The 2012-2013 Memphis Grizzlies have achieved something none of their predecessors have since the franchise entered the league in 1995. For the first time in their history, the Grizzlies have won the playoff semifinals and will face the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.
The Grizzlies advanced to the conference finals after beating the highly touted, Western Conference defending champions Oklahoma City Thunder four games to one. Some say that the team was lucky given that the Thunder was playing without its star point guard Russell Westbrook who was lost to injury in the first round. This left Kevin Durant to carry a near impossible load. Durant shot 5-21 from the field in Game 5 as the Grizz shut him down and none of his teammates were up to the task.
Hopeful Thunder fans are making the argument that the series would have been much different with Westbrook around. Even with him around, Oklahoma would still face a formidable task. For starters, the Memphis Grizzlies boast of the league’s best defense. In fact, three of their players Mike Conley, Tony Allen, and Marc Gasol made it to the NBA’s All-Defensive teams. Gasol was even named the Defensive Player of the Year.
It’s important to note that the Thunder, who averaged 106 points in the regular season, only scored 97 points once in the series and they needed an overtime period to reach that.
This series win is indeed a vindication for a team that has never been considered a contender and has a notorious record for futility. In 18 seasons in the league including their stay in Vancouver, the Grizzlies have only six winning seasons to show and have gone past the 1st round of the playoffs twice including this year. This is their first season that they won more than 50 games.
Defense has been the key to the team’s success. The Grizzlies don’t beat you with scoring; they simply grind you out and frustrate opposing teams with defense. And to use an often heard cliché in the league which is really gospel truth —“defense wins championships.”
The Grizzlies have a golden opportunity to advance to their first NBA Finals against a more experienced Spurs team led by the 37-year-old Tim Duncan. For starters, Memphis has a lot of big bodies to throw at Duncan and have the perimeter defenders to shutdown Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. They are likewise relatively healthy compared to the Spurs. We can expect a low-scoring, grind it out series that will be decided b y grit and toughness.