Their model isn't perfect, nor is it pretty. But once again, it's working.
All Bark, No Bite
Oh, the horror. Oh, the offensive and defensive horror.
For the first eight games of the season, the Grizzlies were—well, they were awful. They were averaging 94.6 points per game, 25th in the league. Nothing out of the ordinary there, though. Memphis isn't known for its scoring. Last year, the Grizz put up just 93.4 a night, so this was actually a slight improvement.
Problem was, they weren't defending like we had come to expect.
Four of their first eight opponents broke 100 points, and they relinquished at least 100 in each of their first three games, tying last year's streak for the number of consecutive contests during which they allowed 100 points.
Through those first eight games, they let up an average of 99.4 points (14th). By normal standards, that wasn't terrible. By Memphis' standards, it was horrific.
This was a team that ranked second in defensive efficiency for 2012-13 and held opponents to only 89.3 (first) points per game. A 10-point swing in the wrong direction wasn't acceptable. Not for the Grizzlies.
When you have as stagnant an offense as they do, you need an elite defense, or else you're just inviting teams to blow you out.
Erasing deficits is difficult as it is. Fall behind when you cannot score at a high level or consistently stymie the other team, and you're finished.
This is what the Grizzlies were during the first part of the season—finished. Done. Their run of ugly offense and mind-blowing defense had come to an end. Everything was fated to be just ugly.
Or was it?
The Grit to Memphis' Grind
Four games. It's only been four games. Whisper that to yourself, so you're reminded that we cannot get too excited. It's only been four games.
Actually, to hell with conventional wisdom; get excited. It's been four games!
That's enough. For the Grizzlies, a team we know to be effectively scrappy and wonderfully misshapen, that's enough.
Over these last four glorious games, the Grizzlies are holding teams to 88.8 points a night, no small feat when you consider two of those wins were over a pair of top-11 rated offenses, the Clippers and the Warriors. During this four-game stretch, the Clippers have been the only team to total over 90 points.
Now that's more like it, is it not?
Point to the Clippers game as a flaw. Do it. Because I love proving people wrong.
That game was huge for the Grizzlies. It showed they are also capable of outgunning opponents when they need to. They bullied their way to 106 points. In regulation. Zach Randolph was an animal with 26 points and 15 rebounds. In regulation. Marc Gasol flirted with a triple-double. In regulation.
The Grizzlies scored, defended and won. Gave us the best of both worlds. In regulation.
The Clippers are currently the second-worst defensive outfit in the NBA, but that's the point. Memphis took advantage of Los Angeles' porous defense, something it wasn't doing before. Plus, we've seen these kinds of scoring outbursts in the past. This season the Grizzlies went off for 108 points against the Warriors, a top-10 defensive team in their own right.
To win, that's what the Grizzlies will need to do—score when they can and defend until forever. That's what they're doing now, and it's working.
So long as they continue to radiate stops and remain offensive opportunists, they'll be fine. Better than fine, actually. They'll find a way, against all common logic, to contend. Again.
Legit or Full of It?
Generally, I consider myself an optimist. Unless James Dolan is involved. Josh Smith three-pointers make me cringe, too. Watching Chicken Run brings out my misanthropic side as well.
Aside from all that—oh, and Dwight Howard's free throws—I'm a vat of positive energy. But even I cannot declare that the Grizzlies are back and better than ever. I can't even promise they're maintaining the status quo they set last season.
What I can promise is that this is a turning point. The last four games have shown us everything we need to see. Given us a glimpse into the team Memphis can be.
The only question now is: Will it hold?
Ask me, and I'll say yes. Their defense was always bound to get it together. It was only a matter of if it would be enough. If they could slow down West Coast offenses enough to win. Capitalize off poor defensive teams enough to win.
According to the Commercial Appeal (subscription required), head coach Dave Joerger insists that nothing different or "mystical" is going on with his Grizzlies. And he's partially right. There's nothing esoteric about the Grizzlies' latest success.
Something is different, though. The Grizzlies are different. They're clicking, comfortable and coming into their own.
For four games, four incredibly telling games, that's what they've done. They've returned to their roots. Stonewalled opposing offenses, even potent ones like the Warriors. When they've been unable to play an exclusive grudge match, a la the Clippers, they've scored.
For four games, they've gritted. They've ground. They've battled.
They've forced opponents to play their game. That was, and for this particular roster, always will be the Memphis Grizzlies way.
*All stats used in this article are from Basketball-Reference unless otherwise attributed and are accurate as of Nov. 21, 2013.