Marc Gasol then went down with an injury in game No. 13.
The All-Star center and reigning Defensive Player of the Year missed 23 consecutive games from Nov. 25 through Jan. 12 with a sprained MCL in his left knee. The Grizzlies went 10-13 without him.
A rash of other injuries disrupted the Grizzlies’ season. Point guard Mike Conley Jr. missed nine games due to ankle and thigh injuries. The Grizzlies went 4-5 without him in the lineup. Shooting guard Tony Allen missed 27 games this season, mostly because of a sprained wrist. Quincy Pondexter was lost for the year with a stress fracture in his foot just 19 games into the season.
On Jan. 7, the Grizzlies traded sixth man Jerryd Bayless to Boston as part of a three-team deal. In exchange, they received Courtney Lee. His arrival forced the Grizzlies to make another adjustment, and this time it was to its starting lineup.
But that’s about when things begin to turn for the Grizzlies. They went 33-13 after Gasol returned to the lineup, and the big man has only gotten better in each subsequent month he’s been back. Since March 1, Gasol has averaged 16.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.4 blocks and one steal.
Meanwhile, the additions of Lee and free agent acquisition Mike Miller — who surprisingly was the only Grizzlies player to appear in all 82 games this season — have given Memphis more perimeter shooting than it has had in recent years. Their presence makes perimeter defenders think twice of sagging too far to help on Gasol and Zach Randolph in the post.
After a 15-19 start, the Grizzlies finished 35-13, securing their second consecutive 50-win season and returning back to the place they belonged, back in the playoffs.
Where they’re seeded is all that’s strange now.
But make no mistake, the Grizzlies are good.
Far from your typical No. 7 seed.
“But we’re not scared of anybody, no matter who we play,” said Thunder forward Kevin Durant. “We don’t fear anybody. We respect them. We know it’s going to be a tough series. But they are a team that can definitely win a championship, just like any other team in the West. We got our work cut out for us.”