The Grizzlies now hold a 2-1 lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round. The Thunder are the 2 seed in the Western Conference, and feature either the best or second-best basketball player on the planet, depending on who you ask and what week of the season it is. And yet: these two teams have now played 15 playoff games against one another over the past four seasons, and the Grizzlies have won 9 of them. Fully 33% of Griz/Thunder playoff games have gone into overtime. What I'm driving at is this: these are NBA classic playoff series happening right before our eyes, involving the hometown team.
Last night's game is only another chapter in that story, another overtime win by the Grizzlies at the Grindhouse. (One wonders whether Russell Westbrook will bother objecting to that nomenclature going forward.) Something about these two teams brings out the best in the Grizzlies, and last night was no exception—especially for one Grizzly in particular.
I'd like to propose that last night was maybe the Tony Allen-est Tony Allen Game that's ever done been had.
Coming into Game 3, the talk was about Tony Allen's defense of Kevin Durant. In the first two games—especially Game 2—it was masterful, with Allen crowding Durant and denying him the ball at every opportunity, hounding the best pure scorer in the league into just jacking stuff up to see what hit. (Fortunately for the Grizzlies, not much.) Durant seemed sort of pissed off about the whole thing, seeming to have less poise than normal, like even he didn't understand how Tony Allen was so good at guarding him.
Let me tell you how Tony Allen is so good at guarding him: Tony Allen is not one of us. Tony Allen, against the Oklahoma City Thunder, operates on a plane of existence that is separate but visible from ours. He is a force for the creation of chaos, wandering around a basketball court operating according to laws which are just similar enough to the actual rules of basketball to keep him from getting ejected.
There are the tricks, and the treats. Last night was the ultimate manifestation of both, Tony Allen operating at Peak Chaos.
Treat: Tony Allen almost winning the game himself, making a layup to put the Grizzlies up 83-81 and then stealing the ball and streaking back down to hit another one (he didn't miss the layups!) and put the Grizzlies up 85-81 as the game clock started to wind down.
Trick: Tony Allen fouls Russell Westbrook on a 3-point shot (and yes, he did actually foul him) and gives the Thunder the 4-point play they need to tie the game at 85 with 26 seconds left, which meant the Grizzlies' 17-point lead was just barely enough to keep them from losing instead of being enough to win comfortably.
Treat: Tony Allen and Beno Udrih simultaneously going on a scoring outburst against the Thunder second unit (who were categorically abysmal in Game 3, even Derek "I Came Over On The Mayflower" Fisher) to build a Grizzlies lead while the Griz Big 3 of Conley, Gasol, and Randolph caught a breather.
Trick: Tony Allen then assuming that since he had made some shots, he'd make more, trying to stretch the defense by taking wide-open jump shots that even Tony Allen, in later moments of clarity, would admit that he had no business taking, burning valuable offensive possessions in a game in which the Grizzlies slowed the pace down to the point that every possession was sacred.
It was all Tony: defensive brilliance, 4-point plays at the worst possible times. Scoring flurries that work, taking stupid open shots. Tripping people for three-shot fouls at the end of overtime. Crashing the boards and grabbing vital offensive rebounds. And in between all of the flexing on the bench, pointing which way the ball was going to go, listening in on ref huddles, trash talking, wandering around in his own world with crazy eyes during breaks in the action that we've come to expect from The Grindfather, that we've grown not only to love but to require come playoff season.
There were lots of reasons the Griz won Game 3 beyond Tony Allen, but none of them felt as real, as easy to process. Last night Tony Allen elevated himself to a new level of TA that we were scared to admit the existence of—a hyperactive flurry of activity we dared not ask for, lest it be impossible. And yet there he was. All heart... you know.
And yet, there are lots of other basketball things from last night that could point the way to the Grizzlies winning this series and advancing out of the first round:
I usually don't do this, but I was incredibly proud/ashamed of this 30-second Photoshop job.
Serge Ewoka pic.twitter.com/UtCHRY94oB— Kevin Lipe (@FlyerGrizBlog) April 25, 2014