Memphis, TN — As the media scrum around him broke up and the assorted journalists headed out into a bright Memphis afternoon, Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger tried to be supportive. “Enjoy the rest of your day,” he urged, while allowing with a laugh, “I don’t know what day of the week it is.”
Joerger should be forgiven for being a little out of sorts. What the Memphis Grizzlies have been through the last few weeks would make any coach’s head spin.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way for the Grizzlies. This Grizz team entered the season with a nice mix of older and younger players, and made a trade to add veterans Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen. After signing a new long-term contract last summer, Marc Gasol lasted 52 games before breaking his foot. A few days after Gasol’s injury, Mike Conley went down as well, and then Chalmers just weeks later.
The list of Grizzlies players currently unavailable due to injury is impressive — All-Stars like Conley and Gasol, rotation players like Chalmers and Brandan Wright, as well as a bunch of role players and prospects, from Jarrell Martin to Jordan Adams. All told, they’ve used an NBA-record 28 players this season, and could probably stand to add a few more if their roster wasn’t locked for the duration of the playoffs. According to Joerger, the personnel fluctuation has led to some challenging circumstances.
“Difficult from the standpoint of a lot of moving parts, a lot of re-teaching,” he said. “Frustrating from the level as coach, when you see — especially San Antonio, they’re at the doctoral level as far as some of the things they run. We had to go backwards — and backwards not being a negative word, just making it more simple as all kinds of new guys have come in. That’s a fairly easy adjustment for an experienced group that’s been together. It’s just difficult when you have new guys, new faces. Defense is built on trust and being able to know where your help is. It would be fun to be able to have this group together for a little bit longer, and I’ve seen a great deal of improvement from our guys. They come in every day, they’re playing hard.”
While a good job and good effort is always appreciated, the NBA only recognizes wins and losses. And the Grizzlies went 3-14 over the last four weeks of the regular season, and have yet to notch a win in the playoffs against the mighty Spurs. Moral victories are great and all, but Joerger is still hopeful for a tangible result from his rag-tag roster.
“I want those guys to have some success,” he said. “They deserve to get some results. The battles that we’ve had since the All-Star break, to get a couple of wins — certainly the Cleveland game was terrific, and the Clippers win, New Orleans, some of those things are memorable. But to see guys out there — Matt Barnes, banging away at LaMarcus Aldridge. Or [Andersen] getting on the floor, Vince [Carter] giving everything he’s got left. I’d like to see them be rewarded for that. They deserve it.”
To get what they deserve, the Grizzlies have to go through the San Antonio Spurs, who have not only won all three games in the series, they’ve won 10 of the 12 quarters the teams have played. To have a chance at winning Game 4, the Grizzlies have to attack relentlessly, particularly on the glass.
Said Joerger: “There’s a big, big difference in going out there and not trying to get embarrassed or being like, ‘Let’s just try to keep it close,’ or, ‘They’re the Spurs…’ No. That group in there comes with the attitude, and I would expect they come with the attitude that we’re trying to win tomorrow and we’re going to win. I’m not saying that we are, but I’m hoping we come with that attitude.”
If there was ever a city perfect for supporting a team that seems to have the deck stacked against them, it’s Memphis. The entire downtown area is wallpapered with Grizzlies logos and banners, with citizens wearing enough Grizz gear to make it look like an NBA Store commercial shoot. Following Game 3, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich noted the “pride” the Grizzlies played with, and that pride seemed to be mirrored by the crowd. As the game ended, the fans in attendance gave the remaining Grizzlies a standing ovation despite the loss, acknowledging the work they put in, even if they didn’t get the W.
With a noon local tipoff tomorrow, meaning only about 36 hours recuperation time, the schedule-makers didn’t do the Grizz many favors. But while the circumstances aren’t in the Grizzlies’ favor, Joerger expects them to grit and grind tomorrow, even if it is for the final time during a season that started strong and has limped toward the finish line.
“We feel like we’re right there,” he said. “We made a couple of mistakes in transition, where we ran at some balls and ran up on guys and reached a little bit. I thought our defense flew around for the most part, and we helped each other. So we have to take that attitude into the game, and you just never know what can happen. You have to give yourself that chance that something can happen.”