Well before Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.’s high-flying acrobatics that you see today, the Memphis Grizzlies were synonymous with a blue-collar attitude and tough, gritty play in the paint - an embodiment of the southwest Tennessee city itself.
No player represented that mentality more than Zach Randolph, a throwback power forward who, along with center Marc Gasol, formed a formidable duo on the inside for the rough-and-tumble squad. Known for constant on-ball pressure (they led the league in steals per game in 2010-2011) and a dominant paint presence, this team came to be known as the “Grit and Grind” era of Memphis basketball.
After a round of unceremonious playoff exits in the early 2000s, the team began a complete overhaul following a 2006-2007 season in which the franchise finished with the league’s worst record.
General manager and other front office positions were replaced in 2007, and in 2008 the team traded All-Star forward Pau Gasol for a bevy of players, picks, and the rights to Gasol’s younger brother, Marc. Lionel Hollins was named permanent head coach after taking over as interim coach in the middle of the 2008-2009 season.
In the following offseason the team traded for Zach Randolph and after the 2009-2010 season acquired guard Tony Allen, one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Mike Conley Jr., a former fourth overall selection now entering his fourth season, was beginning to emerge as a full-time starter at point guard and a consistent scoring threat.
The 2010-2011 season marked the team’s 10th season since relocating from Vancouver, and the excitement around the city was palpable. In the playoff hunt all season long, the team secured its first playoff berth in five seasons and entered the playoffs as the eighth seed following a 46-36 record.
Facing off against four-time champion San Antonio in the opening round, the plucky squad was able to steal home court advantage from the top-seeded team, who played Game 1 without All-Star guard Manu Ginobili. Ginobili returned and San Antonio were able to win Game 2 before the series moved to Memphis.
The eighth seed took both games on their home floor, a 91-88 victory on April 23, and a convincing 104-86 win on April 25. Going back to Texas for Game 5, the Spurs’ Gary Neal hit a 3-pointer at the end of regulation to tie the game, and the top seed were able to win in overtime for a second win of the series behind Ginobili’s 33 points.
Returning to Memphis for Game 6, the Grizzlies had already secured the first three playoff wins in team history and were looking to clinch the city’s first playoff series win.
Despite the interior presence of future Hall-of-Fame forward Tim Duncan, Randolph stepped up on the biggest stage, delivering 31 points and 11 rebounds - including 17 points in the fourth quarter - to clinch the series victory in Memphis.
After trailing for much of the game, San Antonio was able to take the lead with just 4:30 left in the game.
With the series on the line, Randolph put on a show in the final quarter, culminating in the play featured on our coasters: doubled on the wing by Duncan and George Hill, Randolph muscles his way past and scores with 1:11 on the clock to go up nine points and put the game on ice.
The 2010-2011 season remains just the second time an eighth seed has defeated a one seed in a best-of-seven playoff series.
In the post-game interview, Randolph said, “I love this city, and they love me back. … It’s a blue-collar town, I’m a blue-collar player, a hard worker. … Nothing has been given easy to me, and nothing has been given easy to this town, so it’s a fit.”
For the next six seasons, “Grit and Grind” would continue to see unprecedented postseason success for the franchise, making the postseason each year and advancing as far as the Western Conference Finals in 2013.
From 2010 to 2017, Randolph would be named to the all-league third team in 2011 and was voted an All-Star twice, while Gasol was voted an All-Star three times, all-league twice, and was named the Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.
Allen would be named to the all-league defensive teams six times during his tenure in Memphis, cementing his status as one of the best perimeter defenders of all time. Conley Jr. was also named to the all-league defensive second Team in 2013.
The defensive intensity and leadership of Randolph would define a near-decade of basketball in the city of Memphis and fully lived up to the nickname they earned and wore with pride. Ten years later, if you’re talking hoops and mention this team, only two words come to mind - grit, then grind.
Can you think of a signature moment from your team that we should feature? Send us a comment or email us firstname.lastname@example.org with a play you’d like to learn more about!