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Grizzlies gaining believers with each huge win


MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The buzzer sounded and the yellow and blue streamers fell, and more than 18,000 Grizzlies fans who have never really had a reason to believe, but certainly do now, started jumping and singing and celebrating Monday's 104-86 victory and, well, you probably saw it on television.

FedExForum was going bananas.

Downtown bars, too.

At the center of it all on the center of the court stood the players responsible for the jubilation, and, oddly, they might've been the calmest people in the building. I saw a few smiles but not many, then I watched Marc Gasol gather his teammates and hold one finger in the air. He didn't waste time talking about how close the Grizzlies are to advancing in these NBA playoffs now that they're up 3-1 on San Antonio in a best-of-7 series. Instead, he talked about how far they still have to go.

"We are going to let the people of Memphis have fun and enjoy this," Gasol said. "But we understand we haven't done anything yet."

That, by the way, is true and false.

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It is true that three wins in a best-of-7 series only guarantees you can't be eliminated until the seventh game, meaning I guess Gasol was technically right when he suggested the Grizzlies "haven't done anything yet." But come on. Anybody who has followed this franchise for the 10 years it's been in Memphis knows lots of things have been accomplished over the past 11 days. The way the Grizzlies are viewed locally has changed drastically, and perhaps forever. People aren't mocking the busted draft picks and questionable contract extensions anymore. Now they're lining up to buy tickets, attending pep rallies and gathering in Section 107 of an arena that's more empty than full too often from October to April, and they're handing out yellow pieces of paper with blue letters that spell "DO YOU BELIEVE?"

Meantime, Tony Allen got a Grizz logo shaved into his head.


I can't say for sure, but I'm confident it was the best looking Grizz logo that's ever been shaved into the back of a man's head. It had white teeth and what looked like glitter for eyes, and it was awesome ... while it lasted. Allen had it during Monday's shootaround, but it was mysteriously gone by tipoff.

"I had some advisors tell me to cut it off, so I cut it off," Allen said. "Simple as that. But I kept the ears."

That's a small victory, I guess.

And now the Grizzlies need just one more to advance.

And make history.

And create a bandwagon as wide as the Mississippi.

All neutral observers of the series have been waiting for the Spurs to remember they're the Spurs and for the Grizzlies to remember they're the Grizzlies, but it just hasn't happened. San Antonio, rather, looks old and slow, and the Grizzlies can't stop tipping balls, making shots and dunking on anybody who gets in the way. When this began, the goal in Memphis was to win the first playoff game in franchise history. That's really it. Just don't get swept and drop to 0-16 all-time in the postseason. But now the Grizzlies are one win away from becoming just the second eighth-seeded team in history to beat a top-seeded team in a best-of-7 series, and anybody who has watched the first four games knows that's probably the direction this is headed.

Barring a surprise, the Grizzlies will advance.

That's crazy to type but it's true.

It no longer matters that San Antonio won 61 games in the regular season and that Memphis won 46. It no longer matters that one franchise (San Antonio) represents excellence while the other (Memphis) has consistently been among the sport's worst. It no longer matters that one coach (Gregg Popovich) has four NBA titles while the other (Lionel Hollins) began his tenure with an 18-month contract. It no longer matters that one franchise (San Antonio) has two likely future Hall of Famers (Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili) while the other (Memphis) has zero. And it no longer matters that the Grizzlies' most dynamic scorer (Rudy Gay) suffered a season-ending injury in February.

"It doesn't matter who is the better team during the regular season," Hollins said. "When you get to the playoffs, each series you have to be the better team."

And in this series the Grizzlies look like the better team. They won Game 1 by dominating inside, won Game 3 thanks to a Zach Randolph 3-pointer in the final minute, then won Game 4 because of a 14-0 run to start the third quarter that turned a 50-48 deficit into a 62-50 advantage they never relinquished or really even came close to relinquishing, proof being how Popovich benched his starters and emptied his bench with roughly five minutes left.

"I would never expect that we'd play that badly to start the third quarter in a game that we were playing pretty well in overall and actually leading," Popovich said. "I was surprised."

That makes two of us, Pop.

That makes two of us -- plus a nation.

"We've made a little noise and got everybody excited," Hollins said. "But we still have to win one more game."

Or lose three straight.

Ultimately, this series will end one of those two ways.

And, at this point, the former seems more likely than the latter.

Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.

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