Last night, the Grizzlies’ winning streak ended with a close lose to the Miami heat, and I resisted the urge to break everything in my house. It was a brutally close game throughout, as neither team was able to accumulate a double-digit lead. There were times when it looked as though the Heat were about to pull away, and other times when it looked like Memphis’s tough defense would carry them to another victory. What eventually happened was that the Heat narrowly outlasted the Grizzlies, mostly because LeBron James finally started shooting in the fourth quarter, and of course, hit the game-deciding dagger over the head of Tayshaun Prince.
So, should we depressed that the Grizzlies lost to the Heat? Hardly. Some will make the inevitable claim that this Grizzlies can’t hang with the truly elite teams, and that there’s no way they could possibly advance beyond the second round. I took the opposite from this game, however. Even though the Grizzlies weren’t on the winning side, this game showed there’s no team they can’t contend against.
Consider where the Heat were coming into this game; they would 12 in a row, and LeBron James had been playing the best basketball of his career, which is certainly no small feat, since, you know, it’s LeBron Freaking James. Oh, and they were playing on their home court, where they have only lost three times all season. The odds were stacked against Memphis from the start, but they played the Heat extremely tough, and if a few calls had gone differently, and if Shane Battier hadn’t been absolutely deadly, they would have prevailed. They didn’t. That’s just how it goes sometimes, but it hardly means the Grizzlies can’t play against the very best in the league.
This is a team who beat the Heat in November, as well as the Thunder and the Knicks. They’ve lost two out of three against the Spurs, but one of those losses was a brutal OT game where the Grizzlies were up by 13 after three quarters. The Grizzlies aren’t the most skilled team in the league, but they might be the toughest, and that goes farther than many would think.
This isn’t to say that it will be easy; not in the least. While the Grizzlies have a lot of quality players, they lack a true superstar (sorry, Z-Bo, please don’t hate me), and that can be a huge problem in the playoffs, just as they found at last year, when Chris Paul took over Game 4 of their epic series against the Clippers. They aren’t a great scoring team, and they lack a truly transcendent player. This will make things difficult, but not impossible.
For the Grizzlies to make a deep playoff run, they need to do what they did for most of last night; use their imposing defense to make life extremely difficult for the opposing team’s best player. It’ll be hard to do this for an entire game, but if they can really get in the face of guys like Kevin Durant and Tony Parker, and force poor decisions, that’s would could lead them to playoff success. It will be a difficult ride, but this is a scary Grizzlies team, one that can make life miserable for any team, no matter how much talent they have.