College Basketball Insider

A terrible series (but terrific season) for Memphis is now complete

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- There is nothing fun about getting swept out of the NBA playoffs because, when it happens, it tends to change the perception of the season in general. The losses are so fresh. The switch from hopeful to hopeless is so quick and startling. Your dreams are crushed in a little more than the span of a week. It hurts like hell.

So this city no longer feels like it felt eight days ago.

When this series was tied 0-0.

When some had the Grizz penciled into The Finals.

But at some point during the next few days -- once the hangover is gone from this 93-86 loss to San Antonio in Game 4 of what turned out to be a four-game Western Conference finals -- the players who showered for a last time in the Memphis locker room at FedExForum late Monday and the fans who waved towels until the final buzzer sounded will realize what happened here this season was amazing despite the abrupt and disappointing ending.

I mean, a blimp spent Memorial Day weekend floating above Memphis.

That's the best way that I can put it.

I realize that must sound silly to people reading this in New York. Or Chicago. Or Los Angeles. Or lots of places, really. But blimps don't float here too often because, well, why would they? Memphis doesn't have five professional sports franchises. Memphis has one. And that one has spent much of its 12 years of existence as a laughingstock for a variety of reasons, most of which revolve around losing.

So blimps don't come here.

(Lottery picks come here ... to die. Shoutout to Hasheem Thabeet and Xavier Henry.)

And yet, at any point over the past few days, early in the morning or late at night, people in this city could look to the sky and see more than just FedEx planes taking off and landing. They could also see a blimp, the one thing that best symbolizes that something important in sports is happening below. And that's a pretty cool thing that'll be appreciated better once the sting of this sweep doesn't sting so much.

"I think tomorrow will be a better day," said Grizzlies center Marc Gasol. "Right now, it's too early. It's too recent. We just wanted to win tonight and be able to play another game."

Tony Parker ensured that wouldn't happen.

He took 21 shots, made 15 and finished with a game-high 37 points for San Antonio, which basically led the entire game and by double digits at some point of every quarter. The five-time All-Star sliced the Grizzlies to pieces in these 48 minutes much the same way that he did throughout the series, and Parker really ought to get more consideration for the title of world's best point guard than he actually gets.

"I've said it a lot of times this year -- I thought [Parker] played better than any point guard in the league," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "He got hurt [in March], and then he got a little unsteady for a while getting back from the ankle. But once we got in the playoffs, he started returning to the form that he was up until that point, and he's been fantastic."

Consider yourself warned, Miami.

Meantime, the city of Memphis will watch The Finals that begin June 6 and wonder what if, I'm certain. What if the Grizz would've got one more stop late in Game 2 and stolen a victory in San Antonio? What if Mike Conley would've hit that potential game-winning runner at the end of regulation in Game 3? Both of those contests went to overtime. That means Memphis was quite literally a make here or a miss there from entering Monday night with a 2-1 lead in this series as opposed to an 0-3 deficit, and that might be something people will talk about with southern drawls forever.

But it's also important to focus on the big picture.

It's important to remember that blimp and why it was here.

It was here because the Western Conference finals were here, because this team that traded its leading scorer in January rallied around a coach in the final year of a contract to record a franchise-record 56 victories before winning two postseason series for the first time ever. In other words, Conley and Gasol combined with fellow Grizz veterans Zach Randolph and Tony Allen to create history, to do something unprecedented, to take this fan base on a ride most assumed would never happen in a hundred years, much less this year. They created big memories for thousands. They made Growl Towels famous.

So, yeah, the players looked dejected in the locker room late Monday. They talked in hushes and seemed genuinely down, understandable given the circumstances. But that'll fade eventually, and then folks here, including the players, will have fond memories about the time that downtown Memphis was the center of the basketball universe, about the time a conference championship was decided inside FedExForum, about the time that blimp was floating above Beale Street, at which point this terrible series against the Spurs will cease overshadowing what really was an otherwise terrific season.

 
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