“They could have quit. They could have not made the playoffs. And every day they came out and they fought like crazy.”
The Grizzlies were attempting to topple the Spurs, the No. 2 seed in the West who had the best regular season (67-15) in the history of the franchise, without two of their biggest stars, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, plus forward Brandan Wright, all of whom had suffered major injuries. In addition, Memphis was missing rookie Jarell Wright on Sunday, after he injured a foot in Game 3 of the series, as it lost, 116-95, and saw its season end.
The makeshift starting lineup with which the Grizzlies began Game 4 included guard Jordan Farmar, who had been out of the NBA all season until late March, when he was signed following a season-ending injury to Mario Chalmers. A shell of its former self, Memphis lost 10 of its final 11 regular-season games and tumbled from the fifth-seed to the seventh seed and a date with the dominant Spurs.
Joerger singled out a pair of veterans, Matt Barnes and Vince Carter, for their leadership during the trying stretch. “Those guys are pros,” the coach told reporters. “For what we’ve been through, I’d do anything for those guys.”
The 42-year-old Joerger has been head coach of the Grizzlies since 2013, compiling a 147-99 regular season record, plus an 18-13 mark in the playoffs, during that span. There was already little doubt that Joerger had the respect of his players, not to mention many observers around the NBA, and his emotional remarks Sunday showed how much he appreciated the heart his Grizzlies — all of them — had shown.