MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Still alive and rocking is Loud City, the Roaracle, a classic in the Garden and while it’s not old Chicago Stadium, the United Center crowd takes no prisoners.
Moving up the list of loudest NBA playoff arenas, if not yet documented as one of the toughest to snare a road win: The Grindhouse.
Otherwise known by its corporate moniker, the FedExForum, The Grindhouse is unlike the romper rooms of Chesapeake Arena, aka Loud City, in Oklahoma City, and Golden State’s Oracle Arena, redubbed Roaracle for its altered game-day state of delirium.
The Memphis Grizzlies’ home gym didn’t derive its horror-flick nickname from the deafening screams of a zealous fandom. The Grindhouse was born from the team’s sweat-and-blood, grit-n-grind style and bequeathed by Memphis guard Tony Allen, the ultimate grit-n-grind Grizzly.
Yet, with each passing playoff game and series — just ask the hated Los Angeles Clippers — The Grindhouse name has also become representative of the team’s fans and the atmosphere they create inside the joint. There was a time when crowds only packed the Forum for their beloved University of Memphis basketball.
Ever-so-slowly, that is changing. Memphis’ roster, with players like Allen, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, who attended high school in the city when his brother Pau Gasol led the first playoff Grizz teams, as well as coach Lionel Hollins are also emblematic of this Southern city and its citizens, making it an easy team for the people to identify with and appreciate as their own.
As a former Memphis Tigers assistant coach said this week of this town on the banks of the Mississippi: “Memphis is a grinding, gritty city of blue-collar people.”
When the Thunder enter The Grindhouse Saturday afternoon for Game 3 (5 p.m. ET, ESPN) of this semifinal series tied 1-1, they’ll face the Grizzlies and a sellout-crowd of 18,119, the 14th consecutive home playoff sellout going back to the 2010 season when Memphis upset top-seeded San Antonio and then lost to the Thunder in seven heart-stopping games.
Game 4 on Monday night is almost certain to make it 15 in a row. Only a few hundred tickets remain, a Grizzlies official said Friday night.
Grizzlies fans will be there in force and wildly waving yellow rally towels as they did for three games against the Clippers, the team that demoralized the city a year ago with a miraculous Game 1 comeback and then a Game 7 victory in The Grindhouse. It spawned an atmosphere of vengeance this time around with the feel of a WWE asylum on steroids.
Saturday’s Grindhouse crowd won’t have forgotten 2011’s seven-game semifinal loss to OKC and especially the Thunder’s triple-overtime Game 4 win on the Grizzlies’ floor.
“They came into our building and got a win,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of the Grizzlies’ Game 2 equalizer Tuesday that stunned and silenced Loud City. “Now we have to go into their building and get a win. Is it impossible? Absolutely not.
“It is going to be tough.”
Around the Bay Area, the refrain reminds of the “We Believe” Warriors of 2007, the eighth-seeded squad that knocked off the Dallas Mavericks in six games. Oracle Arena was just as nuts then and is known for its lunacy even when the Warriors stink.
In Memphis, this certainly is no longer 2006. Pau might not recognize the place that little brother Marc has helped to cultivate. That was the year the Grizzlies suffered a third-consecutive first-round sweep. The Grizzlies’ Game 3 overtime loss against Dallas didn’t sell out and Game 4, a 102-76 thumping, officially drew 15,104, but that number most certainly was inflated as section after section of the upper bowl sat empty.
This season marked the best in franchise history with 56 wins despite Hollins working on the final year of his contract, plus the initially controversial trade of Rudy Gay and an earlier trade that shook up the Grizzlies’ bench. There are season-ticket holders that complain that these days Grizzlies fans don’t show up until the playoffs.
They have a point. Memphis ranked 19th of 30 teams this season in attendance, averaging 16,624 per home game. Of the eight teams remaining in the playoffs, only the Indiana Pacers drew fewer fans (15,269). The Grizzlies played to 91.8 percent capacity, 17th in the league. By comparison, the Thunder ranked 12th in the league in attendance (18,203), but were at 100 percent capacity.
Still, Memphis’ situation has improved drastically since the franchise moved to Memphis from Vancouver for the 2001-02 season. For most of the decade it ranked in the bottom five in attendance.
This is known: The Grindhouse will rock-n-roll on Saturday. But as Memphis fans know, they can only deliver the insanity. Remember at the start of the playoffs when all the talk was about the home teams winning? It didn’t last long. Three of the eight teams that advanced to the second round did not have homecourt advantage — Golden State, Chicago and, yes, Memphis.
After two games in each second-round series, all four were knotted up. If more proof is needed that the loudest, most fiendish home crowds can’t guarantee victory, then check out what happened Friday night at Roaracle. Or Tuesday inside the Thunder’s own bubble called Loud City.
More to come Saturday at The Grindhouse.