by Kevin Lipe
In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river...1
The obvious quote from "The Hollow Men" would be "This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper," and in all honesty that would've been the quote I'd used if Game 6 had been like Game 5. Instead, the Grizzlies lost 108-95 to a Golden State team that was just flat-out better, but they went down swinging.
Early on, it threatened to be the blowout Griz fans all secretly feared it would be; the Warriors got out on a run early and the Grizzlies had a lot of catching up to do—but for the whole first half it felt like no matter how hard they tried, they couldn't get the deficit any smaller than 9 points.
The last stand of the 2014-15 Memphis Grizzlies happened during the third quarter, which the Griz started on an 11-3 run on the backs of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol (who else?). They were visibly exhausted and clearly playing through it. When Zach Randolph went to the floor for a loose ball with 4:10 left in the quarter, he laid there face-down on the court for a while until three guys came to help him up. It felt like if they didn't take the lead soon, they'd be done for good, having spent every ounce of energy they had trying to get there and falling short.
Down one point—65-64—with 2:49 to go, Jeff Green shot a rushed three-pointer that missed and the long rebound fell to Harrison Barnes. The Warriors ran it the other way and Andre Igoudala buried a three of his own, and instead of a two-point lead the Grizzlies were back down 4. It unraveled from there, and for the rest of the game the Grizzlies' starters (who all played huge minutes, as you'd expect) were running on fumes. The substitutions started happening, and when Green got blocked taking a 3 contested by two guys at the end of the third quarter and Stephen Curry launched a 62-foot shot from the Grizzlies three point line that sailed through the net without even touching the rim at the other end of the court, there was nothing left to say about it. The fourth quarter felt like a formality, the turbulent recession of a wave that had already broken onto the sand.
There's lots more to say about whether the Grizzlies' season was a successful one or not, or whether they did as well as they could have against the Warriors given the circumstances. There's no doubt that their ever-present lack of offensive firepower and outside shooting played a big role in their elimination, but so did the laundry list of injuries to Mike Conley—a wrist issue, a bum foot that never got all the way healed, a broken face with titanium plates in it and a nasty recovery from a tough surgery, and then an ankle injury on top of all of that that made his running labored, his movements more about will power than physical ability by the end of last night's game—and the fact that Tony Allen tried to play Game 6 and contribute on defense but could neither run nor jump because of his hamstring injury. The Grizzlies got bitten by the injury bug at the worst possible time; that's not an excuse for why the Warriors were about to handle them in six games, but anyone who says that didn't play a factor is being dishonest.
So now the season is over.
Coming into this year it felt like The Year—it felt like it had to be. It still feels that way a little bit, but the truth is that it wasn't The Year. Until the Grizzlies figure out how to score enough to keep up with the modern NBA it will never be The Year, and this season made that even more painfully clear than the 2013 Western Conference Finals did. Defense and a maniacal determination not to lose from your best players will only get you so far.
Given the way the Griz played until the All-Star Break, it felt like maybe the formula had been found. But after the Jeff Green trade (and maybe because of it but I'm not sure we'll ever know the full story) things started to fall apart for a while in a way that never really pulled back together until the playoffs, and even then only for some of the games. We may never see that group of Grizzlies again, the ones who were the best team in the league, with a top five offense and defense. When we do, I suspect the roster will look very different.
This offseason is going to be one long gut check. Marc Gasol is a free agent, and while it seems likely that he'll stay—and the Grizzlies haven't made much noise about being worried that he'll leave—that's certainly not a guaranteed thing. Gasol has to now see, just like the rest of us do, that this team as currently configured will have to get extremely lucky to advance past a truly elite team in the playoffs. They're very good, and no one wants to play them, and they're always a threat, but that might be the extent of it without catching some lucky breaks along the way.
Even if Gasol stays, there's work to do. The wing positions still don't produce enough. Jeff Green has a player option he'll probably pick up—and no one should fault him for that, really—and Vince Carter will still be here. There are exciting young players at the end of the bench in Jordan Adams, Jarnell Stokes, and Russ Smith (and JaMychal Green is also on a multi-year deal), so there are players to develop. Backup point guard is better than it's ever been, but Nick Calathes is a restricted free agent. There's a high probability that next year's Grizzlies will look very different in some ways.
For now, though, the 2014-15 Grizzlies are done, and other than the exit interviews and final media availability, there's nothing left for us to do with them. This was a legendary regular season that turned into a frustrating one, that then turned back into a legendary playoff run featuring a point guard who put a mask on and carried the team to some improbable wins even though he had no business doing so. We didn't get to see them play for as long as we'd hoped, because in the end they weren't who we wished they would be, but that's how things go sometimes, and even in those moments it's better to embrace what's there than be dissatisfied by what isn't. The season is over. There's no basketball until the fall. We're entering a very important summer for the franchise and its future and its fanbase. But even in these moments of loss, there's a sense that this was a special year, a year of things that will not soon be forgotten. There will be more about this season and what it was in these pages, but now is the time for gathering ourselves, catching our breath, remembering the thundering roar of the Forum when the masked Mike Conley was introduced before Game 3, the way every other sound in the world was drowned out by the howl of the crowd, even the sound of your own thoughts. In that roar, somewhere, is everything.
T.S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men"↩