On February 1, 2008, the NBA world was shocked by what had happened. Memphis had traded All-Star center Pau Gasol to Los Angeles for what many considered pennies on the dollar. Gasol was the Grizzlies’ only superstar and the trade turned the middling Lakers into a championship team.
Many around the league wondered how a team could pretty much sell its best player for the likes of Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Marc Gasol and two first round draft picks. Gegg Popovich was stunned and angrily proposed a trade committee at the time.
“What they did in Memphis is beyond comprehension,” Popovich said at the time. “There should be a trade committee that can scratch all trades that make no sense. I just wish I had been on a trade committee that oversees NBA trades. I would have voted no to the L.A. trade.”
Popovich may not be laughing so hard now. Not after Marc Gasol and one of those first round draft picks (Greivis Vasquez) helped end the top-seeded Spurs season prematurely. And after the Grizzlies picked off the Thunder 114-101 in Game One of their Western Conference Semifinal, the remaining teams in the Playoffs may not laughing so hard any more.
The eighth-seeded Memphis tasted playoff victory for the first time and want more. Should the Grizzlies be thinking championship?
That might be a little premature, but it would be hard to find a team playing better on both ends of the floor than Memphis — even after the Grizzlies dropped Game Two to the Thunder. The Grizzlies mix of extreme athleticism with some extremely talented and grizzled veterans. Yes, that pun was intended.
Zach Randolph has been the linchpin of everything so far. He is averaging 22.3 points per game and 9.3 rebounds per game and he has scored more than 25 points or more in five of the eight games of the postseason. We always knew Randolph was a dominating offensive performer. He was that way when he was in Portland early in his career, he was that way when he toiled in New York and in Los Angeles with the Clippers. He never got the stage to play on and display those skills.
Paired with the grit of Marc Gasol, Randolph is able to operate offensively. Throw in the surprising play of Mike Conley (15.6 points per game and 6.5 assists per game), Sam Young and Tony Allen, plus the veteran poise from Shane Battier, and you have a team with few stars that works hard and plays together — unlike the devolving Oklahoma City which seems on the precipice of a superstar clash between Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
Some of the Grizzlies numbers this postseason have been simply astounding, showing how well they have played.
Jeff Fogle of HoopData discovered the Grizzlies were the first team this postseason to top the century mark when scoring by 1s and 2s in Sunday’s Game One victory. The Grizzlies shot 51 percent on 2-point shots in the game and 3 for 8 from 3-point range. Memphis had just seven turnovers. The Grizzlies have three of the five best 1s and 2s scores in the postseason according to Fogle.
How does Memphis do this?
The Grizzlies are taking only 10.6 3-pointers per game. They get their work done in the paint through Randolph and Gasol and likely have the best low-post one-two punch this side of Los Angeles (Oklahoma City and Chicago might be the others to consider behind the Lakers). The Grizzlies are an attack-oriented team with great rebounding through their centers and enough shooters and slashers to keep you honest.
Memphis is shooting 47.4 percent from the floor. This team is just rolling right now. A look at the Four Factors (through Sunday’s Game One) from the postseason reveals more:
The Grizzlies are winning every category except for free throw rate, which is surprising considering how the team plays inside the 3-point line. Their effective field goal percentage would be better if they shot and made more 3-pointers.
But Memphis is clearly playing well above their heads right now. They are playing confidently, together and with the passion it takes to make a deep playoff run. Maybe, just maybe, Memphis can make a little history in the coming weeks.
Photo via DayLife.com.