MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Grizzlies are enjoying a day off after wrapping up the franchise’s first berth in the Western Conference finals. Good thing, too, because they can use a little rest after all that hard work.
Memphis eliminated defending Western champion Oklahoma City in five games, beating the Thunder 88-84 on the road Wednesday night. The Grizzlies now wait for San Antonio and Golden State to finish the other conference semifinal.
Coach Lionel Hollins gave his Grizzlies the day off Thursday because the Western finals won’t start until Sunday at the earliest.
“The playoffs are stressful for the players and physically taxing as well as the emotional part,” Hollins said. “Anytime you can get a chance to take a day off and just get away from the game and energize your batteries and reflect a little bit and move forward it’s great.”
The physical break is nice for the Grizzlies, who led the NBA in the regular season holding opponents to an average 89.3 points. Then they drew the tall task as the No. 5 seed of first shutting down the high-flying Clippers, then Kevin Durant and the Thunder — two of the better offensive teams in the league.
The Clippers came into the postseason having shot 47.8 percent in the regular season, tied for fourth-best in the NBA. All Memphis did was hold Chris Paul and Lob City to a couple of the lowest scoring games in the Clippers’ postseason history in seizing control of that first-round series.
Against the Thunder, Memphis had to defend the three-time NBA scoring leader in Durant. They threw enough bodies at him from Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince to Quincy Pondexter and even guard Jerryd Bayless that they wore Durant down while smothering his teammates enough to take four straight after losing the opener.
Oklahoma City scored an average 105.7 points in the regular season. Against Memphis, the Thunder never scored more than 97 points and needed overtime where they got only a lone bucket by Derek Fisher.
That’s just how the Grizzlies have played defense all season long. Hollins said the game plan always is to hold an opponent below their scoring and shooting averages while taking away the players who are the other team’s best.
“It’s no different than we did in the Clippers’ series,” Hollins said. “We try to take everybody away and kind of control Chris Paul as best we could. Oklahoma City series, we tried to take away all those other guys and control Durant as much as possible. Fortunately, we were able to win.”
The Grizzlies clamped down on Oklahoma City in the second half and overtime of Game 4, holding the Thunder to 32.5 percent shooting. They finished off the final 6 minutes of the first half Wednesday night not allowing a bucket as the Thunder missed 11 shots.
Their defense-first approach also helped the Grizzlies regroup after leading scorer, Rudy Gay, was traded Jan. 30. Center Marc Gasol, the Defensive Player of the Year, said they realized that they were left without any pure scorer.
“We figured with the personnel that we have right now we really have to lock down defensively,” Gasol said. “Sometimes offense comes and goes. You might be able to score a lot of points or not, but if you’re always solid defensively and hold a team to less than 100 points, you’re going to have a better chance to win the game.”
That the Grizzlies have. In nine postseason games, they have allowed 100 or more points only twice and split those games. They now are giving up 92.4 points a game.
It’s why the Grizzlies became the first team with three players named to the All-Defensive teams since the 2005-06 Detroit Pistons. Tony Allen, who guarded Durant on his final shot — and miss — Wednesday night, edged out LeBron James for most points in being named to his second consecutive All-Defensive team.
Gasol and guard Mike Conley, who led the NBA in total steals in the regular season, were voted to the second team. That doesn’t even include Prince, who was voted to the second team himself along with Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups from that Pistons’ team.
Gasol credits Prince along with Ed Davis and Austin Daye, the other pickups in the three-team trade that sent Gay to Toronto, with buying into the team defense.
“I think the whole team embraced that, I think Zach (Randolph) did a great job really buying into that, talking and going out of his way to help us,” Gasol said of his teammate. “He’s done an amazing job.”
Playing strong defense is definitely a team thing.
“It is something that you can’t do by yourself,” Conley said.
And Hollins doesn’t want his Grizzlies changing anything now, no matter if it’s they wind up facing Stephen Curry of Golden State or Tony Parker and Tim Duncan of San Antonio.
“In order to win, you got to go out and play the game as a team and play it the way we been playing all season,” Hollins said.
That’s why the Grizzlies call it “grit” and “grind.”