The Rise and Fall of the Grit and Grind Grizzlies
“In my hood, bullies get bullied.” These infamous words embody the “Grit and Grind” Memphis Grizzlies. That never-back-down philosophy shaped one of the most unique teams of the decade into a championship contender. Zach Randolph, the man who said those words (albeit not while in Memphis), has officially retired from the NBA. As he was one of their key members, it’s a good time to look back at the Grit and Grind Grizzlies. That era of Grizzlies basketball is officially over, as all the core members of that team are gone. However, at their peak, the Grit and Grind Grizzlies were one of the most exciting teams in the league.
“Grit and Grind”
The name “Grit and Grind” was given to these Memphis Grizzlies for their unconventional style of play. This decade in the NBA, three-point shooting and fast-paced play has taken precedence. That style of play can, to a degree, be seen in all NBA teams today.
The Grit and Grind Grizzlies were an exception. That team got it done on both ends of the court through hustle and hard-nosed play. On offense they showed a bump-and-grind post style play with Randolph and Marc Gasol, as well as Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, and Tony Allen. On the defensive end, the Grizzlies refused to be intimidated and used their tough, physical play to become one of the best defensive teams in the league behind 2013 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Gasol, and six-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection, Allen.
The Rise of the Grit and Grind Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies took this “Grit and Grind” philosophy and turned their franchise around. For the three seasons spanning 2006-2010, Memphis failed to clear 25 wins once. The team’s best players at the time were Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo, and the average age of the team was below 25. Nobody on that team was prepared to take the reins and carry the Grizzlies to the next level.
However, acquiring Randolph for the 2009-10 season, in which he averaged 20.8 points and 11.7 boards, was key in getting the Grizzlies back on track and ushering in the Grit and Grind era.
In Z-Bo’s (Randolph’s) first season with the team, Memphis just barely missed the playoffs, finishing the year 40-42. In 2010-11, the “Grit and Grind” Memphis Grizzlies were truly born.
The 2011 Postseason
The Grizzlies made the playoffs for the first time since 2006, propelled by the emergence of Mike Conley as well as Tony Allen and Marc Gasol’s defensive presences to go along with the continued excellence of Gay and Randolph, who combined to average 39.9 points per game.
The Grizzlies ended up being the eighth-ranked team in the Western Conference playoffs that year. In their first-round matchup with the San Antonio Spurs, Randolph, Conley, Gasol, and Allen cemented themselves as the core players in that series with Gay nursing a shoulder injury and Mayo having taken a severely reduced role compared to prior seasons.
Randolph averaged 21.5 points and 9.2 rebounds and Gasol had 14.2 points and 12.3 rebounds per game in that series. Throw in Conley’s 14.3 points and 6.2 assists and Tony Allen’s 2.3 steals per game and you’ve got an upset. The Grizzlies took down the first-seeded Spurs in six games to become just the second eight-seed ever to topple a one-seed in a seven game series.
Despite trading Rudy Gay in 2013, the next couple of years saw success as well, with the Grizzlies winning a franchise record 56 games in the regular season and reaching the conference finals — another franchise best — in 2014. Nothing lasts forever though, and the Grit and Grind Grizzlies soon found that out the hard way.
The Grit and Grind Grizzlies have been done for some time, of course. Most look at the summer of 2017 as the beginning of the end of the Grit and Grind era. However, it started before that — in 2016, with the Grizzlies’ first-round playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs.
In the 2016 postseason, the Grizzlies were swept in embarrassing fashion and head coach Dave Joerger was fired soon after. In 2017, the team lost in the first round for the second straight year, and Randolph and Tony Allen packed their bags as free agents.
Randolph signed with the Sacramento Kings and Allen left for the New Orleans Pelicans. Conley and Gasol were still present, but it was rare to see injury-ridden Conley on the court and Gasol couldn’t carry the load by himself. In 2019, he was traded to the Toronto Raptors and Conley was shipped off to Utah in the offseason.
Grit and Grind is over. The “Grit and Grind” Memphis Grizzlies are officially no more. However, their legacy will live on in their many impressive feats and in the way they reinvigorated their franchise during their run, turning the Grizzlies from a bottom-feeder to a perennial playoff contender.
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