MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- There's a good reason why Tony Allen is so beloved in this city: He keeps it real.
As the Memphis Grizzlies approached the critical stage of Wednesday's series closeout opportunity against the Portland Trail Blazers, the sources of motivation and inspiration were swirling rapidly throughout FedEx Forum -- sort of like those "We Don't Bluff" rally towels fans were waving.
Yet Allen's mind was 2,252 miles away.
After blowing a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter to squander their chance to sweep in a Game 4 loss Monday in Portland, the Grizzlies were facing the possibility of making a return trip just hours later if they didn't finish off the Blazers Wednesday night.
"All I was thinking about during the game was [the possibility of] that five-hour flight," Allen said of what he believed was the ultimate gut-check moment in the game. "And that was the sense of urgency."
Talk to five different Grizzlies players and you'll get a different answer from each one about the factor that finally pushed Memphis past Portland 99-93 to secure a 4-1 series win and a shot at top-seeded Golden State in a second-round matchup that starts Sunday. Another cross-country flight remains on the itinerary for the Grizzlies, but they bought themselves a couple days of rest before their next trek out West.
Memphis advanced, but progress didn't come without a serious setback. Beating the Blazers came at the painful expense of losing star point guard Mike Conley potentially for the rest of the playoffs as he recovers from Monday's surgery to repair multiple facial fractures around his left eye.
The Grizzlies still have not publicly placed a time frame on when Conley might return from the injury he sustained when he was inadvertently elbowed in the face by Blazers guard C.J. McCollum last Saturday in a Game 3 victory in Portland. After missing Conley and a chance to earn the first playoff sweep in franchise history Monday, the eighth-year veteran did everything he could to have an impact in Game 5.
With his face battered and eye nearly swollen shut from surgery, Conley showed up Wednesday to first purchase tickets for 500 fans and then to support his team in the locker room before the game. Conley also starred in the biggest moment of the fourth quarter, when the arena cameras projected him on the jumbo screen as he stood in a suite and gave fans a thumbs-up signal.
That scene came during the middle of a 13-3 fourth-quarter Grizzlies run to build the double-digit lead that provided enough cushion for the win. Allen may have been thinking about avoiding another long and grueling flight, but others on the team and throughout the arena were lifted by the sight of their bruised catalyst toughing it out two days after surgery.
"We were playing with the fans' emotions throughout the whole game," said Grizzlies guard Courtney Lee, who had his second 20-point game of the series Wednesday after scoring that much just once in the regular season. "We had the big lead and then we let them come back. Then, they put Mike on the JumboTron and it got them going. It got us going. We went out there and we were able to get stops."
Now, the Grizzlies can start the process of recovering and regrouping for Golden State. They faced long odds of winning that series even with a healthy Conley, whose facial swelling must subside before he begins the process of being fitted for a protective mask. Memphis coach Dave Joerger suggested earlier in the week that he would have to prepare for the playoffs now as if Conley might not be available.
Meanwhile, the Grizzlies move on while trying not to focus on that traumatizing reality.
"We definitely miss him," forward Zach Randolph said. "He's our leader. He's our go-to guy."
Advancing required the Grizzlies to go to different options. All-Star center Marc Gasol made that much clear as the team concluded Wednesday morning's shootaround. His message was that no one on the team could step up and fill Conley's role or void, but each rotation player could do a better job of, well, doing their job. Collectively, just a little more from everyone else would be enough to cover for Conley.
Then Gasol went out and tied his playoff career-high 26 points while contributing 14 rebounds and two blocks to set the foundation. Randolph, who's been in basketball's equivalent of a brutal slugfest all season long with LaMarcus Aldridge, limited his former protégé to a series-low 14 points on 5-of-18 shooting.
Meanwhile, Lee continued his stellar play and finished the series shooting 66 percent from the field and averaged 17 points to offset a breakout series from McCollum. When the Grizzlies needed late-game defense to slow McCollum, they turned to Jeff Green. After the second-year Blazers guard scored 27 points through the first three quarters, he was held without a basket for the first 10 minutes of the fourth.
Green went from scapegoat when he struggled down the stretch in Game 4 to two-way hero in Game 5, when he shut down McCollum and also scored eight of his 10 points in the fourth quarter. And then there was Allen, who filled the stat sheet with hustle plays to collect eight points, seven rebounds, five steals, four assists and two blocks in 31 minutes on a sore hamstring that still requires treatment.
The Grizzlies now have a few moments to exhale.
"I'm going to do some things around the house," Gasol said of the brief break. "I'm going to have a little time to be with my little girl, and it's actually great to be home ... the next 24 hours -- or at least these next 12 hours, until the morning when I have to get my mind on Golden State."