Memphis Grizzlies win by sticking to what works for them

While Grizzlies center Marc Gasol might disagree with referee James Williams during a game Feb. 28 in Minneapolis, there is no arguing that Memphis will be a tough opponent in the playoffs.
(Ann Heisenfelt / Associated Press)

They’re known as “Grit and Grind,” and that’s just the way the Memphis Grizzlies like it.

They aren’t flashy like Golden State’s “Splash Brothers” or the Clippers’ “Lob City” or Cleveland’s “King James.”

The Grizzlies’ style of play isn’t aesthetically pleasing for most NBA fans, but the public may have to brace for long-term viewing in the playoffs.

Memphis has the second-best record (44-17) in the West and third-best in the NBA.

Playing defense is the Grizzlies’ calling card. They held teams to an NBA-low 95.7 points a game before Friday night’s games. They average 8.6 steals a game, seventh-best in the NBA, and reserve Tony Allen is fourth in steals (1.94).


The success starts with their big men, center Marc Gasol and power forward Zach Randolph, considered the best frontcourt combination in the NBA.

Gasol was the starting center on the West All-Star team and is considered the best all-around player at his spot because of his scoring (team-best 18.2 points a game), rebounding (8.0), passing (3.8) and ability to score down low and space the floor with his outside shot.

Randolph stays in his comfort zone, banging down low, using his girth to average 16.5 points and 11.6 rebounds, sixth-best in the NBA.

They are the primary reasons the Grizzlies average a league-best 47.2 points in the paint.

“Memphis is a bump-and-grind team, first of all,” said Michael Cage, who played 15 years in the NBA and now is the analyst for Oklahoma City. “They’ve got guys, especially Zach Randolph, who can face-up and play with his back to the basket. You’ve got Marc Gasol who can do the same thing, except that he can stretch the floor a little bit better. And they are both physical.”

The Grizzlies have a very solid point guard in Mike Conley, who has shown he can hold his own with the other top players at his position. Conley averages 16.4 points and 5.3 assists

They acquired Jeff Green from Boston for more offense at small forward. Green has been steady, averaging 11.7 points in 29.3 minutes in his first 23 games. The Grizzlies have gone 17-6 during that span, 14-5 since Green became a starter.


“I think the addition of Jeff Green gave them some explosiveness that they didn’t have,” TNT analyst Charles Barkley said. “Marc and Zach, they are like brawlers. They are just going to brawl you. But with Conley and Jeff Green, it gives them the ability to knock you out with one punch.”

The Grizzlies have wing defenders in Allen and Courtney Lee. They have a strong bench with Allen, Vince Carter (out with left foot injury), Beno Udrih, Kosta Koufos and Jon Leuer.

“They ain’t playing but one way, and they’ve perfected it. So you have to deal with that,” said Clippers Coach Doc Rivers, whose team played Memphis twice in five days.

“You’re not going to speed them up no matter how hard you try. They don’t care if you run or not. They don’t care what you do, and that’s what makes them good.”

The Grizzlies have been in the playoffs four straight years, reaching the Western Conference finals in 2013, losing to San Antonio.

This season, under second-year coach Dave Joerger, they may win their first Southwest Division title in the best and most competitive division in the NBA.


They are trying to outlast the defending NBA champion Spurs, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks, all of whom are expected to make the playoffs.

And Memphis can’t look past New Orleans, which is on the fringes of a playoff spot.

“Memphis is a tough and talented team,” ESPN analyst Mark Jackson said. “I can’t imagine anybody wanting to see them.”