MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The towels are showing up all around Memphis. They hang over neighborhood signs and even at a door to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
The sentiment? Believe Memphis.
The Grizzlies certainly do.
Yes, they are down 0-2 to San Antonio in their first Western Conference final, but they take heart in knowing they dug themselves out of an 0-2 hole in the first round against the Clippers.
No NBA team has won separate series in the same postseason after losing the first two games. The Grizzlies now see only opportunity at home, where they have yet to lose this postseason.
“We got to believe,” Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph said. “We got to be confident. We got to believe. Game 2 went down, we came all the way back and went to overtime, so we got to have that confidence and we got to believe in ourselves.”
Game 3 is Saturday night.
“Believe Memphis” is the slogan first printed on giveaway towels for fans in the 2011 playoffs, which they held up instead of waving, trying to will the Grizzlies to victory late in a game against Oklahoma City. Yes, the Grizzlies won that game in overtime, and it’s been a catch-phrase since then for this small market team in a town best known for its barbecue and music.
Fans are ready for the latest biggest home game in team history, and the Grizzlies hear all the excitement every time they go outside. So they are busy trying to focus on business.
“We’re down 0-2 and we’ve got to take care of home just like they took care of home,” Grizzlies guard Tony Allen said Friday. “Simple as that.”
The Grizzlies’ confidence also stems from a return to the arena they call the “Grindhouse.” They set a franchise record winning 32 games there this season, and they are 19-1 here since Feb. 8. Memphis also has lost three straight only twice this season, the last in mid-January.
This series took a three-day break after the Spurs won 93-89 in overtime Tuesday night in Game 2. The Grizzlies took off Wednesday after flying home and practiced Thursday and Friday. The Spurs practiced Wednesday and Thursday before taking off Friday.
The home team has won 17 of the last 20 games between these teams, and the Spurs lost both trips to Memphis during the regular season. With strong memories of blowing a 2-0 lead to Oklahoma City in the Western finals, the Spurs know the games in Memphis will be hard.
“We know they play great at home,” Spurs forward Boris Diaw said. “They have a great crowd, and they seem to be more pumped up when they play at home. They are probably going to make more shots, so we’ve got to be ready for that.”
It would be tough for the Grizzlies to shoot much worse than they did in the first two games in San Antonio, including a stretch where they missed seven straight layups in one sequence. They missed 15 of 18 attempts inside 5 feet in the first half, a statistic that surprised Grizzlies guard Mike Conley because of their strength scoring in the paint.
“We don’t expect to do that again, but we just have to be better mentally prepared and focused on finishing at the rim,” Conley said.
Randolph went 1 of 8 in the first game and shot a bit better in Game 2. But he still struggled with close shots, with the Spurs often doubling down on him. Randolph said he needs guards like Conley, Allen and Jerryd Bayless to be more aggressive helping on the perimeter and moving the ball.
“That rim’s tight,” Randolph said with a laugh. “No, I’ll just be confident. I’ll take that shot again tomorrow, and hopefully it goes in.”
Memphis coach Lionel Hollins has spent the past two days trying to tighten his defense. He’s also worked on his team’s spacing in an effort to revive the offense.
In any case, the coach doesn’t want his Grizzlies to relax too much and expect a boost simply by being at home.
“As I told our team, being home is not going to win anything for us,” Hollins said. “We have to go out and play much better. There’s no need at this point to change the starting lineup. I mean we lost an overtime game, and we got blown out in a game. We have to come here, hold serve and we got to play better, obviously.”
The Grizzlies also want to make Spurs point guard Tony Parker work harder and spend more energy bringing the ball up the court. That also might slow Parker from getting his teammates involved, something he did all too well in Game 2 with a playoff-best 18 assists.
Parker had an MRI exam on his bruised left calf Thursday. The three-day break provided a welcome break for him.
“I feel like I’ll be fine Saturday,” he said.
The Spurs, looking to win their first NBA title since 2007, have been getting strong contributions from Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Both have scored in double figures in each game this series.
Green has not lost sight of that blown 2-0 lead to Oklahoma City a year ago.
“We’re a more mature team,” he said. “We’ve been there before so we know what it takes. But we also know what it takes to get past that point and not to be lackadaisical, not to get satisfied. We’ve just got to continue to just come out and play basketball, stay focused and remember what happened last year.”