As the 2015 NBA Summer League title contest in Orlando came down to sudden death, meaning the first points scored in double overtime would mark the end of the game, Memphis let Russ Smith create a play.
Throughout the five day event, the second year guard out of Louisville continually stated he wanted to establish himself as the best floor general at the event.
For the second time in a four day span, Smith delivered when the Grizzlies needed it most.
Orlando had two teams playing in the Summer League tournament, as the Magic Blue team was comprised of numerous rookie and sophomore players with ties to the organization and the Magic White roster featured NBA free agents looking for a contract either in the league or overseas.
Against both teams, Smith established himself as the crunch-timer performer in the event.
The first game-winner Smith delivered as an offensive rebound was tapped to him right at the rim and he was able to convert a jumper.
To close out the five game tournament, a screen was set, creating a mismatch and Smith used his handle to create a path to the rim and he lofted a runner in the lane to clinch the Orlando Summer League tournament title.
“The play broke down and Jordan Adams gave me the ball. I was, basically, in a good situation and I had an opportunity,” Smith said. “That’s pretty sick, I came a long way.”
The Orlando White team erased a 20-6 deficit at the end of the first quarter to take a commanding lead in the fourth.
A layup from Keith Appling gave Orlando a four point advantage with just over a minute remaining.
Desperate to keep the game alive, Smith intercepted a pass and was immediately fouled. Smith converted a pair of free throws to tie the game.
Memphis had a chance to win in regulation, as Smith once again stole the ball, his third of the game, but the Grizzlies couldn’t capitalize.
With just under 10 seconds remaining in overtime, the Magic were on the verge of scoring the first points in the overtime session, but Jarnell Stokes closed off Appling’s path to the rim.
Appling tossed the ball threw the net, but collided into Stokes and was whistled for an offensive foul, preserving a tie at 73.
The Magic White team immediately stole the ball and sprinted towards the rim, but Stokes managed to deflect the ball in transition, sending the game to double overtime.
For Stokes, playing the same style that has personified the Grizzlies for years was imperative.
“I was able to get a charge, get a key defensive stop, it was all grit and grind,” Stokes said, echoing the mantra that has defined Memphis basketball. “Those things, you will never see in the stat sheet. I just wanted to come out, play great defense and make winning plays.”
Smith’s track record of dominating in the tournament instilled plenty of confidence in his teammates this week. Even with five players on the Summer League roster with NBA experience, Memphis turned to Smith with the game on the line.
The goal the team set for Smith was to take command of the offense, and he managed to display that Friday afternoon with a 15 point, nine assist, three steal and one block effort.
“I told him how proud we are of him, of not just playing how he plays, but playing how we play,” Grizzlies Summer League coach Jason March said. “Everyone knows he can go score and play fast and that type of stuff. He did a great job of managing the team and just executing what we do.”
Memphis acquired Smith in a trade midway through the season last year, and the 6-foot point guard has been able to adapt to the physical style of play the team employs.
As the Grizzlies seek a backup point guard to Mike Conley, the play of Smith in the tournament may have clinched him the job.
“I didn’t want to necessarily lead the league in assists, or have low turnovers, or just score the ball, I just wanted to be the best floor general,” Smith said. “I just wanted to inspire guys to get vocal, just have guys comfortable playing with me and control the tempo.”