With Monday’s win against the Phoenix Suns, the Memphis Grizzlies secured the final spot in the 2014 NBA playoffs. Despite a valiant effort by the Suns to keep their playoff dreams alive, the Grizzlies played stout defense for the better part of the game. The fact that the Grizzlies held the Suns to only 19.2% beyond the arc also played a big role, as the Suns are one of the best teams in the league at sinking three point shots. The Suns also didn’t have the capability to stop the Grizzlies’ offense, as Zach Randolph’s 32 points and Mike Miller’s 21 points were season highs for both players, and both played an important role in the team’s 97-91 victory.
The regular season for the Memphis Grizzlies has had its highs and lows. The team struggled early in the season, and injuries to some of the top players on the team prevented the team from being at full strength until after the All-Star Break. However, there were many things that factored into how the Grizzlies were able to bounce back late into the season and make the playoffs.
The most obvious reason that the Grizzlies made the playoffs was that the team has an excellent defense. The Grizzlies gives up only 94.4 points per game. Only the Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers give up fewer points to their opponents on average. Along with that, the Grizzlies limit their opponents to a field goal percentage of 44.9%, the 9th lowest in the NBA. The team also does a great job at preventing their opponents from grabbing boards. The Grizzlies limit their opponents to 39.4 rebounds per game. No other team gives up fewer rebounds than the Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies’ personnel truly make the defense the powerhouse that it is. Marc Gasol, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, anchors the defense from under the basket. Tayshaun Prince is excellent on defense and almost always keeps up with his targets. Finally, Tony Allen is not only great as a defender, but he creates turnovers all the time. The problems the Grizzlies had earlier in the season was that Gasol and Allen missed extended time due to injuries, which helped contribute to the fact that the defense was struggling midseason. This just shows how important these two players are to the team’s success on defense, and when they were healthy, the defense was very strong.
The Grizzlies’ veteran presence also proved to be very important. Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, and Zach Randolph have been with the team since 2011, where the Grizzlies won their first playoff series. Tayshaun Prince and Mike Miller, while not being with the team as long as the other players just mentioned, are veterans in their own right, as both players have won an NBA championship in the past with other teams. That experience is seen when the players are on the court. The team prefers efficiency over style on offense. They don’t attempt fancy dunks or layups unless it’s the only way to score a basket. The players also don’t take bad shot attempts, which helps contribute to their field goal percentage of 46.4%, the 7th highest in the NBA.
Finally, it would be wrong to praise the Grizzlies’ regular season success without mentioning David Joerger. He was able to take new players and perfectly meld them into the Grizzlies’ system. He also was able to adapt the best he could to the injuries that the team suffered in the middle of the season. By making sure that the Grizzlies grew rather than regressed under a new coach, he did as good of a job as he was supposed to do in his first year. Because of that, he deserves some credit, because many other coaches would of probably not have done as well in his position as he did.
Despite the fact that the Grizzlies only just now finalized their postseason plans, the team proved a long time ago that they deserved this spot. Ever since the All-Star Break, the team has shifted gears. The Grizzlies went from a team that was not playing at the level of competition they were capable of and one crippled by injuries to a team that was able to beat any opponent that their schedule would throw at them. That, in essence, is the main reason they made the playoffs: they played their hearts out and played to the best of their abilities.
Tonight, the Grizzlies will face the Dallas Mavericks. The winner of this game will obtain the 7th seed in the Western Conference, meaning that they will face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the NBA playoffs. The loser, on the other hand, will be stuck with the 8th seed, meaning they will have to go up against the San Antonio Spurs in the first round. The Grizzlies have a chance to give both teams a run for their money, but to ensure the best chance for playoff success, the team really needs to do everything they can to make sure they will face the Thunder. Not only would a victory give them more momentum heading into the playoffs, but the Grizzlies matches up much better against the Thunder than they do against the Spurs. But no matter who they face and no matter what happens in the postseason, fans can be sure that, from here on out, the Grizzlies will give the same amount of effort it took the team to get to the playoffs in the first place.