The Memphis Grizzlies became just the second eight seed in NBA history to beat a number one.
What makes the feat even more impressive is that they beat the Spurs, a team loaded with three potential Hall of Fame players in Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. These three guys have a combined 436 playoff games and ten championship rings on their resume, without even getting into the wealth of experience the rest of the roster has.
As for the Grizzlies, they are the complete opposite. The only guys on their playoff roster who have played deep into the post season before are Tony Allen and Shane Battier. Allen accumulated 63 games in a bench role for the Boston Celtics, while Battier has 45 in a similar role for the Grizzlies and Rockets. Zach Randolph played seven games back in 2002, but he is a completely different player now.
Randolph, along with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, have really stepped up their game. Randolph is averaging 23.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, with those averages jumping up to 30 points and 11 rebounds over the last three.
Gasol has been playing to a level he has never played at before. After averaging 11 pts and seven rebounds with shooting 52% during the regular season, Gasol is now averaging 15 and 12.4 a game, shooting 58% while being a force on the defensive end as well.
Conley is relatively on par with his regular season average, but is showing a new sense of calmness that he has not shown before. As the point guard of this team, his level of play is the most important player on the floor as it sets the tone for the team on both ends of the court, although his 15 points a game certainly helps as well.
Despite these three young players improving their play in the playoffs, the main reason for their success has been their defense.
The Spurs averaged 103.7 points per game in the regular season. In the playoffs, the Grizzlies held them to 94.3. In addition, in the regular season the Spurs shot 48% from the field. In the playoffs however, they shot 43.5%.
Many are now saying the Spurs are over the hill and need to rebuild. They think the main reason for the Grizzlies victory was their youth and energy.
Part of this is true.
However, the Spurs were the best team in the Western Conference finishing 61-21. That does not strike me as a team over the hill. Yes, Duncan, Ginobili and Parker have been in the league for a while, but that did not stop them from dominating the regular season. The Grizzlies deserve some credit here.
After the â€œBig threeâ€ in Duncan, Ginobili and Parker, the Spurs had little depth. The Grizzlies on the other hand had players come off the bench, often different players in each game and contribute. Darrell Arthur scored 14 in game four. Sam Young scored 18 in game five. Greivis Vasquez scored 11 in game six. Different players were capable of stepping up each game, and they did.
Having these contributions from someone different every night is an incredible boon for a playoff contender. It means the star does not have to score 40 every game, and the pressure is not there for him to do so (much like there is in Oklahoma City for Kevin Durant, the Grizzlies current opponent).
The Grizzlies may be overmatched playing against Oklahoma City. The combination of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook is tough to beat with their youth and explosiveness. However, after a dominating win in OKC in game one, they look more like the team with 436 playoff games on their resume, rather than the team of less than 200.
I would not be surprised to see the Grizz to the Thunder to six or seven games and win the series. Defense wins championships. The way Memphis is playing defense and their young players are stepping up, they will be a tough team to beat four out of seven times.
So yes, the eighth seeded Memphis Grizzlies are very much for real.