Posts Tagged ‘Tayshaun Prince’

Slowing Parker is Grizzlies’ No. 1 Priority

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Forget about figuring how to free Zach Randolph for a few good looks without Matt Bonner and everybody else in black-and-silver spackled all over him like some Memphis dry rib rub. Or even how to jump-start the sluggish Tayshaun Prince.

Because if the Memphis Grizzlies, with their trio of All-Defensive Team performers, can’t slow down shifty San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker in tonight’s Game 3 as the Western Conference finals finally resume at the “Grindhouse” (9 p.m. ET, ESPN), this series is history.

“It’s not easy is it?” Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol said following the team’s shootaround. “They do a good job of creating space, creating gaps. It helps them having Matt Bonner spread out or Danny Green in the corner helps, or Manu [Ginobili], that helps creating those gaps and those lanes. But we have to do a better job of staying on the ball, pressuring him, attacking him on the other end.”

That responsibility lies with Mike Conley and Tony Allen.

As Gasol said, it ain’t easy. Parker’s killed Memphis all season. In four regular season games he averaged 25.5 ppg and 6.5 apg. He shot 50.7 percent from the floor and got to the free throw line 30 times, more than against any team except Houston (31). In the first two games of the West finals, Parker’s gone for 20 and nine, and was still lethal in Game 2 on a 6-for-20 night with 15 points and 18 assists.

Parker’s first step is the key. Once he’s by his man, he’s in the lane and at that point is options — drive it all the way, toss up a floater, kick it out for a 3 — seem endless.

“He’s top five for sure,” Conley said, ranking Parker’s quickness against other top point guards. “But the thing is it doesn’t look quick, but it’s deceptive. He’s very quick with his first step and he’s good and crafty with the ball once he gets around you, which makes it even worse. I love to guard the best. I love to guard Tony. We’ve got a lot of defensive-minded guys on our team and I’m one of them, so I love the challenge.

“But I’ll also do whatever it takes for our team as well. If Tony Allen’s the better matchup or maybe he does a little bit better on him than I do I’m fine with it and I’ll let him do that.”

As for Allen, who helped turn the second-round series with his late-game defense on Kevin Durant, sticking Parker more in Game 3?

“How much more do you want Tony Parker to be guarded by Allen?” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins retorted. “He’s been guarding him most of the series. If I put him more it would be the whole game. Is that what you want?”

Parker said the calf bruise that bothered him in the last round is now fine and that the three-day break between games was a wonderful thing for him, allowing him to get plenty treatment, plenty of rest and plenty of time to think about how the Grizzlies will attack him.

“I’m going to try to adapt to whatever defense they’re going to do, if they’re going to trap me or whatever, I’m going to have to trust my teammates. I’ve been doing that all season long so whatever they are going to propose, I am going to take whatever the defense gives.”

Conley said the plan is for him and whoever else takes a turn on Parker to apply pressure earlier and make Parker work harder to get the Spurs into their sets. Then it becomes a defense-on-a-string concept to defend their precision pick-and-rolls and keep Parker from slithering into the lane at will.

“We had the same issue with Chris Paul,” Hollins said. “They’re great point guards and great point guards figure out a way to get in the paint. You just got to limit those amount of times that they get there and make sure that guys are flowing back to their own men so they’re not giving up wide-open 3s.”

Grizz Need Prince To Pack Some Punch

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The least-talked about story throughout this postseason run by the Memphis Grizzlies has been the late January trade of leading scorer Rudy Gay. In fact, it really hasn’t been a topic of discussion at all.

That’s probably because the Grizz have done quite well — thank you very much — without him. They posted a team regular-season-best 56 wins and are in the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history. And, look, you can’t find an analytics guy worth his scientific calculator to suggest the Grizz even remotely miss Gay, a small forward the number-crunchers view disdainfully as a black hole. Gay, with a rap as an inefficient scorer who took shots away from big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, and also apparently stunted the growth of point guard Mike Conley.

But, desperately needing a first win in Game 3 this series against the San Antonio Spurs Saturday night at the FedExForum (9 p.m. ET, ESPN), what would the Grizz give to just have a scoring threat on the perimeter? The Spurs are jamming up the paint because there’s no repercussion for leaving Memphis’ wings open.

Gay’s replacement, Tayshaun Prince, has not been good offensively. OK, so maybe some of that had to do with him chasing Kevin Durant for three quarters every game in the second round. There’s no doubt that Prince — with his 6-foot-9 frame and long, gangly arms — is a better defender than Gay, more team-oriented on the offensive end and will move the ball before he puts up a contested shot.

But, at some point, the Grizz have got to get some scoring from their starting small forward — who hasn’t scored in double figures since May 3, Game 6 of the Clippers series in the first round.

In the first two games of the West finals he’s 3-for-10 from the field for eight points. He’s taken two free throws. That has a lot to do with why Prince played just 16 minutes in Game 2, scoring a playoff-low two points, while reserve Quincy Pondexter logged 37 minutes — and scored just seven points with nine rebounds.

Since then, a hot topic has been the possibility for coach Lionel Hollins to alter his starting five. However, on Friday, Hollins said he has no plans to make such a move.

“Whatever it takes to win,” Prince said. “I’ve always been that way and nothing changes for me. Whatever happens, happens. I’ve never been in a position where I’m worried or concerned about how I’m shooting. I just have to continue to stay confident and when the shots are available take them.”

No one will ever confuse Prince for being a volume scorer or shooter such as Gay. Prince’s best scoring season was 14.7 ppg back in 2004-05. His career scoring average 12.6 ppg on 45.8 percent shooting. The Grizz would be thrilled with such an uptick.

“He’s going to come along. I believe in him,” said shooting guard Tony Allen, whose scoring and shooting percentage have tapered off this series to playoff low 8.0 ppg and 35.7 percent from the floor. “I ain’t really worried about that too much. I know he can ball, so I believe in him.”

Prince’s scoring average and shooting percentage has dropped with each series from 8.5 and 40.4 percent against the Clippers; to 6.2 and 29.5 percent against the Thunder; and now 4.0 and 30.0 in the first two games against the Spurs. OK, so maybe some of that has to do with Prince being guarded by Durant last round and now Spurs up-and-comer Kawhi Leonard.

So how can Prince get jump-started? Everyone associated with Memphis is talking about pace. Not running up and down the floor like they’re the Nuggets, which they’re not, but simply by pushing the ball into the halfcourt quicker and getting into their sets earlier in the shot clock. They believe they’re dragging, whether it’s taking the ball out of bounds or off defensive rebounds, and allowing the disciplined Spurs’ defense to clamp down and force too many bad shots with the clock ticking down.

“No question,” Hollins said. “That’s what we’ve been trying to preach this whole series is we need to get up and down the court and not let San Antonio set their defense and call plays with 15 seconds left on the shot clock.”

Prince said it should be evident in the first quarter Saturday if the Grizz are indeed successfully quickening the pace.

“It will kind of dictate how we shoot the ball,” Prince said. “We have to get into our pace a lot quicker and those shots will come a little bit more natural, come a little bit more easier. You’ll have more rhythm shots, more rhythm opportunities.”

Are Grizzlies In Need of Lineup Change?

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Locations change. Games change. Series change. Nobody knows that better than the Spurs and the Grizzlies.

This time a year ago, the Spurs were in precisely the same spot with a 2-0 lead and halfway home in the Western Conference finals. Then the Thunder reeled off four straight wins and suddenly it was summer in San Antonio.

Barely a month ago, the Grizzlies fell behind 0-2 in the first round of the playoffs to the Clippers. Then Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and the NBA’s best defense ripped off four in a row and began their deepest playoff run in franchise history.

Lineups change.

That could be what it will take now for the Grizzlies to get up off the floor and keep moving forward.

There’s little doubt that for the Grizzlies to win four out of five games against San Antonio, they’re going to need an effective Z-Bo in the middle of their offense, throwing around his bulk and wreaking havoc in the low post.

But, while Randolph did miss more than a few easy shots at the AT&T Center (“tightest rims in the league,” he said), there has also been the matter of a Spurs defense that blatantly collapses and doubles on Z-Bo because the Memphis perimeter shooting has been so horrid.

For all of his high energy and ability to make something out of nothing at times, Randolph does need room to operate with the way the Grizzles are misfiring so bad from the outside, he’s apt to continue getting smothered by the Spurs.

The Grizzlies‘ starting pair of Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince has made just 8 of their 24 shots from the field in the first two games. Prince has been especially woeful at 3-for-10, and it could be time for coach Lionel Hollins to put Quincy Pondexter into the starting lineup at small forward for Prince — and even consider getting Jerryd Bayless onto the floor much earlier in games.

It was the combination of Conley, Pondexter and Bayless playing with the Randolph and Gasol that enabled the Grizzlies to find an offensive rhythm for the first time in the series during the second half of Game 2.

Prince has had production go steadily downhill since the first round of the playoffs, and it’s gotten to the point where he is also a liability on defense. It be too early to say where this is just a bad match and bad series or whether the 33-year-old former defensive stopper is showing his age. But there’s no mistaking that his opposite number, the 21-year-old Kawhi Leonard, is winning the matchup easily. Leonard has size, strength, quickness and energy to run the floor, get rebounds, chase down loose ball and make shots against Prince.

It was always going to be difficult for Memphis to keep up with a Spurs offense that likes to play at a faster tempo and has more weapons and more ways to score. But the Grizzlies can’t afford to dig themselves a deeper hole by employing a lineup that is only 3/5 of a threat to score, even if they should get a bounce from being at home in the Grindhouse for Games 3-4.

History says that in the history of the NBA playoffs have lost the first two games of a best-of-seven series and come back to win. Of course, both of these teams have experience with that history, although from opposite sides.

“We’re in a great spot, but if you look at it, it’s the same spot we were last year,” said the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili. “It doesn’t mean at all that we’re going to make it just because we won the first two. We have to go there and try to win one.

“If it’s the third [game], it’s better. We’ve been here. We know that it’s not over until you win the fourth. So we just have to stay humble, keep working hard, definitely try to get one [in] Memphis.”

Locations change. Games change. Series sometimes change.

But sometimes it takes a lineup change to make it happen.

TEAMS THAT HAVE RALLIED FROM 0-2 IN A BEST-OF-SEVEN PLAYOFF SERIES

–Celtics vs Lakers 1969 NBA Finals
–Lakers vs. Warriors 1969 Western Division semifinals
–Bullets vs. Knicks 1971 Eastern Conference finals
–Trail Blazers vs. 76ers 1977 NBA Finals
–Bulls vs Knicks 1993 Eastern Conference finals
–Rockets vs. Suns 1994 Western Conference semifinals
–Rockets vs. Suns 1995 Western Conference semifinals
–Lakers vs. Spurs 2004 Western Conference semifinals
–Mavericks vs. Rockets 2005 Western Conference first round
–Wizards vs. Bulls 2005 Eastern Conference first round
–Heat vs. Mavericks 2006 NBA Finals
–Jazz vs. Rockets 2007 Western Conference first round
–Cavaliers vs. Pistons 2007 Eastern Conference finals
–Spurs vs. Hornets 2008 Western Conference semifinals
–Thunder vs. Spurs 2012 Western Conference finals
–Grizzlies vs. Cippers 2013 Western Conference first round

Small Markets Scrap For Success

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – When a couple small-market Western Conference teams battled for seven grueling games in the semifinals of the playoffs two years ago, who could have foreseen that they would meet again this postseason — after each was forced to deal with the inescapable repercussions of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement?

Rudy Gay was injured and out of that postseason two years ago. But at only 24 and locked into a lucrative contract, the No. 8 pick of the 2006 NBA Draft was a central figure for the fast-rising Memphis Grizzlies. Yet on Jan. 30, 2013, Gay, the team’s leading scorer, was traded to Toronto.

In Oklahoma City, the Thunder were coming off a loss to the Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals when, days before this season began, Thunder general manager Sam Presti dealt former No. 3 pick James Harden, just 23 and an integral part of the team’s success, to Houston.

In a postseason marked by a surprising domination of small-market teams — all four teams remaining in the playoffs are in the bottom half of the league in market size — the second-round showdown between the Grizzlies and Thunder (won by the Grizzlies in five games) demonstrated just what many teams have to do to thrive in the era of the still-new CBA.

“With the rules set up the way they are, there’s minimal room for error,” said Jason Levien, the first-year CEO of the Grizzlies under a new ownership group led by one of the world’s youngest tech billionaires, Robert Pera. “You’ve got to be very thoughtful in your approach to how you build your team, how you build a roster, and you’ve got to keep the cap and the tax in mind.”

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Avoiding the taxes

Cap and tax are at the forefront of the strategy the Oklahoma City management team is using under the ownership of billionaire energy mogul Clay Bennett. Presti, who has managed to re-sign superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, plus emerging power forward Serge Ibaka, to long-term deals that fit within the team’s cap structure, chose to hold firm to a policy of not commenting on matters related to the CBA.

In Memphis, where the Grizzlies will look to start digging out of a 2-0 hole against the San Antonio Spurs in Saturday’s Game 3 of the West finals (9 p.m., ESPN), Levien has defended the trade of Gay (for veteran small forward Tayshaun Prince and youngsters Ed Davis and Austin Daye) as being made to improve the team.

While that might be true — Memphis won a franchise-best 56 games after a strong start with Gay — the Grizzlies also got out of the $37.2 million owed to Gay over the next two seasons. Memphis will pay Prince, Davis and Daye a combined $26 million over that span ($22 million if Daye is not retained beyond next season). With Zach RandolphMarc Gasol and Mike Conley owed a combined $40.9 million next season, keeping Gay and a payroll under the tax line (this season it was $70.3 million) would have been a near-impossibility. (more…)

Grizzlies GM Envisioned A Future With Marc Gasol As A League Laughed

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Memphis Grizzlies’ six-year rise from bottom-of-the-barrel in the West to playing for the conference crown is a story of intuition, perseverance, patience and, some might rightfully say, vindication for general manager Chris Wallace.

“I never looked for vindication. That’s not something that motivates me,” Wallace said. “Winning takes care of all issues in this league. We felt we had to take chances.”

Hired by former Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley to remake a 22-win team that was of no competition, popularity-wise, for John Calipari‘s Memphis Tigers, Wallace put his vision in motion. When the team takes the court Sunday afternoon to begin the Western  Conference finals against the old standby San Antonio Spurs, the Memphis roster will include not one player from the day Wallace took control.

Rudy Gay, the last survivor, was dealt to Toronto in late January.

The first move for Wallace back in 2007 was drafting Mike Conley, now considered one of the most underrated point guards in the league. Conley was the No. 4 overall draft pick after Portland selected Greg Oden and Kevin Durant fell into Seattle’s lap and Atlanta tapped Al Horford.

The next move came on Feb. 1, 2008 and will go down as the franchise’s moment of truth. At that moment, however, it was perceived more like the moment of ultimate doom.

Wallace agreed to a trade that unleashed shockwaves of ridicule from, yes, the media, but also shockingly from within the league. The backlash, Wallace said, was so fierce that it damaged the team’s ability to conduct business in its own city as it set out to sell critical sponsorships and arena suites for the following season.

“People [potential clients] would list off all the big-name people [in the NBA] that had ridiculed us,” Wallace said. “It was like running the 100-meter dash with a 20-pound leg weight.”

Everyone knows the deal: Pau Gasol to the Lakers for his chubby, unheralded younger brother Marc Gasol, bust Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton and a couple first-round draft picks. Stunning criticism crushed Wallace for getting fleeced while being backhandedly credited for handing the post-Shaquille O’Neal Lakers the keys to certain championships.

“I expect the media to shoot from the hip and not study the deal. That’s to be expected,” Wallace said. “I just shook my head. I had never seen that kind of response from inside the league. I don’t deny that was the assist for two Lakers championships, but we had to shake things up. We had never won a playoff game. We had been in the 20s [wins] and there was complete apathy in our market. Calipari and the Tigers were roaring at the time.

“When we went around the league, we weren’t going to get a tit-for-tat deal. We wanted to bring our salary structure down, get assets and draft picks. And no one else had a Marc Gasol.”

Marc Gasol attended high school in Memphis as Pau was becoming the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. At 18, he returned to Spain to begin his professional career in the Spanish ACB league, largely considered the world’s second-most competitive league. In 2007-08 he was tearing it up.

“He was trending up so much at the time. He was on pace to be the ACB MVP,” Wallace said. “I said it at the time, I felt like the little boy crying wolf. There was no question Pau was going to flourish next to Kobe and could win several titles, but this deal couldn’t be judged for several years.”

Wallace said what puzzled him most about the barrage of criticism was the lack of knowledge among media and league insiders regarding the 7-foot-1 Marc Gasol, who went on to become the MVP.

“It’s not like he was playing in Mongolia,” Wallace said. “He was playing in the ACB.”

Gasol, about 20 pounds lighter these days at 260, blossomed into a 2012 All-Star and is the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year. He’s become an offensive force, honing a dangerous post game with an old-school mid-range set shot. He’s averaging 18.3 ppg and 7.9 rpg while averaging 40.3 mpg during the franchise’s most successful postseason run.

Gasol’s low-post partner Zach Randolph came next in a deal in 2009. Wallace was in the right place at the right time, nabbing Randolph for Quentin Richardson. Randolph, who had had his issues at previous stops,had become expendable after just 39 games with the Clippers because L.A. was set to draft Blake Griffin with the No. 1 pick and wanted to clear out the power forward position.

Tony Allen was picked up in the summer of 2010. Darrell Arthur has been a constant presence off the bench since being acquired on draft day in 2008. Greivous Vasquez, the 28th pick in 2010, was flipped for key reserve Quincy Pondexter. Sixth man Jerryd Bayless was signed as a free agent last summer.

“We were winning 20 games a year just four or five seasons ago,” Conley said. “Management did a great job getting guys in, guys that care. We’ve worked every day, kind of fell down the radar and now we’re here.”

So much has gone right leading to this historic moment for the Grizzlies franchise that it would seem clear-cut that Wallace has a long-term home with Memphis. But with new ownership having taken over at the start of the season, both Wallace and coach Lionel Hollins – a raging success story in his own right as he’s developed an initially young group of players into a hard-working defensive juggernaut emblematic of the city itself — are uncertain of their futures.

Hollins has coached all season on the final year of his deal. Wallace said he has years left, but has no guarantees.

“I hope to be able to stay here,” Wallace said.

Durant Keeps The Faith As Game 5 Nears

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OKLAHOMA CITY – Asked about the mood of the Thunder these last 36 hours or so after the Game 4 overtime loss that put them in a 3-1 hole, Kevin Durant said everyone should know one thing.

“It wasn’t like we were going to a funeral,” Oklahoma City’s superstar said.

Durant is averaging 31.8 ppg, 9.1 rpg and 6.3 apg this postseason, yet he has struggled to score late in the last three games, all Memphis Grizzlies victories, all by six points. He was 2-for-13 in the fourth quarter and OT in Game 4.

“Everybody came through except for me and that’s the toughest thing about it, that’s a tough feeling,” Durant said. “Tonight we’ll try to get that taste out of mouths and try to get a W.”

Durant looked like a heavyweight fighter who had just gone the distance only to lose on a split decision. He was fatigued and seemingly out of answers. The Thunder returned to OKC in the early-morning hours Tuesday. Coach Scott Brooks didn’t put his team through a practice after they finally got some sleep, content to allow his players to get treatment and focus on tonight’s do-or-die Game 5 (9:30 p.m. ET, TNT).

“We’re a team that’s always been resilient, always perseveres through things and always just fights it to the end,” Durant said. “We’re going to continue to keep fighting. We’ve got a great opportunity on our home floor and, you know, you either win or you go home.”

Durant said the team is drawing on other adverse times such as losing the first two games to the San Antonio Spurs in last year’s West finals, only to storm back to win four in a row. But, obviously, that team had All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook at the helm. That Westbrook’s new Brand Jordan/Champs Sports commercial was revealed Wednesday — one full of pre-knee-injury dunks — surely makes Thunder fans wistful.

Westbrook’s absence has allowed the Grizzlies to focus on Durant. They’ve given him doses of Tayshaun Prince and then Quincy Pondexter with sporadic looks at Tony Allen for the first three quarters. The fourth quarter has largely been all Allen with teammates swarming Durant from every angle.

Since his Game 1 heroics that had Durant being praised as the game’s most clutch player, his shots have mostly clanged in the final two minutes of these games, each one a two-point margin with two minutes to go.

“I just got to get it done either way,” Durant said. “I got to try to force my way into the lane and maybe that draws even more guys and I kick it out to my teammates, or sometimes I got to shoot over two or three guys. So there’s no excuses no matter how many people are guarding me. I’ve just got to get it done.”

Durant, better than a 90-percent free throw shooter during the season, will try to get there more in Game 5. Brooks was a bit miffed that Durant got to the free throw line just three times in 48 minutes of Game 4, and one of those came via a defensive 3-seconds call.

Don’t expect Durant to alter the way he plays. He’ll continue to try to create for himself and his teammates even though they’ve been cold. Among Serge IbakaKevin Martin, Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison, Collison has the highest shooting percentage of that group in the series — 41.7 percent.

“I don’t have to say anything really, just pass them the ball and they know I got confidence in them,” Durant said. “I tell them all the time to shoot with confidence, don’t worry about it if they miss a shot, so what? Just keep getting back on defense and playing the great defense that we are. Don’t worry about the shots, just continue to keep shooting them if you have them.

“I’m going to trust in my teammates no matter what, no matter what people say or how many shots they miss or how many shots I miss, I’m going to continue to trust my teammates, myself and all the hard work we’ve put in.”

Defensive-Minded: Success For Grizzlies’ Allen’s A Mix Of Trust, Belief, Resiliency

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OKLAHOMA CITY – Long before Tony Allen became a fixture on NBA All-Defensive Teams and back when the Oklahoma City Thunder still belonged to Seattle, some Oklahoma basketball fans cheered a hard-scrabble Chicago kid who serendipitously landed in rural Stillwater and has never stopped surviving.

Those Oklahoma faithful might now wish the most influential father figure in Allen’s life, a career college basketball assistant coach named Glynn Cyprien, had never left Oklahoma State to later wind up at the University of Memphis. Because the man who delivered the little-known junior-college guard with a knack for finding trouble to Eddie Sutton’s Oklahoma State Cowboys in 2003 also greased Allen’s free-agent signing seven years later, leaving the championship-caliber Boston Celtics for the then-middling Memphis Grizzlies.

“We never would have gotten him without Glynn,” said Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace, who also has longtime ties to Cyprien. “Tony helped put us over the top.”

Named to a third consecutive All-Defensive Team on Monday and a second consecutive First Team selection, Allen is tormenting overtaxed Oklahoma City superstar Kevin Durant and breaking the hearts of Thunder fans in this semifinal series the Grizzlies lead, 3-1.

Allen and the Grizzlies return tonight to Oklahoma City (9:30 ET, TNT), about an hour drive southwest of Stillwater, to try and close out the reigning-but-wounded Western Conference champs in Game 5.

Memphis had never won a playoff series before Allen signed in 2010. It hadn’t made the postseason since 2006. But this blue-collar bunch, epitomized by Allen’s tireless and genuine grit, is one win away from the team’s first conference final in its 18-year existence.

Allen’s story is all about timing, trust, belief and resiliency. Start with beating back life’s hard knocks — a father in prison, an adolescence set up to be knocked down like bowling pins — with an unbreakable spirit. He’s scraped away at a nine-year NBA career that’s finally in full bloom, having persevered through season after season of seemingly two steps forward, one step back. His is an evolutionary journey of constant self-improvement and forever proving his worth — through six seasons in Boston and, even initially in Memphis under coach Lionel Hollins — just to play.

In his second season at Oklahoma State, Allen carried the Cowboys to the 2004 Final Four as the Big 12 Player of the Year just two years after getting kicked out of his first of two junior-college stops. But that misfortune landed him at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill. That’s where Cyprien was dispatched by Sutton, not to recruit Allen, but to bring back a stud named Antwain Barbour, who would eventually sign with Kentucky and never play a minute in the NBA. It was Allen who kept catching Cyprien’s eye.

“Tony’s statistics weren’t great, but he had an overall good game, he played defense, he ran well and bottom line he was just real tough,” said Cyprien, now an assistant coach at Texas A&M. “When the game got late, he made tough plays.”

It’s his NBA calling card. And Durant and the Thunder are witnesses. Allen tilted the razor-thin margin in this series when Hollins finally called upon the 6-foot-4, self-proclaimed “junkyard dog” to sic the three-time scoring champ in the final three minutes of a nip-and-tuck Game 2. The call could have come in Game 1, when Durant scored 12 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter including the game-winner with 11 seconds to play. But Hollins was sticking to his original declaration that Allen would be no match for the impossibly long Durant.

Allen shrugged and suggested Hollins got desperate as the Grizz were in jeopardy of falling into a 2-0 hole against a team playing without its All-Star point guard, Russell Westbrook.

Yet maybe that’s just the way it’s supposed to be for Allen, nothing ever coming without outside doubt, nothing ever certain, always having to prove himself over again. Even to his coach of three seasons, unless, as Allen was asked after the Game 2 win when he held Durant scoreless in those decisive final minutes, maybe Hollins was trying to inspire him.

“I don’t play mind games. I just go out there and do my job,” Allen said. “My confidence is always sky-high. If you try to limit me, then you limit me. But I will continue to show you that I work and I continue to get better each and every day. Whatever your limitations are on me, I am always ready to prove you wrong.” (more…)

Grizz Grind Step Closer To West Finals

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Some of the new owners of this franchise now treading on historic playoff ground leaned up against the wall outside the Memphis Grizzlies’ locker room. Hair was frazzled, faces were flush and breaths were still coming heavy as if they had just outrun the Boogie Man.

In some respects they had.

Monday’s 103-97 overtime victory over the shorthanded and succumbing Oklahoma City Thunder turned scary from the jump. Kevin Durant set the early tone, animated, vocal and doing his thing. Serge Ibaka suddenly rediscovered his shooting touch, Kevin Martin was hitting and young Reggie Jackson was doing his best Russell Westbrook impression.

The visitors had the bounce and the confidence early. The Grindhouse crowd grew restless, boos came down when Durant buried a 3-pointer, his third without a miss, to put OKC ahead 46-29 with 4:26 until halftime. They’d since seen this horror flick before. Game 4 against these Thunder two years ago was a hot topic at practice the day before. OKC was then the team that trailed by 17 and came back all the way back to win it in triple-overtime to tie the series and eventually win it in Game 7.

Games 1 and 7 at home last season against the Clippers. Series over. Season wiped out.

To not take this Game 4 by the throat, to walk off the floor with tails tucked between their legs in front of a sellout crowd, to drag a 2-2 tie instead of riding a 3-1 lead back to Bricktown would have been a travesty.

“Our whole mindset was get it to 10 by halftime and we got it to eight,” Tony Allen said. “Coach [Lionel Hollins] came in the locker room. He’s good with those speeches. We wanted to respond.”

These Grizzlies, more mature, more clutch than any incarnation before, refused to let it happen. Tayshaun Prince and Allen clamped down on Durant, who missed 17 of his 27 shots, missed all four in overtime and missed his third clutch free throw in the last two games. Mike Conley scored 24 points and for a time matched Durant 3-pointer for 3-pointer. He played 48 minutes, 40 seconds — 21 ticks more than Durant and turned the ball over exactly once.

Then it was big Marc Gasol, with 23 points and 11 boards, swishing the game-winning jumper from the foul line. Then it was Allen, the original grit-and-grinder who was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team earlier Monday, making the game-sealing steal. It was his 10th of the series, this one on Derek Fisher‘s crossed-up inbounds pass. (more…)

Defensive Specialists Allen, Sefolosha In Unfamiliar Spots

OKLAHOMA CITY – The most intriguing chess match for the two coaches in this second-round series isn’t about big vs. small, but how to best utilize their defensive stopper. In Game 1, Oklahoma City’s Thabo Sefolosha and Memphis’ Tony Allen were like two fish out of water.

Normally charged with checking the opposition’s most dangerous scorer, Allen and Sefolosha are stuck guarding each other in this series, which resumes with tonight’s Game 2 at Chesapeake Arena (9:30 p.m. ET, TNT). Allen would typically be hounding Russell Westbrook, but he’s out of the playoffs following knee surgery to repair a meniscus tear. Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins has already said he will no longer play his 6-foot-4 grinder on Kevin Durant, whose long frame is stronger than a few years ago, allowing Durant to punish Allen on the post.

Durant is Tayshaun Prince‘s responsibility, and went mostly without the aid of a double-team in Game 1. So Allen, one of the top on-ball defenders in the league, is left to guard Sefolosha, a good corner and wing 3-point shooter, but easily the Thunder’s fourth or fifth option even with Westbrook out. Sefolosha played just 18 minutes in Game 1, scored four points and missed his lone 3-point attempt after averaging 4.6 attempts from beyond the arc in the first-round series against Houston.

“It is kind of odd because you know there’s not really a prolific scorer in my size range,” Allen said. “But it’s about the Grizzlies playing a better game than the Thunder. We’ve got to keep that mindset. But whatever he [Hollins] wants me to do on the defensive end, I’m willing to fill that void.”

The logical maneuver then is to put Allen on sixth man Kevin Martin, who scored 25 points on 8-for-14 shooting and got to the free-throw line seven times in OKC’s 93-91 Game 1 victory. But because Allen starts and Martin comes off the bench, pairing the two can be tricky. Hollins played Allen just 20 minutes in Game 1 and he was on the floor with Martin, who logged 32 minutes, for all of seven minutes.

“They are different without Russell Westbrook,” Allen said. “The last game I was trying to float because I didn’t really know who to key in and lock into. Kevin Martin comes off the bench and I’m starting; when I come out he’s coming in so that’s kind of tough. But we got our feet wet in Game 1. Now it’s Game 2, we know what to expect without Westbrook, we know who are their main characters now and we have to do a better job on Martin, obviously, and you know, not let [Derek] Fisher get so many big-time timely shots, and just try to do a better job on those other guys.”

It wasn’t too unlike Game 1 in the first round against the Los Angeles Clippers for Allen. He played 17 minutes while Jerryd Bayless got bumped up for offensive purposes and had to guard Clippers sixth man Jamal Crawford. In Game 2, Allen logged 39 minutes and he averaged 30.5 mpg in the final four games.

So Allen figures to be on the court much more tonight and he must take advantage of the loose defense Sefolosha played on him in Game 1 to knock down open looks (Allen was 1-for-5 from the floor for three points) and use the open space to chase rebounds.

“He’s barely even sticking me,” Allen said.

That’s because Sefolosha is more concerned with dropping down and helping big men Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins defend Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Allen can alter that strategy by making baskets, which in turn helps to free up Memphis’ talented big men.

“My focus is to help the bigs,” Sefolosha said. “Help them rebound, help them get in a situation where Zach and Marc Gasol can’t get too deep in the paint, so basically helping off a little bit. But at the same time, Tony does a lot of good things without the ball and I have to be aware of where he is on the court.”

Two Coaches With Everything To Lose

LOS ANGELES – Opposing playoff coaches Vinny Del Negro and Lionel Hollins have a lot in common. Both men have improved their clubs’ winning percentage each season as coach. The last two soared over .600 for consecutive top-five finishes in the rugged Western Conference.

Both won 56 games this season to set each franchise’s record for most wins.

And, finally, job security: Neither man has it.

In a rare, but not unprecedented occurrence, the first-round playoff series between Del Negro’s Los Angeles Clippers and Hollins’ Memphis Grizzlies, a rematch of last season’s seven-game, first-round thriller won by L.A., features two lame-duck coaches.

While both have produced excellent seasons by any measure, one will be going home earlier than hoped. And despite public stamps of approval this week from their superiors, neither coach’s future is certain, and prior to Monday’s Game 2, neither was pretending otherwise.

“Would I liked to have had a contract before this? Of course,” said Hollins, now in his fifth consecutive season and third stint as the Grizzlies coach, a relationship that dates back to the franchise’s roots in Vancouver. “But that’s a decision that’s made and you go and do the best job you can, and it’s not like it had to be done before the season is over. It’s just like players, you can extend players early or you can wait till later. Guys become free agents and they go out in free agency and sometimes it gives you leverage and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Del Negro, who guided the Clippers to the franchise’s first Pacific Division title and first 50-win campaign in his third season and second with All-Star point guard Chris Paul, has been one of the most scrutinized coaches since Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf hired him without any coaching experience five years ago. Del Negro lasted two .500 seasons there before being fired and then hired by the Clippers.

L.A. advanced to the West semifinals last season, but with Paul and Blake Griffin banged up, was swept by the San Antonio Spurs. Del Negro said this season’s goal is to go deeper, which implies a goal of achieving another franchise milestone, a first conference final. It would take finishing off Memphis and then likely ousting the reigning West-champion Oklahoma City Thunder.

“I believe in what we’ve done here,” Del Negro said. “I think my assistant coaches have done a phenomenal job and I’ve had great support from ownership and the front office … and everybody to try and put the best team out there possible.

“Right now the focus should be on the playoffs, should be on the players and the commitment that they’re putting in to help us be successful. And all those things (contract situation) will get answered at the end.” (more…)