|Preview: Grizzlies at Celtics, Game 70||03.23.11 at 2:55 pm ET|
In advance of Wednesday night’s game between the Celtics (50-19) and Grizzlies (39-32) at the TD Garden (7:30 p.m.), we caught up with Chip Crain at the “3 Shades of Blue” blog. He answered our five most pressing questions on the Western Conference’s current eighth seed (He did the same for a preview of November’s 116-110 C’s overtime victory) …
1. In the wake of the Tony Allen-O.J. Mayo brawl fiasco, has the team dynamic or chemistry changed?
Yes and No. The fight is one of those things that should never have reached the media first of all. “What happens on the team plane stays on the team plane,” so to speak.
I imagine players get into scraps from time to time during an 82-game season. What made this one so newsworthy was that it involved a well-known player (Mayo), the man who recently took his starting job (Allen) and the severity of the beating (Mayo had a black eye for over a week).
What happened was that Mayo was upset over not being the starting shooting guard once Xavier Henry, who originally started in place of Mayo, was hurt. Instead, Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins turned to Allen.
Allen is not a quiet personality. His talking probably irritated Mayo long before the plane flight, but the gambling debt was the last straw. Mayo was pouting and completely in the wrong, and the beating he received was likely justified.
It was unfortunate that it happened, embarrassing that it was reported in the media but it did have a silver lining. The team bonded together after it. Instead of the battle splitting the team apart, they became more focused and united on the team goals. The Grizzlies were 15-19 at the time of the disagreement. They are 24-13 since.
2. What led to Tony Allen getting a starting spot, and why has he been so successful?
Defense is the answer. Memphis was being torched the first half of the season by shooting guards who were not that great — not to mention the great ones. Wesley Mathews set a career high against the Grizzlies, for instance. He’s a nice player but not a 30-point scorer. Kirk Hinrich and Gilbert Arenas combined for 46 points against the Grizzlies. There are plenty more examples, too.
Henry first replaced Mayo at SG, and his size and defensive intensity helped, but as a 19-year-old rookie he wasn’t prepared for the constant effort required. When Henry tweaked his knee, Hollins went with Allen over Mayo for defense again.
You must realize also that Memphis’ bench scored the fewest points among all benches in the NBA last season by five points a game. Mayo brings firepower to a bench that wasn’t there last season.
Allen took over the starting job with his defense, but he has become a decent scorer within the offensive scheme. Early in the season, when Allen wasn’t starting, he had a tendency to break out of the offensive scheme to try and create on his own. Once he accepted what the team was doing on offense, his production increased. Allen’s success has come from his defensive activity (sixth in the league in steals despite averaging less than 21 minutes a night), his offense that’s produced off of his defense and most importantly the attitude he brings to the court.
Memphis is one of the youngest teams in the league. Allen is a visable example of what it takes to win in the NBA every night, and he has helped the rest of the team by being an example of what is needed to be the best the team can be.
3. What do you expect from Leon Powe for the remainder of the season?
Last week, I would have said he was nothing but an emergency fill-in in case Darrell Arthur, Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol got hurt. Now, I’m not so sure he isn’t more than that. Powe brings a toughness off the bench that Memphis hasn’t had previously.
Hamed Haddadi, Arthur and Hasheem Thabeet — while he was here — are not bangers per se. Powe is a banger, but he’s a banger with skills. He’s probably a year away from regaining the full game he had before the knee injury, and like Allen he may take longer than that, but right now he brings a meanness that has been lacking from previous Grizzlies teams.
That’s not to say that Powe will play a lot of minutes. I don’t expect he will, but if Randolph or Gasol gets into foul trouble the Grizzlies now have a banger to replace them with, and that allows both of the starters to play more aggressively.
That aggressiveness is something you need in a playoff race and beyond. I think even the Celtics know now that you have to be physical to survive this time of the year in the NBA. Powe is our physical player off of the bench.
4. With a playoff spot looming, what’s the best-case scenario for the Grizzlies going forward this season?
Well, when you are in eighth place in the West, you don’t assume anything. Memphis has a two-game lead but play the Celtics Wednesday night, at the Bulls Friday night and the Spurs at home Sunday afternoon, so we aren’t inking our playoff spot yet.
The Rockets are a great team that — like the Grizzlies — don’t have a big-name star but is filled with players who know their roles and play to their strengths every night. The best-case scenario would be for the Grizzlies to escape these three games with a 2-1 or 3-0 record, take advantage of the easier schedule coming up and defeat the Hornets twice and the Blazers once in April to move up to sixth place.
The Grizzlies have never won a playoff game, so obviously fans are focusing on winning a game before thinking of winning a series. However, the Grizzlies this season are 9-6 against the top four teams in the Western Conference. They’re 2-1 against the Spurs (and Rudy Gay has missed all three of those games), 2-2 against the Lakers, 3-1 against the Mavericks and 3-1 against the Thunder. A win at home against San Antonio would mean the Grizzlies have at least a .500 seasonal record against all four of the big teams.
Does that mean they can win a series? I think they could scare any of the teams, but I don’t believe they can win a series against any of them.
5. And what would’ve been the best-case scenario with a healthy Rudy Gay?
Probably the same. Gay brings certain skills that the team can’t replace with him injured, but his presence also takes away from other players’ games who now can come forward in his absence.
Naturally, the Grizzlies prefer Gay being on the court rather than the bench, but the team hasn’t dropped off in performance since his injury. In fact, the team actually is better offensively since Gay was injured and worse defensively. I never would have thought that would happen, but that is the effect we have seen so far.
What’s encouraging for Grizzlies fans is the future. If the Grizzlies can hold off Houston as well as the Jazz and Suns, make a respectable showing in the playoffs, re-sign Randolph and Gasol, and satisfy whatever Mayo needs to be happy (either a trade to a different team or Mayo accepting his role on this team) then next season is looking great for the Grizzlies.
Los Angeles, Dallas and San Antonio are getting very old (something Boston is familiar with, I am sure). Oklahoma City, Denver and Memphis are the new kids on the block, looking to move into the void being created by these teams falling back to the pack. Portland should also be mentioned in this discussion if Brandon Roy or Greg Oden can get healthy.
You can also catch my answers to Chip Crain’s Celtics questions on his blog here.
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