Memphis’ Allen always ready to defend his man, his team and his credentials

VIDEO: Tony Allen makes a statement to Warriors fans during Game 2

MEMPHIS – At Memphis Grizzlies practice on a sultry Sunday afternoon, it is pointed out to Grizzlies guard Tony Allen that despite winning two games in a row over the Golden State Warriors and sitting on a 2-1 lead, the Grizzlies are still considered underdogs in tomorrow night’s Game 4 of this Western Conference semifinal series.

“I’m not worried about all that,” Allen says. “We can be the underdog, upperdog, lowerdog, whatever. As long as we come to play, it don’t even matter.”

This season, Allen was sixth on the Grizzlies in points per game (8.6 ppg), fourth in rebounds (4.4 rpg) and eighth in assists (1.4 apg), but he was first in Grizz fans’ hearts. After playing six seasons in Boston, Allen came to Memphis in 2010 as a free agent and since then, has become something of a spiritual center for the Grizzlies.

The Grizzlies are known for playing a “grit-and-grind” style of basketball, and Allen is known as “The Grindfather” for his ability to lock in and play a unique, muscular brand of defense. Through the first three games of this series against the Warriors, Allen has incessantly hounded the Warriors’ All-Star backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. A video of him in Game 2 repeatedly telling anyone else on the court that he was worthy of being named “First Team All Defense” has spawned yet another nickname for Allen, and led to the 18,000-plus in The Grindhouse last night to serenading Allen with that chant during their Game 3 win.

I caught up with Allen before practice today, to talk about his all-defense claims, his idiosyncratic on-court rituals, and whether this is the year it all finally comes together for the Grizzlies.

Me: So you said that you’ve been saying “first team all-defense” all season long, but people just caught on because that video went viral.

Tony Allen: Yeah, I been saying it, I been saying it.

Me: Well, I can attest to this, because a few weeks ago on the blogtable, I didn’t put you on my all-defense first team, and you sent me a couple of direct messages to let me know you disagreed with me.

Tony Allen's DM conversation with Lang Whitaker

Tony Allen’s DM conversation with Lang Whitaker

Allen: Lemme tell you what happened. I saw the first team thing, then I looked at thing and I said, ‘This dude didn’t vote for me!’ Because everybody else voted for me. It was like five writers had my name on there, and you were the only that didn’t. I was like, I gotta text him. It was funny, it was all love.

Me: I took it that way.

Allen: It was cool. I ain’t tripping.

Me: You are one of my favorite people to follow on Twitter. It seems like you don’t miss anything on there.

Allen: I don’t miss nothing! I listen to all the writers, I listen to everybody. 

Me: You must search your name.

Allen: No, I ain’t gotta search my name. If someone say something about me it comes right on my mentions. It’s all love.

Me: When did you decide that defense was going to be your focus in the NBA?

Allen: You know what? I always got to credit my vet, Paul Pierce. I played against him every day in practice. I had to compete with him, and I had to show Doc Rivers I was worthy of getting on the court. Doc’s a big defensive guy, and I competed with [Pierce] every day. I got a chance to start my rookie year, alongside with him. And just every day in practice, before I got the starting role, Paul Pierce was trying to see where my heart was at. He would push me, he would try to punk me, he would try to flagrant foul me in practice, and I’d get up and come right back at him.

I thought he brought the best out of me. He was basically working on some of his moves, too, just to see where he was at. He liked the fact that I had a good knack for the defensive end. Just going at it with him, I saw about everything: the step-back; the pull-up three; the elongated head fake three on a pull-up; the back-down fadeaway like Kobe. Every move in the world, I saw from that guy. And Doc was like, “Defense is going to be your niche in this league and you’re going to play ten years in this league, on the strength that you’re a great defender.” Once he told me that, I bought in and I ain’t never looked back since.

Me: I think nowadays people think of you as this defensive specialist, but I went and looked up your Draft profile back when you were coming out of Oklahoma State, and …

Allen: I was player of the year!

Me: Yeah, you were Big 12 Player of the Year and averaged 16 points a game your last year.

Allen: Sixteen both years I was at Oklahoma State. Eddie Sutton gave me the freedom to be a scorer, but he also told me, “You’re going to have to defend on the next level,” and I didn’t believe him! But when I got to the NBA, I gotta say, Doc was the one who instilled it in me and told me, “Yo, this is your bread and butter.”

Me: Considering the way you play and teammates you have around you, do you feel like this is the perfect situation for you here?

Allen: Yeah, I love these guys. This is a great group of guys. They’re very interesting (laughs), but I like being around them.

Me: What does that mean?

Allen: Because all of ‘em got different personalities, and everybody’s competitive and everybody wants to win. So they just show so much love, but for the most part I feel my defensive intensity, it belongs here, obviously, with the grit-and-grind mantra and instilling it with this organization.

Me: I was walking down Beale Street this morning on my way here, and one of the bars had two concerts listed on the marquee, but above those shows, it said “Tony Allen 1st Team All-Defense.” People in this city are crazy about the Grizzlies and you, specifically. I saw a ton of Tony Allen jerseys and bootleg t-shirts last night, and you probably don’t see that in most places for a guy who isn’t his team’s leading scorer.

Allen: A lot of people don’t really notice that with this fan base, Tony Allen been going on since I got here. When I first got here, I didn’t even play much. I had like 13, 14 DNPs, playing like 8 or 9 minutes a game. But once I got the opportunity and the city saw my hard work and heart, they embraced it. So it’s just a lot of love.  Much love to the city of Memphis and Grizz nation.

Me: On the court, you have a lot of routines. During the game last night I noticed you doing a lot of chest tapping and pointing to the sky and throwing peace signs and stretching. You’re almost like a baseball player getting into the batter’s box.

Allen: I’m just saying, thank God for the opportunity. Like, every time I step on the court, I’m thankful for being out here. It’s only Him. He’s the reason I’m out here, so I always do that. And I always stretch before I go on the court, and I make sure my back is loose, because they’re gonna try and pick me. And when I’m on the bench, I’m always just up and cheering for my teammates. I get a thrill out of seeing a guy like Nick Calathes hit a three, or a guy like Kosta Koufos dunk on somebody.

Me: There are also times during the timeouts when everybody is in the huddle and you’re out wandering around on the court clapping your hands.

Allen: Yeah, I’m really not a “huddle” kind of guy. I look at the play, I know the play, but I don’t need nobody to amp me up. I don’t want nobody to be like, ‘Come on guys, let’s go!’ I’m trying to remember that play, then remember the plays that are about to come towards me on the defensive end, so I’m trying to register a lot of things. So I kind of get out of the huddle real fast so I can register all those.

Me: The last few years, Memphis has had some bad luck in the postseason, and hasn’t been able to get things to go your way. Right now you’re up 2-1 on the No. 1 seed in your Conference. Is this the year you think things finally go your way?

Allen: Let’s take it back to when we were in the Western Conference finals. I thought we were just happy being in the moment, not taking it one game at a time. Last year, I thought we were better than that team, and we just didn’t value each possession in each game. When we had opportunities to put our foot down, I don’t think we did. This year I think we’re more determined, and we’re valuing each 48 minutes as they come. I don’t know, I think this year we just have a different mindset. We want to be playing in June.


  1. nmc1496 says:

    As an Ok state fan, it is nice to see an article that actually presented the fact that Tony WAS also a scorer in college. He’s just more locked in to defense…..he can score when he tries!

    1000 points in two years at Ok State!

    Go T.A., Grizz and Pokes!

  2. Ryan Patterson says:

    Learn the specifics of why Memphis is having so much success in this series:

  3. Gametime says:

    He’s been snubbed quite a few times. Right now he has Thompson locked down…but then again Klay was never a unstoppable player. Grizzlies in 6.

  4. jake s. says:

    99% chance the winner of this series gets the ring.

  5. Muramasa says:

    First team all-defense!

  6. Mounir says:

    Thank you Allen and the Grizzlies for all hard work… Best wishes for next games…

  7. bhattaa says:

    I don’t see why people aren’t giving Tony Allen more credit than he deserves, he is amazing (and I am Bulls fan not a Grizzlies one)

  8. Deebo says:

    I got about 200 steals hun Z-BO!

  9. harriethehawk says:

    I love that Tony Allen and the Grizzlies are shaking up the Flake Warriors. Give it your best shot!!!

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