When the Memphis Grizzlies dealt away their leading scorer, they were criticized for “giving up” on a season where they had a real chance. They responded by going 17-6 without Rudy Gay, and they have become even more of a contender in the last few weeks.
Their recent success gets overshadowed by the current win streaks going on in the NBA. The Miami Heat, and to a lesser extent, the Denver Nuggets, are getting recognition as the hottest teams in the league right now, but Memphis should not be ignored.
They are coming off a big overtime win last night against Oklahoma City, and are really responding to anyone who said they lost their shot when they let Gay go.
"Everyone said, 'They're done; they're going to fall to the sixth, seven, eight seed,' " said Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph. "It got our motor pumping, and we dropped a few games. But then we started playing and getting our identity back, and the guys we brought in started getting comfortable. We got back to who we are."
Whatever motivation they have, it is working. Memphis is currently in a three-way tie for the third seed in the West.
The Grizzlies do not exactly “fit in” with the rest of the Western Conference playoff teams. The seven others all average more than 100 points per game, Memphis is not even close at 93.4. While other teams in the West seem to gravitate toward a high-paced, run-and-gun type of game, Memphis is slow and methodical, big and gritty.
"This is us. Scrappy, grit'n'grind, hustling. We ain't fancy. We ain't running up and down the court throwing lobs and doing windmills," Randolph said. “We in the mud."
The Grizzlies also lead the league in fewest points allowed per game. The question will be whether or not the old saying is true that “defense wins championships.”
It is tough to give them the edge against the big contenders like San Antonio and Oklahoma City, but they are coming on strong at the right time, ready to make some noise.