Memphis Grizzlies' 50th Win Is Well-Deserved Consolation for Underrated Season

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Memphis Grizzlies' 50th Win Is Well-Deserved Consolation for Underrated Season
Lance Murphey

The 2013-14 regular season ended in Memphis.

Sure, there were two other games that had yet to finish before the Grizzlies' 106-105 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, but this was the last real contest on an evening when most of the NBA preferred to rest their stars.

Both teams had something at stake—a chance to grab the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference playoff race and avoid a first-round matchup with the San Antonio Spurs—and both teams played like it. 

In the end, the Grizzlies overcame the usual brilliance of Dirk Nowitzki and the late-game heroics of Monta Ellis thanks to 27 points from Zach Randolph and 22 points from Mike Conley.

This was no contest between low-seeded scrubs. The Grizzlies and Mavericks may have been the two lowest seeds in the conference, but they were historically good for such a position, per ESPN's Marc Stein:

Memphis finished the season at 50-32, the third 50-win season in franchise history and second in a row. By comparison, its sibling franchise, the Toronto Raptors (both started in 1995-96), just finished the most successful regular-season campaign in their history at 48-34.

For Toronto, a 48-win season is to be rewarded with a division title, the No. 3 seed and home-court advantage in the first round. For Memphis, a 50-win season brings nothing but a trip to Oklahoma City to face the likely MVP, Kevin Durant.

No, the Grizzlies haven't taken the easy road to the postseason. Then again, what else is new?

 

A Very Grizzlies Season

The history of the Memphis Grizzlies franchise is a 19-year saga of overcoming adversity...some self-inflicted, some not. 

They are the most easterly of the 15 teams in the Western Conference, on par longitudinally with the likes of the Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks. But they cannot escape the legacy of their birthplace (Vancouver), and so they are forced to duke it out with well-run franchises like Dallas.

On the draft front, Memphis twice fell victim to the "curse" of the No. 2 pick. In 1997, the then-Vancouver Grizzlies surrendered a first-rounder for unspectacular big man Otis Thorpe. That pick turned into the No. 2 overall selection in a 2003 draft which included the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. They finally got a chance to draft at No. 2 overall in 2009 but wasted that pick on colossal bust Hasheem Thabeet. The next player selected was James Harden.

Lance Murphey

And then there were the trades.

Memphis swapped the No. 5 pick in the 2008 draft (some guy named Kevin Love) to the Minnesota Timberwolves for a package that included Greg BucknerMarko JaricO.J. Mayo and Antoine Walker. That same year, the Grizzlies altered the dynamics of the Western Conference for the next half-decade when they traded Pau Gasol to the Lakers. Los Angeles would make the next three NBA Finals, while the Grizzlies were ridiculed as rank amateurs.

But the franchise has not only bounced back from misfortune, it has thrived because of it. It acquired Pau Gasol's younger brother, Marc, in the deal with L.A. and turned him into the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. It remained patient with yet another top-five pick, point guard Conley (No. 4, 2007), who has become one of the most underrated players in the game.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the Grizzlies needed to overcome a healthy dose of adversity to reach this postseason. The front office caused a stir by choosing not to re-sign head coach Lionel Hollins despite the fact that they were coming off a record 56-win season and the first Western Conference Finals appearance in franchise history.

First-year coach Dave Joerger got off to a rocky start, as he attempted to change the team's post-heavy offense to a motion-based system. 

The changes didn't take, and Memphis started the season 13-18. Joerger took the blame, per Sports Illustrated's Chris Ballard:

We just tried to use it as a tool so we can move, move, move the defense so they can't scheme us so well so that when we do go in there [to the post], which should be every time, they got room to work. Either I didn't sell it well or didn't teach it well, I'll take whatever hit it is.

The injuries didn't help, as Memphis lost Gasol and perimeter stopped Tony Allen for extending periods, and Quincy Pondexter for the entire season.

But Gasol and Allen returned, Joerger grew into the head coaching position and the front office traded for shooting guard Courtney Lee at the deadline. 

The Grizzlies finished strong in what proved to be one of the most exciting playoff races in recent memory with a 17-7 record in the season's final two months. They clinched the West's final playoff berth and dispatched the Cinderella Phoenix Suns in Game 81, and they snatched the No. 7 seed away from the Mavericks in Game 82.

How surprising was the team's ascent in the second half of the 2013-14 season? At one point, Memphis had a 0.2 percent chance of making the postseason, per ESPN's John Hollinger playoff odds.

Hollinger, who now works for the Grizzlies, was in for some serious crow-eating after his club clinched a playoff berth:

 

The Team Nobody Wants to Play

Clearly, the Grizzlies wanted no part of the Spurs...and with good reason.

Memphis finished the regular season 0-4 against San Antonio, which also happens to be the same club that swept it out of the conference finals last season.

Unfortunately, the Grizzlies have not fared much better against Oklahoma City. They dropped three of four games to the Thunder, including their previous two matchups.

But these two teams have not met since the end of February, and Memphis has essentially been playing for its postseason life for the past few weeks. The Grizzlies have the talent, the experience and the determination to cause all sorts of trouble for the No. 2 seed.

So watch out, Oklahoma City. You better take care of business during the first two games at home. If the Grizzlies can take a game before heading back to the Grindhouse for Game 3, this series could get very, very interesting.

 

All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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