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HANGIN' WITH THE GRIZZ
Lee Jenkins
May 20, 2013
FOR SEVEN DAYS SI WENT BEHIND THE SCENES WITH MEMPHIS AS THE WESTERN CONFERENCE CONTENDERS IMPROVISED A GAME PLAN FOR THE THUNDER, BOUNCED BACK FROM A GRUELING DEFEAT—AND GOT THEIR HAIR CUT JUST RIGHT
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May 20, 2013

Hangin' With The Grizz

FOR SEVEN DAYS SI WENT BEHIND THE SCENES WITH MEMPHIS AS THE WESTERN CONFERENCE CONTENDERS IMPROVISED A GAME PLAN FOR THE THUNDER, BOUNCED BACK FROM A GRUELING DEFEAT—AND GOT THEIR HAIR CUT JUST RIGHT

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After another brunch in the Venetian Room, players scheduled massages and took naps. "In the regular season I sleep fine," Randolph said. "In the playoffs I just toss and turn thinking about the game." Allen caught the early bus to the arena, at 6:15, and when the rest of the Grizzlies arrived, they could hear him crooning in the locker room before they even opened the door. Quiet time was apparently over. Randolph tried to decipher Allen's unintelligible lyrics. "What are you saying?" he finally asked.

The Grizzlies huddled in the hallway before they took the floor and voices shouted from the middle of the mosh pit: "That last one was bulls---.... This is our game.... Go get it!" The Grizzlies fell behind the Clippers in the first round, 2--0, and came back to win four straight. They could not expect to pull that off again. Allen described the team as "desperate" and himself as "a thirsty dog."

Memphis held Martin to six points but trailed by a basket with 3:18 left because Durant still couldn't miss. Randolph tore off his headband and spiked it. Hollins, alternating four defenders on Durant, had decided in advance he would use Allen down the stretch. He just didn't tell anybody, not even Allen. Prince made more sense as a matchup—he is 6'9" and perhaps the only person on the planet with arms as long as Durant's—but Allen's tenacity can compensate for his lack of length. Durant didn't take him down low and didn't score in the last three minutes, going 0 for 3.

Meanwhile, Conley bounded around those high screens, scoring 26 points and delivering a sequence of fourth-quarter jumpers as awe-inducing as Curry's. The day before, during lunch, Conley and Pondexter demonstrated their three-point celebrations. Pondexter underlines the letters on his jersey and points to the sky with both hands; Conley forms a circle with his thumb and forefinger that he places over his left eye. They both flaunted their choreography on national television.

Instead of dribbling out the clock with seven seconds left and the outcome secure, Allen flew in for a stanchion-rattling dunk, the kind of snapshot you could hang on a pub wall. Randolph threw a meaty arm around Conley's shoulder and growled in his ear, "It opened up!" He was referring to the heart of the Oklahoma City defense, but he might as well have been talking about a road to the Western Conference finals, a place the franchise has never been. As Randolph and Conley disappeared into the locker room, Westbrook hobbled down the hallway, a specter in a black sweat suit. His crutches clicked loudly against the ground.

While Allen belted "Smooth Operator," Hollins stood next to his temporary office, picking at a large box of popcorn and reviewing a set with Gasol on the grease board. With three off days coming, Hollins told players and coaches to get away from basketball for the next 24 hours. "Yeah, I'm sore. Yeah, I'm hurting, but you have to suck it up," Randolph said. "This is what it's all about."

He and Conley were the last ones out of the arena and onto the bus, which took the team to a private airstrip 15 minutes away at Will Rogers World Airport. Through the inky darkness they climbed the steps to a Delta A319, with its 54 first-class seats. Hollins carried a book of crossword puzzles for the flight, but he fell asleep after takeoff. The team landed in Memphis at 3 a.m., having snared the knife by the handle.

WEDNESDAY, MAY 8 THROUGH FRIDAY, MAY 10

Off days, Memphis

Assistant coach David Joerger hopped on his John Deere lawn mower on Wednesday and rode across his five-acre property in Millington, Tenn., 20 miles north of Memphis. Joerger jokes that he owns 5½ horses—"One is really small," he said—because his wife, Kara, is an award-winning barrel racer. It was Joerger's first day off since the playoffs began on April 20, and he was trying to clear his head, but Durant kept creeping in.

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