The Crazy but Completely Accurate Reason Why the Grizzlies Lost Game 1 of the WCF
You can chalk the Grizzlies' abysmal performance in game one of the Western Conference Finals up to a lot of things: nerves, tougher competition, awful shooting, a lack of contribution from our major players. And you would be right to do so.
But I've got a sneaking suspicion that it had at least a little bit to do with something else. City Councilman Shea Flinn summed it up thusly on Twitter:
He's got a point.
It was bound to happen. As the field of playoff teams narrowed, we had to know that eventually, the national media would start looking at us. At first, it was uplifting seeing the Grizzlies finally get some national respect. We read every article, we delighted in Charles Barkley talking about how we could go all the way, and we smiled smugly when the TV commentators were forced to acknowledge that the Grizzlies – our Grizzlies – were whooping proverbial tricks at every turn.
And then it got weird.
There was a story on Huffington Post about how everyone should be rooting for the Grizz. A color-coded map of the U.S. made the rounds on Facebook that showed more than 60 percent of the country (the 60 percent that isn't Texas) favoring our team in this series.
Remember when the University of Memphis Tigers went to the NCAA Championships in 2008?
All season, they had been in Memphis, quietly winning game after game while still going mostly unnoticed because, hey, it's Memphis. Suddenly (at least, it must have seemed sudden to everyone outside of the city), there were the Tigers, not only playing in the National Championship, but favored to win. And did they? No, they did not.
I remember having a sinking feeling while listening to NPR's sports commentators talking up Memphis the morning of that game. I just knew that once we were expected to win, we wouldn't be able to do it.
As Memphians, we're used to walking around with a chip on our collective shoulder from constantly defending our city to everyone, including ourselves. We know that we do our best work when we've got something to prove.
It's the same whether you're talking about our food, our economy, our morale or, especially, our basketball teams.
Memphis is a place where even the most hardcore believers among us still temper that belief with just the tiniest grain of salt. We know disappointment in a way that few sports franchises do (Cubs fans, let's discuss this over drinks sometime).
I wonder what it's like to be a Lakers or Heat fan, to have that unyielding faith that comes from rooting for a team that's consistently great. What do you people talk about during games? Do you know what it's like to excitedly yell "OH MY GOD, TONY ALLEN!" and sigh exasperatedly "Oh. My. God. Tony Allen." in the same possession? In your stadiums, do 18,000 people not only know that was a foul, but also know the appropriate hand signal for said foul?
These Grizzlies are a mirror for the city. They're us, in all of our brilliance and difficulty. There are no superstars on this team, just a diverse, personality-filled bench of players who want to do work. Most of the time, the play isn't pretty or efficient, but it's real and gets the job done.
Zack Randolph is us, as he gets angry, yells things, and turns around like he's going to punch Matt Barnes only to hug him. Mike Conley is us, bringing more toughness and fire thank you thought possible for a man his size. Tony Allen is so us that we may as well erect statues to his Grindiness in all of our civic buildings.
We know all of this to be true. It's just kind of freaking us out that others are starting to realize it, too. That's why we had to lose: to remind ourselves who we are. We're all heart, grit and grind.