It’s was Raptors against the Grizzlies. Once upon a time it was a game that would have captured Canadian hoops fans. And back in the day, it did.
Regardless of what happened with the other 28 teams in the league, Toronto and Vancouver wanted some sort of national bragging rights.
But in 2001, the Grizzlies picked up and left for Memphis and have slowly turned their fortunes to the point where they are one of the NBA’s top teams
No it’s not the same ownership group that moved the team from the world class city of Vancouver as the present owners are currently one more step removed from Canada’s picturesque west coast.
Talk to those around the NBA that remember their trips to the Vancouver and they all lament the loss.
The Northwest deserves a team, Seattle is probably first in line and Vancouver should be in the mix, but that’s a discussion for another time.
The building process started when former general manager Jerry West hired an old school, no-nonsense coach in Hubie Brown. West, obviously tired of the attitude of entitlement with some of the league’s younger players, hired Brown to institute some of the tried and true methods that never get old. Nothing trendy here, we’re talking old fashioned stuff that works.
When Brown was hired, West made an emphatic statement emphasizing that our players will run back and play defence. It was as if he was saying it’s a new day and we’re going to back to the basics. We’re going to play hard and show respect for the game.
Since Brown was hired in 2002, Memphis has made five playoff appearances.
One of Brown’s assistants, Lionel Hollins is now the head coach. "Hollins is a former hard-nosed player that kept the old-school approach in tact.
The Grizzlies feature a lineup that looks like something out of the mid 1980s when specialization of skill sets dictated who played a certain position. Contrary to the gradual move that has now produced, as the Miami Heat label it, "positionless basketball", Memphis has gone retro.
Point guard Mike Conley is quick athletic, plays solid defence, distributes the ball and scores just enough to keep the opposition honest. Tony Allen is a solid off guard who doesn’t handle the ball much but plays defence and can score on the break and occasionally when he gets a good look in the offence.
Rudy Gay is the athletic scoring small forward while Zach Randolph is a true power forward. Z-Bo can score on the block, rebounds at both ends and his 12-to-15 foot jumper is good enough to get him some easy looks when reluctant defenders do not venture away from the hoop.
The centre, Marc Gasol is a rugged big man who rebounds, can score in the post, and is an excellent passer. They have good role players coming off the bench in shooters Quincy Pondexter and Wayne Ellington. Jerryd Bayless fits the bill as a backcourt man who can play either position while Marreese Speights and Darrell Arthur are capable frontcourt backups. I
Like their head coach, they are a physical and tough-minded group that has become a team that is not afraid to get into an ugly, old fashioned grind. In short, they are quite alright with playing playoff style basketball all season.
Yes, it’s early but the Grizzlies have already beaten last season’s finalists Oklahoma City and Miami and seem ready to become a mainstay in the playoffs for years to come.
After a trip to the second round where they were beaten by Oklahoma City just after ousting San Antonio a couple of seasons ago, and a close seven-game series loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, many around the league feel they are ready to take the next step on the way to an NBA title.
At the present moment, their expansion cousins, the Toronto Raptors are not ready to take that step.
Years ago this would have been a game to see but as the franchises have evolved, they are now at different ends of the spectrum.
The way both teams are playing, the two couldn’t be farther apart.