MEMPHIS, Tenn. — You won’t offend the Memphis Grizzlies by flipping proper previous them on NBA League Cross. They’re going to gleefully admit that 29 different groups are extra enjoyable to watch.

However as the remainder of the league tendencies towards a quick, lovely model of basketball, the Grizzlies play sluggish and ugly by design. Coming off a 22-win marketing campaign in 2017-18 — a season doomed by a heel damage that sidelined level guard Mike Conley for all however a dozen video games — Grit ‘n’ Grind has been revitalized in Memphis. No person performs at a slower tempo than the Grizzlies — 96.three possessions per sport, in accordance to — who firmly imagine that going towards the grain works to their benefit.

Season Tempo Rank File
2018-19 96.39 30th 12-7
2017-18 95.78 28th 22-60*
2016-17 92.87 29th 43-39
2015-16 93.97 27th 42-40
2014-15 92.85 26th 55-27
2013-14 90.60 30th 50-32
2012-13 89.59 29th 56-26
* Missed playoffs

“We would like to deliver individuals to the mud and see how comfy they are in that kind of combat,” Grizzlies coach J.B. Bickerstaff advised ESPN after Monday’s apply. “There’s not a ton of apply time anymore, so the video games are coming and all people’s taking part in a method, after which impulsively you play us and it is a utterly totally different sport. How do you deal with that?”

Up to now, the reply usually is: not very properly. Memphis, a group many observers believed had a good likelihood to maintain the top-Eight-protected first-round choose they owe the Boston Celtics within the 2019 draft, is smack dab in the course of the Western Convention playoff image because the season nears the quarter pole.

The Grizzlies are off to a 12-7 begin and solely a sport and a half out of the highest spot within the West standings as they welcome the East-leading Toronto Raptors to FedEx Discussion board on Tuesday night time.

“It is Grit ‘n’ Grind,” stated New York Knicks coach David Fizdale, whose firing final November led to his good friend and assistant Bickerstaff turning into the Grizzlies’ interim head coach earlier than getting the full-time job over the summer time. “They’re taking part in to their strengths. They’re taking part in to what suits them. J.B. has recognized precisely what works for this group.”

Memphis is managing to win regardless of rating useless final within the league in scoring with a mean of 103 factors per sport, a product of their walk-it-up, shot-clock-milking model of play. Adjusted for tempo, the numbers nonetheless aren’t fairly for the Memphis offense, which ranks 25th within the league in effectivity. However the Grizzlies are attempting to win basketball video games, not magnificence pageants, and meaning attempting to “take the rhythm out of the sport,” as Bickerstaff places it.

With 33-year-old huge man Marc Gasol taking part in in addition to when he was voted Defensive Participant of the Yr six seasons in the past, the Grizzlies permit the fewest factors per sport (100.9) within the NBA and embrace that their hopes grasp on being a dominant defensive group. Solely the Celtics and Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder are giving up fewer factors per 100 possessions than Memphis (103.7).

“Should you’re going to play right here and achieve success taking part in right here in Memphis, you have received to personal up to what we are and who we are,” Conley advised ESPN. “You possibly can really feel that the uglier the sport is, the extra uncomfortable it’s for most individuals. That is what we strive to accomplish.”

Gasol, the opposite remaining mainstay on the Memphis roster, added, “What all of us really feel is that this provides us the perfect likelihood to win constantly.”

Mike Conley (11) and Marc Gasol (33) are keepers of Memphis’ Grit ‘n’ Grind tradition. AP Picture/Brandon Dill

4 giant, light-blue letters are painted on the white cinder block wall in a hallway outdoors the Grizzlies’ residence locker room:


It is a phrase that has been a part of the franchise’s id since ex-Memphis defensive stopper Tony Allen’s well-known postgame tv interview in 2011. “Grit. Grind. All coronary heart,” Allen barked after that win over the Thunder, inadvertently coining a advertising slogan that completely suited the Grizzlies’ character and the proud, robust, small-market metropolis they characterize.

A lot smaller, black letters are printed throughout the large, blue GRIT. They spell out the dictionary definitions of the phrase in each English — 1. ABRASIVE PARTICLE OR GRANULES 2. FIRMNESS OF CHARACTER; INDOMITABLE SPIRIT — and Spanish, a nod to Gasol.

It is becoming for this group. “All coronary heart” will get Grizzlies followers fired up and sells T-shirts, however it was by no means fully correct. It additionally takes a bunch of brains and a superb quantity of guile to grit and grind your method to the NBA playoffs, because the Grizzlies did for seven straight years earlier than final season.

“The most necessary factor, and I believe individuals do not put sufficient on it, is intelligence,” Bickerstaff stated. “Our guys’ means to assume is what goes to make it work. If we did not have the fellows with the intelligence, with the expertise, I do not assume we would have the opportunity to play this model of basketball.”

In Conley and Gasol, the Grizzlies have a pair of basketball purists as franchise cornerstones — stars as a lot due to their smarts as their abilities.

“And also you add guys like Kyle Anderson and Garrett Temple and Shelvin Mack, guys who are simply as good as you are on the courtroom, and that is robust for opposing groups to cope with,” Conley stated, referring to three under-the-radar offseason additions which have been nice suits as position gamers for the Grizzlies.

After greater than a decade collectively, Conley and Gasol have the form of chemistry that led Philadelphia coach Brett Brown to make a John Stockton/Karl Malone comparability after the 76ers misplaced in Memphis earlier this month. The Grizzlies can dictate tempo largely as a result of they’ve the posh of counting on the Conley/Gasol two-man sport — that includes two veterans with good imaginative and prescient who are able to scoring all around the ground — to generate respectable appears to be like late within the shot clock.

“Conley and Gasol are the celebs, however all the opposite gamers match very properly round them and play their roles completely,” San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich stated. “I believe that understanding of roles and the management that they’ve exhibited and the arrogance they’ve in that system all shows.”

“If we simply let all people run and have enjoyable and play up and down and play free, at that time we do not actually dictate something. If in case you have a superb night time capturing, you may win the sport. And if you happen to do not, you are in all probability screwed.”

Grizzlies C Marc Gasol

As a result of they play so slowly, the Grizzlies put a serious premium on defending the ball. They commit the third-fewest turnovers within the league, averaging solely 13.three per sport. The high precedence on plenty of the Grizzlies’ offensive possessions is to be certain that they’re in place to get back and set their protection.

“The sooner we are able to load up our protection, the higher off we are,” stated Gasol, who’s averaging 18.1 factors and three.9 assists per sport, rating second on the group behind Conley (20.three factors, 6.6 assists) in each classes. “We will management the tempo of the sport. We arrange our protection, and it is a totally different kind of sport.

“If we simply let all people run and have enjoyable and play up and down and play free, at that time we do not actually dictate something. If in case you have a superb night time capturing, you may win the sport. And if you happen to do not, you are in all probability screwed.”

It is exhausting to have a superb night time capturing towards the Grizzlies, whose opponents’ subject purpose proportion (44.three) is the fifth lowest within the league.

Based mostly on analytics, Gasol is a transparent early front-runner for his second Defensive Participant of the Yr Award. He leads the NBA by a large margin in ESPN’s defensive actual plus-minus (5.03) and defensive win shares (1.four). The Grizzlies surrender solely 99.5 factors per 100 possessions with Gasol on the ground, in contrast to 106.three when he rests.

The 7-foot-1, 255-pound Gasol supplies a bodily presence within the paint, however he is a dominant defensive participant due to his thoughts. He excels within the cat-and-mouse sport of pick-and-roll protection, stopping the Grizzlies from having to assist and sometimes baiting guards into unhealthy choices.

Gasol’s preparation permits him to have uncanny anticipation, a big consider his averaging a career-high 1.63 steals, essentially the most of any huge man within the NBA this season. And all of Gasol’s teammates profit from his preparation by way of his communication on protection.

  • David Fizdale and Marc Gasol made their peace throughout a cellphone dialog over the summer time, placing to relaxation the variations that led Grizzlies administration to fireplace Fizdale largely due to friction with the franchise middle.

  • David Fizdale’s Grizzlies tenure derailed sooner than you’ll be able to say, “Take that for information,” however the brand new Knicks coach is utilizing his missteps as a beneficial lesson.

1 Associated

“You do not know till you play with him,” stated Temple, who was acquired from the Sacramento Kings for spare components and joins Conley and Gasol as the one Grizzlies to begin each sport this season. “I knew he talked on protection, however it’s the issues that he says.”

If an opponent calls a play, Gasol is aware of it and tells his teammates what’s coming. He calls out actions earlier than they occur. He barks out the place screens are coming and the place he’s, letting teammates know the place they’ve assist.

Gasol can be serving to groom one other potential Defensive Participant of the Yr in rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. The No. four general choose’s future might be at middle within the post-Gasol years. However as a 19-year-old, Jackson is taking part in primarily energy ahead and making his presence felt, particularly on protection, by possessing the mobility to defend on the perimeter and the size, athleticism and instincts to rank fifth within the league with 2.16 blocks per sport.

Gasol and Jackson as a defensive pair is nearly unfair, because the Grizzlies surrender solely 91.9 factors per 100 possessions with them each on the ground.

Jackson, who’s averaging 13.1 factors per sport, is the uncommon prized lottery choose who prides himself at the start on protection. (“He has the power to be particular on the defensive finish of the ground,” Bickerstaff stated.) That makes Jackson an incredible match for the Grizzlies, as Gasol considers the will to defend to be as beneficial as all of his preparation and expertise.

“Greater than IQ, it is the dedication and believing in no matter it’s that you simply’re doing,” Gasol stated. “Not simply when issues go properly for you. It is believing it doesn’t matter what. Even when your man scores, if it is inside the system and the form of shot that we’re prepared to surrender, do not let it have an effect on you. Do it once more.

“It is simply trusting one another, doing a number of efforts, the easy issues that we all the time discuss. It is the mindset of doing it over and again and again till the opposite group hopefully breaks.”

Head coach J.B. Bickerstaff is grooming Jaren Jackson Jr. to be the following defensive star in Memphis. Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports activities

The earlier Grizzlies groups from the Grit ‘n’ Grind period, fairly frankly, have been extra entertaining if not pleasing to the eyes. Allen and energy ahead Zach Randolph have been the snarling faces of the franchise. One was a ferocious, trash-talking defensive stopper, the opposite a low-block bully — a few huge personalities with tough edges that endeared them to the Grizzlies’ fan base.

The present gentlemanly Grizzlies may not be as intimidating. They’re quieter, however no much less aggressive.

“We’re all hard-nosed,” Conley stated. “We’d not discuss so much to you, however we’re going to be in your face. We misplaced a little bit little bit of that ugly, ugly, in-your-face stuff with Z-Bo and Tony gone now, however we nonetheless have a couple of guys who can get it like that.”

Conley factors to energy ahead JaMychal Inexperienced as the first “ready-to-fight man” on the Grizzlies’ roster. Inexperienced, like Temple, had to toil within the G League earlier than getting a shot to stick within the NBA and finally earn a beginning position.

Inexperienced’s final begin got here within the second sport of the season. He broke his jaw that night time, sidelining him for a dozen video games and opening the door for Jackson to crack the beginning 5.

Bickerstaff admits to being a bit involved concerning the scenario when Inexperienced, a veteran in a contract 12 months, was prepared to return. The coach did not assume it was truthful for Inexperienced to lose his beginning job due to damage, however he could not think about demoting a rookie as gifted as Jackson who was serving to the Grizzlies win.

Bickerstaff pulled Inexperienced apart to talk about the scenario. Inexperienced assured his coach that he had been watching Jackson blossom and understood the scenario — and that he was cool with any position so long as he had an opportunity to contribute.

Inexperienced’s response, in accordance to Bickerstaff, is an instance of the mentality that may be a should for Memphis to maintain winning.

“They do not care about themselves,” Bickerstaff stated. “The whole lot is for one among their teammates, and whether or not it is a defensive protection, it is a weak-side assist, whether or not it is an additional move, that is all their focus is on. I maintain saying this, however this can be a enjoyable f—ing place to be proper now.”

Perhaps it is not enjoyable to watch, however that is wonderful with the mud-wrestling Memphis Grizzlies.

ESPN’s Michael C. Wright contributed to this story.

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