OAKLAND – By the time they left Oracle Arena late Wednesday night to head home, finally able to fly east instead of the north-south route playing on a loop, the Grizzlies were different. In the standings, obviously, because four wins in a row can do that. But more in attitude.
Coach Dave Joerger said his veteran team, which has known long playoff runs, did not need a confidence boost. But after the 88-81 victory over the Warriors, there were players saying that the 4-0 California tour – emphasis on “tour” – meant something. Strange for November, stranger still for a roster that returned most of the core that reached the Western Conference finals — but true.
Memphis wasn’t just 3-5 when the trip started. Memphis was 3-5 and coming off a 16-point loss to the Raptors, which came after a 16-point loss to the Pacers, which came not long after a 15-point loss to the Pelicans and a 12-point loss to the Mavericks. The wins were over the Warriors, Celtics and Pistons, and it took overtime to get past Detroit. Enduring suspensions, overcoming two of the biggest threats from the West and handling a 12-point deficit to the Warriors and then overtime at the very end of the trip absolutely means something.
“We found a good flow to our game,” point guard Mike Conley said. “I think we were trying to search for that for a good five, six games there. It was good to get out of Memphis just to concentrate on the team, concentrate on getting better. I thought we handled business this road trip. That’s what we wanted to do.”
“We were going through a lot back in Memphis. Fans were agitated. We were frustrated and losing some games at home. To get on the road and to get away from it all and just focus on the game was huge for us.”
The Grizzlies went to Los Angeles to play the Lakers last Friday, a, 89-86 win.
Next, they went north to Sacramento and beat the Kings 97-86.
Before returning to the same Staples Center and topping the Clippers 106-102.
And then going to Oakland, about 80 miles from Sacramento, as star defender Tony Allen served a suspension for kicking Chris Paul in the face in L.A., erasing a big deficit against a good team, handling overtime in the fourth game in six nights, and leaving with the 88-81 victory as Zach Randolph had 21 points and 12 rebounds.
Back and forth. Back closer where they want to be.
“It’s real big,” Randolph said. “We’re a good team. Sometimes coming on the road gets you going and gets our chemistry going and gets our identity going. It’s been good for us. We’ve just got to keep on proving it, coming out, playing hard and giving ourselves a chance to win.”
The four in a row ties the second-longest road win streak in franchise history, done five previous times, and trails only the seven consecutive victories of Feb. 17-March 10, 2010, so this starts to get a little historical as well as important in the moment. The only other time the Grizzlies swept a trip at least four games long was the 4-0 run March 1-7, 2004, a swing also capped by beating the Warriors.
The new challenge is to continue the recovery with games against the Spurs and Rockets next in Memphis. And if those go well, the next three are at Boston and then at home for Brooklyn and Phoenix.