Posts Tagged ‘Yogi Berra’

Have Grizzlies Lost Their Bite?

VIDEO: The Grizzlies needed everything they had to get their only win of the year so far


HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — “It gets late early out there.”

Yogi Berra was talking about the left field shadows at the old Yankee Stadium. But he could have been referring to the shadow of former coach Lionel Hollins in Memphis.

Not even a week into the 2013-14 season and there seems to be something missing from the Grizzlies. Teeth and claws.

Or as they call it at the FedEx Forum, “Grit and Grind.”

It’s unwise to read too much into just the first three sips from an 82-game regular season. Otherwise we’d be guzzling the Kool-Aid of the confounding 3-0 Sixers and already making hotel reservations for next June in always sunny Philadelphia.

But there are times when a few early leaks in the bucket could be cause for concern that the bottom might fall out.

The Grizzlies, who advanced to the Western Conference finals a season ago, have carried around a style and reputation as subtle as an anvil in their climb up the ranks of legitimate contenders. Yet the early returns have shown that anvil dropping onto their toes.

Were it not for a couple of timely jumpers by Tayshaun Prince in overtime on Friday that finally put down the Pistons, Memphis would be looking at an 0-3 start that might have some reaching for the panic button. As it is, it might not hurt to at least get a finger loosened up.

After an uninspiring 111-99 loss at Dallas Saturday, the Grizzlies have surrendered more than 100 points three times in three games. While on their way to winning a franchise record 56 times last season, the Grizzlies and their No. 2-rated defense allowed opponents to hit the century mark just 10 times in 82 tries.

That certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed within the locker room, as noted by Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal:

“This ain’t us,” Griz forward Zach Randolph said. “I don’t know if we’re focusing on the offense or not, but we’re a defensive team and that’s what we’ve got to hang our hats on. And another thing is we’ve got to come out faster.”

Yes, it is early. But the trend could bring out all of the fears that were left by management’s decision to let Hollins — the best coach in franchise history — walk out the door. While the thought was that rookie coach Dave Joerger would be able to put some juice into the Grizzlies offensive by getting more ball movement and a faster pace, it was not supposed to be at expense of their lockdown defense.

While the Memphis offense that had the slowest pace in the league a year ago has jumped from 17th to 13th through the opening weekend of the season, the defense has fallen from 100.3 (No. 2) to 109 (26th). Opponents’ shooting percentage is up overall, especially from behind the 3-point line. However the interior defense that is supposed to be anchored by the bruising play of Randolph and 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol, is being exploited regularly.

After after reeling in the Mavs with a stretch of solid defense in the middle of the game, too often the Grizzlies were simply trading baskets, giving up layups or committing interior fouls that produced a parade to the free-throw line.

“We didn’t come out and play with any force,” Joerger said. “They’re at home. You’ve got to come out and set the tone early. We did not do that. We did not defend. We didn’t cut hard.”

These are all the areas that were as much a part of the Grizzlies appearance in games as their jerseys and sneakers under Hollins. If he was often critical, sarcastic and demanding, it was because there was a purpose. If it was Tony Allen who gave their home court the “Grind House” nickname, it was Hollins who laid the foundation and planted the seeds in the front lawn.

When the Spurs eventually exploited Memphis’ lack of offensive firepower in their conference finals blitz, it was clear that an upgrade was needed in order for the Grizzlies to take the next step. Was adding 33-year-old Mike Miller enough? Definitely not if the defensive intensity was going to drop.

In a Western Conference race that has only become more crowded and contentious, the last thing the Grizzlies can afford to lose is their identity.

So with the shadow of Hollins looming, it might not be too early for the grit and grind to heed another old Yogi-ism:

“When you come to a fork in the road…take it.”

Duncan Saves Spurs From Identity Crisis


SAN ANTONIO — All teams have their identities. Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins hardly was creating the kind of profile that would go over big on when he described his bunch as “a fat, grumpy, grubby person.”

The Spurs have their identity too, and when they trudged back out onto the court for the start of overtime, nobody carried the weight of what had happened on his shoulders more than 37-year-old Tim Duncan.

For 16 seasons, he has been their rock and foundation through four championships and now eight trips to the Western Conference finals.

For longer than many of his teammates have been out of elementary school, he has been their cool head and road map out of turns down the wrong street.

So an 18-point lead with just under two minutes left in the third quarter and a seven-point lead with a tick less than a minute to play in the fourth quarter had been swallowed up in the maw of the hungry, grubby Grizzlies. And as has been the case for more than a decade and a half, the Spurs relied on their identity to find themselves again.

Duncan took a feed from Tony Parker and dropped in a layup on San Antonio’s first possession of overtime. He grabbed a rebound off a missed jumper by Parker and converted the follow bucket. Then he did a nifty little twinkle-toe dance right down the middle of the lane and let go with an eight-foot floater that kicked high off the back rim and then settled into the net.

The old veteran who should have been the most tired guy on the floor scored every field goal by the Spurs in overtime and allowed his team to escape with a 93-89 victory that could have been a stunning flip-flop and crushing blow.

It’s easy to say the Spurs are right back where they were exactly a year ago, with a 2-0 lead and in the conference finals and maybe already peeking ahead to a stay on South Beach to kick sand with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat.

But despite their blowout win in Game 1, nothing against the growling, grabbing Grizzlies is ever easy.

And the Spurs remember well what happened exactly a year ago this time, when the Thunder pulled off a complete reversal to sweep four straight games and win the series in Game 6.

Since the first day of training camp last October, coach Gregg Popovich has described what happened to his team as “identity theft.”

The Thunder played smarter, tougher, more aggressively and more decisively. So much of the emphasis all through this season has been to insist that his team never forget and never back down from who they are.

However, the vagaries of the NBA playoff schedule, which is made up to honor the whims and wishes of TV executives, had delivered an team exhausted by an test of endurance against Golden State straight into Game 1 against Memphis with barely a chance to catch a breath. Then they had to come right back and play Game 2 on Tuesday night while LeBron and D-Wade have had time to pick out Eastern Conference finals wardrobes with a pre-Memorial Day extended weekend off.

This was a game the Spurs needed to stash into their travel bags as they head into a long-awaited three-day respite of their own to heal those playoff tweaks and aching muscles, especially those on the body of a 37-year-old walking legend.

“It’s not over until it’s over,” channeled Manu Ginobili, the Argentinian Yogi Berra. “That’s the only thing we learned.”

For the longest time, it was a night to celebrate Parker, who has been one of — if not the — best point guards in the game while flying beneath the radar of notoriety. He dealt a career-high 18 assists to go with his 15 points and rolled through the Grizzlies’ lane at will.

Late in the third quarter it appeared to be another game that has been unusually customary for the Spurs this spring, where their foundational player Duncan would not even play down the stretch.

In Game 1 of the previous series against Golden State, Duncan was suffering from a stomach ailment and it wasn’t until he left the game and went to the locker room that the Spurs began their dramatic comeback from 16 points down in the last 4 1/2 minutes to win in overtime.

In the critical Game 6 against the Warriors, Popovich took a struggling Duncan out for the final 4:28 and allowed Tiago Splitter to close out the series.

On Sunday against the Grizzlies, Duncan made a careless pass that led to a Jerryd Bayless breakaway and then missed a 14-foot jumper that brought in Matt Bonner as a sub late in the third quarter as Memphis rallied. By the time Duncan returned, the Spurs had pulled out to their biggest lead of the game without him.

It was an odd trend, said some Spurs. Merely a coincidence, said others. They couldn’t run the entire gantlet without Duncan.

And they wouldn’t.

“It was great,” Duncan said. “I was glad I was able to play in overtime … just happy to be out there and do anything.”

Everything, really, when the Spurs needed him most. Which has always been their identity.