Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Next Day More Reflection Than Notes: Grizzlies 90, Clippers 87

Posted By on Tue, Feb 24, 2015 at 9:37 AM

click to enlarge This picture is not from last night, but this happened to Spencer Hawes pretty regularly during last night's game. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • This picture is not from last night, but this happened to Spencer Hawes pretty regularly during last night's game.

You know, as someone whose job it is to analyze this team and, basically, nitpick every little thing they do (for better or for worse), it’s easy to get lost in that, to break every game apart into its components and look at them this way and that, reassemble them and look at them again (always leaving that one screw out, because there’s always the one screw left over at the end of putting anything back together). Sometimes you feel like you’re back in tenth grade biology class, chopping apart a pig fetus. This is the brain. It bounces on the table. This is what it does. This is how much it weighs. You forget in the minutia of the game what the whole thing is, beginning to end, the rhythm and the flow and the, for lack of a better word, vibe.

It’s just as easy to lose track of the vibe of the whole season. Each game is its own entity, and there are 82 of them. There are stretches and stands: five games in this week, four home games in a row before this trip, this back to back, that four-in-five-nights. We break the whole thing down into parts because it’s more instructive than considering the whole: it’s differentiation, measuring the rate of change. And sometimes it’s hard to integrate it again, to stop in February and feel what the whole season feels like. To watch what’s happening as something other than “this group of starters has this net rating” or “this guy has been getting more minutes since this thing happened and this has been the result.”

What I’m saying is this: last night, at midnight, sitting on my couch watching the clock expire and the Grizzlies beat the Clippers 90–87 after Chris Paul tried his hardest to will Los Angeles to victory—and he almost did it, he really almost did, and let’s not forget how good DeAndre Jordan looked the next time Griz fans want to write the Clippers off as a bad team, or Jordan in particular as a guy with no skills—and the Grizzlies simply said no and shut them down, I was struck by the realization that I have been taking this season for granted. I have been taking for granted the fact that the Grizzlies are the #2 team in the Western Conference, with 40 wins (well, 41 after last night) before March and only three games back of the number one seed in the West with what, seven weeks of basketball left?

Everyone has said all year that this group is “special”, to the point that it almost doesn’t mean anything anymore. What what does it mean to say that the 2014–15 Grizzlies are special? What are we saying when we say that?

Last night.

It was the end of the game last night. Courtney Lee played perfect defense on Chris Paul, and Paul let his guard down for just half a second, long enough to let the ball bounce away from him right in front of Mike Conley, who immediately jumped it and took off the other way.

It wasn’t anything that hasn’t happened before—the Griz have stolen a lot of games with defense this year and previously. But it was the way it felt when they did it. Like they had ground the Clippers into submission, hanging out pretty much dead even all game and then trading body blows through the last quarter, holding one of the best offenses in the league (lately anyway) to 19 points in the 4th quarter at home. You realize the Clippers just won four games in a row and averaged 117 points in those four games, right? And that they lost to the Grizzlies and the Grizzlies needed an intentional foul of Mike Conley while in the bonus to get to 90?

I am the chief offender here: I have not been appreciating this team for what it is. Whether that’s because I’ve finally watched them enough to be jaded to what’s happening, or because this is the first season I’ve had a baby around the house, or because I’m a year older and thinking about things differently as one always does—you can’t step into the same river twice, is the Heraclitus quote I will keep using in basketball articles and in every other walk of my life until someone makes me stop—I don’t know. But I’m going to try not to do it anymore. This team is playing at a fantastically high level. Fantastic in the sense of “seems like a fantasy, rather than real.” Awesome, in the literal sense of “inspiring awe.” Terrible, in the literal sense of “inspiring terror.” This is not like any basketball team we’ve ever seen in our city in NBA uniforms. It is different in kind, not just in degree.

My wife and I started talking yesterday about maybe taking a vacation this summer, and looking at the calendar to pick out some weeks that would be good. I was looking at the middle of June, when it hit me: When do the Finals start? And I realized that I was actually having to think about the schedule of the Finals for the Grizzlies. The Memphis Grizzlies. You know, the ones who used to play in the Pyramid that’s got a Bass Pro Shop with a Governor’s Suite in it now. I was thinking about when the Finals are, and not just to be extra careful, but because they legitimately might make the NBA Finals.

That’s a glorious thing. A weird, and a little harrowing—if only because we all know it’s not going to last forever, that this might be as good as it ever gets—and positively exhilirating thing. This team is special, and I’m just now getting that through my thick skull.


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