Long before this version of the Memphis Grizzlies, before the “Core Four” of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen, I grew to love watching the Grizzlies. It happened during the very first 50-win season, with Hubie Brown as coach.
That team featured Jason Williams, James Posey, Shane Battier, Pau Gasol and Lorenzen Wright. Using a 10-man rotation that nobody thought would work at the time, the Grizzlies landed in the playoffs for the first time — and planted the seed for its identity: Hard work.
More often than not, they were overmatched, talentwise. But Hubie’s idea was pretty simple: Play a harrassing, hounding style of defense. Wear out opponents by rotating five players at a time, so legs are fresh.
By crunch time in the fourth quarter, the strategy generally paid off — while the Grizzlies stars were zipping around the court on fresh legs, opponents were gasping for air trying to keep up.
The moral which eventually became a mantra: You may have bigger names and maybe more talent. But you will NOT outwork the Memphis Grizzlies.
Fast forward to Monday night, when the Grizzlies broke an 11-game losing streak with a 95-92 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. After the game, both Marc Gasol and interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff touched on that most fundamental of Grizzlies’ tenets.
“The fight was there, and the spirit was there,” Bickerstaff said of the three losses before Monday’s win. “In Cleveland, we could have quit, down double figures at one point. We could have laid down, but we didn’t. So you could see the spirit.”
As happy as the players were to get a win, it’s still just one game. What is the key thing to build on to get consistency? Gasol answered with one word.
“Effort,” Gasol said after the Minnesota game. “I thought (against the Wolves) that we really had that mindset of ‘The effort has to be there. That has got to be the consistent thing.’
“You know, we can talk about Xs and Os, but you can’t really coach effort,” Gasol continued. “The guys have got to bring it, and that’s on players to do it, and not have so many excuses like we always do.”
Fight. Effort. Grit. Grind. Call it what you want, but if the Grizzlies — from front office, to coaches to players — want to know how to make sure the fans stay in love with their NBA team, it’s by leaving it all on the floor each night.
After all, effort is how Tony Allen became the Grindfather. Zach Randolph saying “I don’t bluff?” Thems fightin’ words.
Losing? We can take losing. May not like it, but we can take it. But we can’t take not trying.
That’s not what this city is about.