By Mike Monroe
Uncertain what to expect in the first playoff game of his career, Shane Battier discovered the difference before his first postseason game began.
“My very first memory is running out of the tunnel at ATT Center, having a wall of noise blast me and thinking, ‘So this is what they meant when they were telling us how different things are in the playoffs,’?” said Battier, who arrived with his Memphis Grizzlies on Friday to prepare for the team’s first-round playoff series against the Spurs.
That wall of noise experience was before Game 1 of the Spurs-Grizzlies first-round playoff series in 2004, when Battier was a 25-year-old with three seasons under his NBA belt. It was a brand-new experience for him and for a Grizzlies franchise that had entered the NBA in 1995 as the Vancouver Grizzlies, departing Canada in 2001 after seven seasons produced not a single playoff game.
Now Battier has 38 playoff games on his résumé, 26 of those with the Houston Rockets, the team with which he began the 2010-11 season.
Those playoff games in Houston produced 12 victories and a Game 7 against the eventual-champion Lakers in 2009 in a series that stamped Battier as one of the league’s best perimeter defenders.
A healed Manu Ginobili would give the Spurs a boost, but Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins understands Battier has had success defending him.
The Grizzlies still seek the first playoff victory in franchise history, and at age 32, with nine previous NBA seasons, Battier has become a valued veteran leader despite being reunited with his former team only in February, via trade.
In a short time he has seen enough to know that his young teammates are capable of anything, even in a seemingly daunting matchup against the West’s top-seeded team.
“To be honest, I don’t know how we’re going to react,” he said. “The moment may be too big, and we may not be ready. Or we may be young and dumb enough to think we actually have a shot in this series.
“It can go either way.”
The midseason trade was a shock to Battier’s system, but mitigated by a return to familiar surroundings. The Grizzlies made the move to Memphis not long after making Battier the sixth selection in the 2001 draft, out of Duke. He was one of the team’s most popular players before he was traded to Houston after the 2006 draft for Rudy Gay and Stromile Swift.
“I had nearly five great years in Houston,” he said. “Trades are tough enough in the summer, but it’s really difficult emotionally to get traded in middle of a playoff chase.
“I’m a person that enjoys being comfortable in my surroundings. I don’t like new things. So it took a while to adapt to a new style of play and a new, old city. The saving grace was that I’d spent five great years in Memphis and was able to reach back to some of my old cronies. That was a blessing.
“In terms of basketball, it took me a long time to get comfortable.”