MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- At every timeout, Tony Allen did the same thing. The Memphis Grizzlies were gathering at their bench, forming a semi-circle around coach Lionel Hollins, but Allen walked away from his team and toward the other team. Toward the Spurs.
I was sitting right there, between Allen and the Spurs, and he was staring daggers right past me, right toward the San Antonio bench. That's the way it looked Saturday night during Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, and it was a little disconcerting. I mean, this was how he started every timeout, whether he was in the game or not. He walked toward the Spurs and looked, and he wasn't just looking in that direction. He was staring. Daggers. At the Spurs. That's how it looked to me, and I was sitting maybe eight feet away.
I watched this happen twice. But for the third timeout, I looked away from Allen, toward the Spurs' bench. What was he staring at? What were they doing down there, anyway?
And then I saw it. This big TV screen, maybe 35 inches, sitting at midcourt. It was the screen used by the referees to study replays, and it was aimed at the Grizzlies' bench. The Spurs' bench was behind the TV, but it dawned on me: Allen wasn't watching the Spurs; he was watching the TV.
He was watching the replays.
Unless the officials needed it, the TV was set to the network's feed. And if you've watched any of these NBA playoffs on television, you know what happens at the beginning of timeouts. Before the network cuts to a commercial, it shows one last highlight. One last clip of the game.
Tony Allen wanted to see that clip. Whatever it was. Whether he was in the game or not. Anything for an advantage.
This is how a shooting guard who can't shoot or handle the ball stays in the league for a decade. For his career, Allen is shooting 26.9 percent on 3-pointers, and he has more turnovers (745) than assists (720). Those are the kind of statistics that you might see from a 6-foot-10 power forward, not a 6-4 guard. Because a 6-4 guard who can't shoot, distribute or protect the ball isn't in the NBA. He's in a rec league somewhere.
But Allen does it with defense, which he does with preparation. He hasn't always been so diligent, though. He told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal last week that he learned how to prepare by watching teammate James Posey with the Boston Celtics during the 2007-08 season. Posey was always studying film. Allen never studied film. Never thought he needed to.
Maybe it occurred to Allen in 2008 that a shooting guard who can't shoot and doesn't value the ball wouldn't be long for this league, because he started to study film. And then he became fanatical about it. Two years later, he made the 2011 NBA All-Defensive team. Then he made it again in 2012. And again this season. Defense is hard work, and not just on the court but off it. In the film room.
Or on the sidelines, during a break in the action, when a TV screen is aimed at the Memphis bench and one person in FedEx Forum, Tony Allen, is staring at it. Only when the replay ended and the network cut to a commercial did Allen cut away from the TV and go to the bench.