MEMPHIS, Tenn.—“Grit and Grind,” the common refrain among the Memphis Grizzlies faithful, has given way to “First Team, All-Defense” with none other than guard Tony Allen leading the charge.
The Grizzlies seized Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals, along with home-court advantage, holding the Golden State Warriors 18-points below their season average of 110 in Memphis point guard Mike Conley’s return from facial surgery on April 27. Conley’s reemergence gave the Grizzlies an emotional boost as they handed Golden State just their third home loss of the season.
The emotional high was most evident in Conley’s starting backcourt mate, Tony Allen.
Arguably the most defensively efficient backcourt in the NBA, Conley and Allen are tasked with guarding Golden State’s All-Star guards. After Game 2, Conley applauded Allen’s performance, saying Allen’s defensive nature comes from an obsession.
“Tony always takes any matchup with one of the elite guys in the league personally, almost too personally,” said Conley. “Sometimes he gets so locked in…. He’s everywhere on the court. We need that kind of energy if we’re going to win.”
Conley, Allen, Marc Gasol, and Zach Randolph all individually professed a team-defense mantra this week, but it’s well known that Tony Allen serves as the anchor, always drawing the toughest wing assignment.
Asked about Conley’s comment, Allen said, “I would agree with that statement because I kind of take it personally, which I shouldn’t because we have a team defense, but that’s what I do at times. This last game, yeah, I did (take it personally).”
Allen’s obsession was key to the Grizzlies’ Game 2 victory. His swarming, lock-down defense bothered All-Star F Klay Thompson enough to hold him to 13 points. A prolific scorer, Thompson tallied 37 points in one quarter earlier this season against the Kings. Allen, mic’d up for TV production of the game, could be heard yelling, “First Team, All-Defense,” after each of his defensive exploits.
Allen said that he drew inspiration from the last Warriors/Grizzlies matchup from the regular season on April 13. Allen sat with a strained hamstring and Thompson scored 42 points.
“It hurt my heart,” Allen said of seeing his team lose without him. “I had it on my calendar. The last game they came to play here… I pretty much just felt like I let my team down. That was the most anticipated game. I had it marked on my calendar.”
Defensive specialization has been reinforced by coaches and general managers throughout Allen’s tim in the NBA but it started at Oklahoma State. Allen said, “Eddie Sutton told me that’s where I’m gonna make my living, on the defensive end.”
While playing for the Celtics, coach Doc Rivers had the same goals for Allen, telling him that defense was his niche, not scoring. Allen learned to think of himself that way. “There were times I thought I was a scorer,” he said. “I just find it [defense] a hard hat job that most don’t sign up for and I signed up for it.”
Allen, known locally as the Grindfather for his relentlessness, praised Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace for the development of his on-court role. “I give all credit to Chris Wallace. He said he loved my toughness and how I competed with Kobe in the 2008 Finals,” recalled Allen. “He liked how I didn’t back down. He said, ‘You don’t have to come in here and be a 25 point scorer…’ I said, ‘I’m gonna come in here and give him 125%.’”
Allen said that he respects the Warriors players and knows that they’re still in a battle after winning a game in Oakland, saying, “Those guys are gonna come back guns blazing,” referring to Game 3 in Memphis tonight at 8 p.m.
However, when asked by Breitbart Sports how he plans to overcome the double screens and extra attention that the Warriors are sure to give him, he retorted in classic Grindfather fashion, “I don’t know, I ain’t no coach. I’m just ready to play basketball.”
Follow Daniel J. Freeman on Twitter @djfree