It was exactly a year ago, Feb. 15, 2011, that Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay’s season came to unexpected end against the 76ers.
He was enjoying the best year of his five-year pro career (19.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 47.1 percent FGs) when he sustained a season-ending dislocated left shoulder injury against the 76ers. Gay was hurt with 5:37 left in the second period after a foul by 76ers rookie Evan Turner.
The strange thing is that the injury originally didn’t appear serious, initially being called a strain shoulder. But Gay knew better.
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“I knew I was done,” said Gay, who celebrated his one-year anniversary of the injury on Wednesday by scoring a team-high 25 points in the Grizzlies’ 105-100 victory at New Jersey. “It hurt so bad the first couple of weeks, I couldn’t sleep.”
It wasn’t until more than a month after the injury that the decision was made to have surgery. About 90 percent of the time, a shoulder slips out of the front socket and that’s not a serious injury.
But when Gay got hurt, he was the other 10 percent. His shoulder slipped out of his back socket and popped back into place, the worst-case scenario. He sustained a capsule tear that lines the joint. Capsule tears can heal with time, but Gay’s rehab didn’t seal the capsule that surrounds the shoulder front, back and bottom.
So Gay underwent surgery and sat and watched the Grizzlies have the greatest year in franchise history. A No. 8 seed, the Griz knocked off the top-seeded Spurs in the first-round of the Western Conference playoffs, and then pushed Oklahoma City to game seven in the conference semis.
The whole time, there was a buzz that the Griz were playing so well, the chemistry was so tight, that maybe they didn’t need Gay.
“I heard it and it’s crazy that people actually think like that,” Gay said. “It gave me more motivation.”
This season, because the strike kept players like Gay locked out of the Grizzlies’ facility, it seemed he was physically behind the 8-ball. It wasn’t until early January that he fully got back his legs, that his jump shot didn’t stop dying midway through the third quarter.
Against the Nets, Gay enjoyed his 16h 20th-point game of the year, hitting a key 21-footer in a late 7-0 Griz run that gave Memphis control of the game heading into the final 90 seconds.
“I’ve played through a lot of injuries this season,” Gay said. “One of my ankles has never felt right. But I know I can’t sit out.”
The Grizzlies (16-14) turned the game their way when they shut down the Nets’ three-point shooting show after the first half. In the opening two quarters, the Nets went 8-for-15 in threes. After halftime, New Jersey was 3-of-12 beyond the arc.
“We couldn’t guard them for a stretch and they took the lead on us,” Griz Coach Lionel Hollins said. “We just kept battling and battling, until we could find something that we could do.
Hollins commended his team for winning on the second night of a back-to-back after winning at home on Tuesday over the Rockets.
“We arrived here at three in the morning and then we have to turn around and play a team that needed to win at home and we came out with a win,” Hollins said. “We have to understand that this is our job. Everybody has to do back-to-backs. The media makes so much of back-to-backs that the players buy into it also.”
QUOTE TO NOTE
“Tony Allen is just a different cat.” -– Grizzlies F Marreese Speights on teammate Tony Allen’s habit of always talking to himself
F Marreese Speights had a night to remember, with 20 points and a career-high 18 rebounds against the Nets. Acquired from the 76ers on Jan. 4 in a three-way trade with the 76ers, Speights has had some of his best games as a Griz against those Eastern Conference teams he’s familiar with playing against in the past.
“I’ve really been concentrating in the last week on rebounding and getting easy baskets,” Speights said.
G Tony Allen said the Grizzlies’ tightening their defense, especially on the perimeter in the second half, was due to some great scouting.
“Our coaches were calling out all of their (Nets’) sets when they called them,” Allen said. “All we had to do was listen to them.”
F Rudy Gay gave a nod to Allen’s energy and competitiveness.
“Tony played well,” Gay said. “When he goes out there and does that, he forces us to compete.”