The Memphis Grizzlies have been known by the motto “grit and grind” for the past three seasons thanks to a post-game interview given by Tony Allen, and even though Memphis still has several players from that “grit and grind” roster, the Grizzlies have moved on to a new motto.
Late last season in an interview with CBS Sports, Zach Randolph coined a new rallying cry for Memphis: “we in the mud.” And in the mud is exactly where the Grizzlies are right now, but that is meant in the best way possible.
“In the mud” means the Grizzlies have their opponent right where they want them. The pace of the game is moving slow, there aren’t any fast-break runs, no one is finishing at the rim uncontested, and the score is guaranteed to be in the 90s and most likely the 80s. They make teams feel like they are stuck in mud, and when they are stuck, the Grizzlies pounce on them and take advantage.
Since the return of Marc Gasol from injury, the Grizzlies are leading the league with a defensive rating of 95.7, and they have slowed down the pace of their games to 90.68, which is two possessions less per game than the next slowest team. The slow pace might drive most NBA fans nutty, but Memphis loves it and so do its fans, because when the game is low-scoring, the Grizzlies are more than likely going to win. In the 17 games since Gasol has been back, the Grizzlies have the third-best record in the league at 13-4.
Memphis has had numbers like these in the past, but never with an offensive efficiency that they have now. On Tuesday night, the Grizzlies beat the New York Knicks 98-93 thanks to this newfound offensive awareness. With 45 seconds left, Randolph was in the mud and double-teamed, so he kicked the ball out to the wing to Mike Miller.
Lets pause for a minute: this would normally be a repose for Randolph. He would get deeper in the paint, the second defender would have to back off momentarily, and an entry pass would go back to Randolph. That isn’t the case anymore. This time, Miller took the pass and calmly knocked down a 3-pointer to give Memphis a 94-93 lead that they would never relinquish.
Even though the Grizzlies are still dead last in the NBA in 3-pointers made, they have the shooters to keep teams honest. They still want the ball in the paint, and the still want to knock teams in the mouth with Randolph and Gasol; but Miller, Mike Conley and Courtney Lee gives the Grizzlies enough 3-point shooters to punish teams that still want to double-team the post.
Now that the Grizzlies are healthy and in the mud, they can fully use their new acquisitions: Miller and Lee.
When Dave Joerger took over as head coach this season, he wanted to push the tempo and play faster in hopes of getting a couple more easy baskets per game. This didn’t work out for the Grizzlies, and they got off to a 3-5 start. After their fifth loss — a home loss to Toronto — Randolph and Gasol had a meeting with Joerger and explained that this wasn’t who they were, that they needed to slow down some and use some of their old sets.
Memphis then promptly rolled off four straight wins, all on the road. Gasol was injured in the Grizzlies’ next game, and they went back into a tailspin — and that is why they are on the outside looking in at the playoffs.
Having Gasol back was obviously going to make this team better, but having him back has brought back the identity that this team embraced. Sure, the grit and grind attitude is still there — you don’t hold teams to 87.8 points per game like Memphis has in their last 17 games without playing with grit and grind — but this team’s mentality is in the mud now, and that is a good thing.