Me oh my. Yes my friends, the impossible has finally happened. The Oklahoma City Thunder are out of the playoffs. Kevin Durant is hitting the links, and with any luck, a team fishing trip may be in the works. Maybe they can share a boat with the league’s latest exit, the Los Angeles Clippers. Two teams that were substantially proclaimed to be NBA finals squads with the grit and guts to win it all will not be playing another game for the rest of the season. How is this possible? It was brought about by the hands down most underrated team in all of basketball: The Memphis Grizzlies. Sitting silently in the fourth seed the entire season, the only time the Grizzlies got press was upon the loss of OJ Mayo and Rudy Gay, in which they were only brought to light to demonstrate how exponentially more hopeless than they already were. Yet here we are. The Grizz have laid waste to two of basketball’s most hyped teams. To be fair, both LA and OKC were just that; hyped. One could easily call them overrated. That is part of why beating both teams was so shocking. Also, the Clippers lost Blake Griffin mid-way through the series, and the Oklahoma City Thunder had to run an offense sans-point man Russell Westbrook. I understand that while both the Thunder and Clippers were not playing at full strength, the loss of one important player should never justify the beatings doled out by Memphis. Taking on Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan, Serge Ibaka, and Blake Griffin is no small feat to be pulled off by such a scrappy and largely unpopular roster. As of right now, fans across the country are scratching their heads; wondering first, when Memphis ever got a basketball team, and secondly when they became so good. Some compare their playoff experience to that of the Golden State Warriors due to the unexpected amounts of success the team has enjoyed. I tend to disagree. The Warriors have a good offense. Period. That offense really caught fire moments before the playoffs and brought them into winning a lot of game they probably shouldn’t have won. The Grizzlies are where they are not because of playoff magic, or luck, but because they deserve to be there. The reason the grind-it-out squad is in the Western Conference Finals is because they are the better team. So to answer the title question: Yes. The Memphis Grizzlies really are that good, and have been all season, and the reason is defense .Defense wins championships. The old cliché in athletics survived long enough to be both old and clichéd simply because it is true. Ask the Spurs, Lakers, Celtics, Heat, or Mavericks. When a team makes defense their calling card, they are almost always a force to be reckoned with. The Grizzlies excel in this category through a defensive mined coach in Lionel Hollins, and an overall defense oriented drafting strategy. However, guys in suits can only take a team so far defensively. The real secret to the Grizzlies defensive prowess lies in 7’1 center, Marc Gasol. Aside from being a flat out monster the entire season, Gasol recently received the well deserved honor of defensive player of the year. How he was considered rivaled by anyone else, including LeBron James in this category, I’ll never know. The 28 year-old big man currently posts a PER of 19.57, beating out the likes of Kevin Garnett, Manu Ginobli, and even the stat sheet stuffing Dwight Howard. While his numbers are common of a good center at 14 and 7, Gasol has a certain quality to him seen in players such as Rajon Rondo, Dwayne Wade, and Tyson Chandler. No matter what the play is, he is there. Boxing out, trying for a rebound, whatever. Marc Gasol in on the case. Between his size and uncommon speed for a big man, Gasol is a vision of defense. His gritty, unglamorous game and ridiculous strength match up perfectly with his paint patrol buddy Zach Randolph. However, Randolph is not the next most important cog in the Memphis defensive machine. To find the secret to the backcourt success in the FedEx Forum, look no further than shooting guard Tony Allen. While never producing major stats or awards to show for his lock down D, Tony Allen is comparable to a less flashy Iman Shumpert, or some bizarre version of Avery Bradley in which he is meticulous in his ball handling. For example, Allen leads the team in steals with 2 per game all with one of the lower assist to turnover ratios. To put that in other terms, Tony Allen will take the ball from you, but you won’t take it from him. Despite the fact the 2 guard is responsible for 3 fouls a game, he is still the sort of player you want when the game is on the line. Rather than the one to take the game winner, Tony Allen is the guy sent to guard the big star taking the game winner. If clutch defense is a real thing, TA exudes it. Just because he isn’t filling up highlight reels on SportsCenter, doesn’t mean he isn’t doing work. Players like Marc Gasol and Tony Allen are what the Memphis Grizzlies are about: grit, determination, and making it really hard to score. And even though an article praising a team down 2-0 may seem like moot point, don’t count out the Grizzlies. If anyone is going to grind out an unforgettable playoff series against San Antonio, it’s them.