MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The Memphis Grizzlies had a chance to win this game and get back in this series, and given what's happening in the East -- given how vulnerable the Miami Heat suddenly appear to be -- that means the Grizzlies had a chance to remain a serious contender for an NBA championship.
But to do all of that they needed to dial up a great play on the final possession of regulation to win Game 3 of the Western Conference finals -- and there's a problem with that:
The Grizzlies don't have plays they can dial up. Not great plays. Not good plays. Not any plays. The Grizzles give the ball to their point guard -- either Mike Conley or Jerryd Bayless or even Keyon Dooling, if coach Lionel Hollins is in one of his moods -- and hope he can make something happen.
Conley is so good that he often does make something happen. Bayless, too, on occasion. Dooling? No. Not him. Not ever. But anyway, that's the Memphis offense: Give the ball to the point guard. Send center Marc Gasol to the top of the key for the pick-and-roll. See what happens next.
Let's be clear about something: That's not a "play" -- that's a "wish" -- though I'm not sure Hollins or Conley know the difference. More on that in a minute.
For now, keep in mind that the score was tied in the final 20 seconds of regulation and the Grizzles were down 2-0 to the San Antonio Spurs. Needing a bucket to avoid overtime and win this game and get back into the series, Hollins called timeout and didn't call a play. He made a wish.
It failed spectacularly, the game went to overtime and the Spurs pulled away to win 104-93 and take a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.
The second question to Hollins in his postgame press conference was about the wish at the end of regulation. He gave the ball to Conley, who was having a bad game. He called for a pick-and-roll with Gasol, who was having a bad game. Hollins put the most important play of the Grizzlies' season into the hands of two very good players having two very bad games -- and what do you know? The Grizzles got a very bad shot.
Conley tried to win it with a running hunk of crap off the glass that didn't even hit the rim. And so the question for Hollins was this:
Was that the shot you wanted?
"No," Hollins said, then stretched the truth like taffy. "I tried to get him to the basket ..."
Conley was going with the same fiction, saying that Hollins "drew up a play to try to get into the paint, let me make a play."
See, that's an interesting choice of words.
Drew up a play ...
Hollins doesn't draw up plays. The pick-and-roll requires no 'X's and only one 'O' -- the one in the word "roll." Occasionally he has a grease board in his hands, but that thing must be for show. Not like he's drawing anything on it. Hollins called timeout with 19 seconds left in regulation, and while I wasn't in the Grizzlies' huddle, I imagine he used the grease board to scribble three words:
Pick and roll.
Maybe he drew a smiley face, too. Hollins is a genuinely nice guy.
That stuff worked in the Western Conference semifinals against Oklahoma City because the Thunder have a similar coach to Hollins. Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks is a players' coach, which is to say, he's not an X-and-O coach. His team wins for the same reason the Grizzlies win -- because the players like the coach, and they play hard for him on both ends, and in the NBA that's enough to win more games than you lose. So when the games were close in that series and Hollins was writing the words "pick and roll" on his grease board, that was enough for the Grizzles to win. Somebody had to win, right? Without a great coach on either sideline, it came down to the players. Seeing how the Thunder were going without Russell Westbrook, the Grizzles had more good players. They won to advance to the Western Conference finals.
But here's the thing: The Spurs are not the Thunder. Not even close. There are a lot of reasons, one named Tim Duncan and another named Tony Parker and another named Manu Ginobili. But another reason San Antonio is not Oklahoma City is because Gregg Popovich is not Scott Brooks.
So when the game is on the line and Hollins is going over his smorgasbord of offensive options -- Let's see, do I dial up a pick-and-roll or a pick-and-roll or, what the hell, a pick-and-roll? -- Popovich is in the other huddle grinning, or whatever passes for a grin with that sardonic SOB. He knows what's coming. So do his players. Since the Grizzlies don't have a player so good that he can make a great play when the other side knows exactly what's coming, they end up with a Mike Conley hunk of crap off the glass.
They end up in overtime, getting run off the court, their crowd getting the hell out of the FedEx Forum with a minute left and the team trailing by seven because let's be honest: Memphis isn't rallying from a seven-point hole in the final minute with the pick-and-roll. That's like Oklahoma, back in the day when it ran the wishbone, rallying from a three-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter. Just not going to happen, not then or now. Certainly not against a team as intelligent as the Spurs.
In the locker room after the game, though, the Grizzlies were lamenting their defense -- as if that's what lost this game. Kind of cute, really. The Grizzlies held the Spurs to 40 points in the first half, and 86 points in regulation, and they think they lost because of defense? Wrong. They lost because they couldn't muster a measly 87 points in regulation. Not on a night when Conley and Gasol were going a combined 15-for-39 with seven turnovers. Not when Zach Randolph was dominating the offensive boards and using all of those opportunities to go 5-for-14 from the floor and 4-for-8 from the line.
But the Grizzlies see themselves as a defensive team, which means they don't blame their offense for losses even when their offense is to blame for losses. And so Marc Gasol said the Grizzlies lost because Tony Parker was wreaking havoc on offense. And Tony Allen concurred: "Tony Parker was picking us apart."
Parker was 11 of 22 from the floor. He had five assists and seven turnovers. That's not a great offensive game. Not even a very good one.
Defense didn't lose this game for the Grizzlies. Offense did.
Hollins has two days to try to dial up some more offense, but don't count on much in the way of adjustments. Maybe he'll write the words "pick and roll" in another color. Maybe red. Maybe blue.