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Fran Blinebury

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Tony Allen and Zach Randolph savor the Grizzlies' first ever playoff victory.
Photo by Getty Images

With big plays, the Grizzlies make history


Posted Apr 17 2011 7:55PM

SAN ANTONIO -- One play, one moment. Sometimes that's how history is changed.

Shane Battier never believed that, until he saw it.

There are 10 seconds left, Memphis up by three points, Dirk Nowitzki's free throw has bounced off of the rim and all the Grizzlies have to do is grab the rebound.

But Erick Dampier back taps the ball outside, straight to Nowitzki. He rises up and buries a 3-pointer that sends the game into overtime, where the Grizzlies lose again and remain winless in the playoffs.

That ended a three-year run from 2004 to 2006 where the Grizzlies won 50, 45 and 49 games in the regular season and went 0-12 in the playoffs and then went their separate ways.

After that season, Battier was traded to Houston. The following year, Pau Gasol was traded to the Lakers.

"One play shaped our franchise," Battier said.

The truth is, it shaped the entire NBA as the Lakers have advanced to three straight Finals and won back-to-back championships with Gasol.

So here was the veteran having returned to Memphis at the February trade deadline and here were the Grizzlies having battled and clawed through four fierce quarters with the No. 1 seeded Spurs and here was the pass from Mike Conley coming right into Battier's hands, wide open on the left wing.

"You're not thinking about history right then," Battier said with a grin. "You're just thinking about making the shot."

So with 23.9 seconds left he did and, five years later, it finally gave the first playoff victory to a franchise that has traveled from Western Canada to the Deep South, from irrelevance all the way to the respect that comes from beating a team with four championships to its pedigree and has been the best in the Western Conference since the season.

"This feels like a ton off our backs," said power forward Zach Randolph, who rumbled and rambled to 25 points and 14 rebounds and, as usual, was everything the Spurs couldn't handle on the inside.

The irony is that Randolph and center Marc Gasol (24 points, nine rebounds) are the kind of relentless, aggressive bruisers that Battier's old Grizzlies teams lacked to make their playoff breakthrough.

"We were always one big away," he said. "People dismissed our teams. We had some helluva teams. We had good teams. Weren't a bunch of slouches."

Yet that is how the Grizzlies have perennially been perceived until coach Lionel Hollins pushed and prodded and demanded and expected from them and got them back to the playoffs, even after they lost Rudy Gay to season-ending shoulder surgery. They kept right on playing and believing just the same way they kept on playing and believing when the Spurs rallied from seven points down in the fourth quarter to take the lead on back-to-back Matt Bonner 3s and everyone figured the Grizzlies were destined to be another of those first-round playoff underdogs that would come up just short.

"We don't play that way," Battier said. "This is a team that plays reactive. Maybe it's because we have a lot of young guys. Maybe it's because we don't know better about what the playoffs are about. But we just react."

Battier's own reaction to his mid-season trade from Houston to back to Memphis was not initially a happy one. After nearly five years, he had made his home in Texas and wanted to stay with the Rockets.

"I'm still working on it, to be honest," he said. "It's been a surreal month and a half for me. It's one of the strangest experiences of my life to go back to the place where you started, had great success and great memories and part of you wants to just have those memories and not do anything to mess that up again. I think that's a fair human emotion to have.

"When you come back and whether you're expected to be the leader or be the missing link and initially it doesn't happen, I started to press. I know fans probably started to press. I felt like the walk-on who gets into the game in the last two minutes and every time I shot the ball, you heard the collective -- oooooooooh -- the holding of the breath, hoping that I could get on the scoreboard. I'm not used to being Rudy."

Battier was apprehensive about how he'd be embraced the team. He didn't want to be seen as the wise old sage who was returning to show the young players how they were supposed to act and to play. He didn't want to offer up bundles of advice or come on too strong.

"I didn't want to preach," he said. "Because I don't like being preached to."

So he did all of the things that does, which are often so many of the little things that don't get noticed. And when the shots didn't fall, he told himself the same thing that shooters always do, that eventually they would and that this time around the playoffs in Memphis would be different.

Oh, the Spurs were playing without Manu Ginobili (sprained elbow), who has been their MVP all season. Yes, the Spurs have made a habit in the past of losing the first game of a playoff series and then getting off the floor to win it, even winning championships in that manner.

But that should not dismiss what the Grizzlies did in Game 1 with a voracious appetite for getting things done. The Spurs won all of the stats -- rebounding, steals, free throws, turnovers -- and yet the Grizzlies won the game. Conley (15 points, 10 assists) outplayed Tony Parker for most of the day and with his team down by two inside the final half minute swung the ball to the older Grizzly with the longest memory.

"I appreciate the history and the significance of this game," Battier said. "I know Beale Street is rocking tonight."

One play, one moment, one more.

A couple of hours after his clutch 3-pointer, his wife, Heidi gave birth to the couple's second child.

Shane tweeted: "Single CRAZIEST day of my life. Hit the winning shot in the game and welcomed Baby Battier to the world."

No question, the Battiers can deliver.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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