MikeCheck: ‘GrindTable’ shares fave Garden memories, Grizzlies breakthroughs as trip wraps against Knicks
MEMPHIS – The Grizzlies have found their groove.
In the midst of arguably their best stretch of the season, coach Taylor Jenkins, Ja Morant and Jonas Valanciunas lead the second-hottest team in the league into famed Madison Square Garden to face the much-improved Knicks.
The Grizzlies (26-23) have won four straight games, including all three on their current four-game road trip that wraps up tonight in New York. A victory over the Knicks (25-27) would complete a four-game sweep of the trip and extend the Grizzlies’ second-longest winning streak of the season, falling only behind the seven consecutive games they won in late January.
All three wins on this trip have come by double-digit margins against the Sixers (116-110), Heat (124-112) and Hawks (131-113). As the Grizzlies look to extend their momentum, our broadcasters ‘GrindTable’ breaks down three topics entering Friday’s game.
Joining me for this week’s panel are Grizzlies TV broadcaster Pete Pranica, Radio broadcaster Eric Hasseltine and pregame, halftime and postgame radio host Jessica Benson.
The biggest key to the Grizzlies success during this road trip has been...?
The biggest key has been their ability to not only make threes, but also to keep their opponents from making threes. Attention to detail with regard to the defensive game plans has been spectacular. And offensively, there have been no significant lulls in production.
The cohesiveness has been grand and the 16+ threes a night are a very welcome sight, but they wouldn’t have this streak without their depth. They just beat two of the top-5 teams in the Eastern Conference down three rotation players. They used a three-rookie bench unit (Desmond Bane, Xavier Tillman, Killian Tillie) that didn’t just tread water; it gave them a boost.
The key to the success has been the three-point line on both ends of the floor. They are forcing opponents off the line and into mid-range shots and contested shots at the rim. Offensively, their ball movement has created open looks from beyond the arc. They have made 69 threes in four games. That's huge because now opposing defenses can’t just pack the paint.
Fast starts and continuity. Prior to this trip, the Grizzlies were in a relative rut when it came to starting off games and going into halftime facing deficits. At one point, they had trailed at the half in nearly a dozen straight games. That hasn’t been the case lately, as they’ve easily put up 60-point first halves on a routine basis. And they’ve overcome depth issues with a connectedness and continuity that extends to the 12th and 13th man in the rotation.
The Grizzlies should be getting a lot more national attention right now because...?
The Grizzlies should be getting a lot more national attention because they're the only team in the NBA that doesn't have a player 29 years of age or older, and yet they're solidly in the playoff race despite not having their second-best player (Jaren Jackson Jr.) available for even a single minute. Taylor Jenkins deserves significant mention in Coach of the Year balloting.
What other team gives you the mix of Ja Morant sorcery, automatic JV double-doubles, Dillon Brooks wearing sunglasses inside and talking about gold steaks, Grayson Allen cheesing big while knocking down threes, Slow-Mo moves, off the glass alley-oops, a bench mob full of ballers and Jaren Jackson Jr. waiting in the wings wearing sequin shirts?
National attention is tough because it will take a lot to shed the grit-and-grind stigma, but if people watched this current brand of Grizz basketball they'd love it. It is a total team game. They move the ball quickly and have players who can ‘wow’ you at any time. The key will be when they are on national TV to stay within themselves and play this brand of basketball so people recognize they are a good young team that is fun to watch.
They have international players full of swagger, personality and production (Dillon Brooks and Jonas Valanciunas quickly come to mind). They’re in the thick of the West playoff race as the youngest team/coach/front office combination in the league, and who doesn’t love a youthful prodigy story? And they’re led by the one of the NBA’s most flamboyant young stars in Ja Morant. Hopefully, playing at MSG will shine a spotlight on these fun-and-gun Grizzlies.
My favorite Madison Square Garden memory/moment is...?
My favorite MSG memory is the night Juan Carlos Navarro went for 17 PTs in a Grizzlies win while a group of Spanish exchange students cheered from the upper balcony. Navarro acknowledge their cheers and told the media it was a great experience in “the mythical gym.”
I was in New York City for Christmas break back in 2015, and my mom and I went to Madison Square Garden to watch the UConn women win their 88th straight game to tie the record set by John Wooden’s UCLA teams from 1971-74. Maya Moore was the truth!
My favorite Garden memory is the year Juan Carlos Navarro was with the Grizzlies. They traded Pau Gasol and the team was simply playing out the season. There was a large Spanish fan base at the game and whenever Juan made a shot in warm-ups they went crazy. After the game I was walking behind him to the team bus. When the group saw him, they went crazy. It was like being with a rock star and he enjoyed every minute of it as he should have.
The Jordan baseline dunk over Ewing in the playoffs. The Reggie Miller “choke” sign flashed at Knicks superfan Spike Lee. Kobe dropping 61 in the Big Apple. My fellow Grambling State alum Willis Reed’s epic and dramatic Finals comeback from the hip injury back in the day. All are high up there. But my favorite Garden moment is one I wasn’t even born to see, and that was the icon “Fight of the Century” with then-undefeated titans Ali-Frazier on March 8, 1971.
(Catch Pranica on Bally Sports Southeast’s Grizzlies game-night coverage, and listen to Hasseltine and Benson on 92.9 FM ESPN Radio, the Grizzlies radio flagship station)
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