The Grizzlies' starter who has played in more NBA Finals and conference finals than the rest of his teammates combined is ecstatic to be back in the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09.
"I've missed it big time," said forward Tayshaun Prince, 33, an 11-year veteran who came to Grizzlies in a Jan. 30 trade from Detroit. "I'm excited to play at a high level once again. That's what it's all about. When you play 82 games (in the regular season), you want to get to the next level."
Prince, who starred at the University of Kentucky, had a remarkable playoff run with the Pistons. He played in 118 playoff games, including an active string of 106 straight starts, in his first seven NBA seasons beginning in 2002-03. Detroit advanced at least to the Eastern Conference finals in each of his first six seasons, winning the NBA title in 2004 over the Lakers, 4-1, and then losing in the '05 Finals to the Spurs 4-3.
His last playoff action with the Pistons left a bitter taste, being eliminated by the Cavs in the first round in four straight games.
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Earlier this season, with Prince as the last remaining Detroit player from those '04 and '05 NBA Finals teams, it looked like a fourth straight year of no playoffs for Prince and the rebuilding Pistons.
But as part of the three-team, six-player deal that sent Griz forward Rudy Gay to Toronto, Prince was traded to the Grizzlies along with the Pistons' Austin Daye and Toronto's Ed Davis, two players who have never been on a playoff team.
"I'm happy for guys who have never experienced the playoffs, like Austin," Prince said. "All I can tell him is what a different type game it is, what a different type atmosphere it is. But you can't show him unless you get there. I know he's excited."
Prince, who has career playoff averages of 12.5 points and 5.6 rebounds, has a clear understanding what matters the most in the post-season.
"You've seen Kobe (Bryant) or Carmelo (Anthony) hit game-winning shots, and people have a tendency to think that's what won the game," Prince said. "No, there's a lot more to it. It's getting an extra defensive or offensive rebound, diving for that loose ball, getting a steal. There are so many different things that led up to that shot they hit that makes a difference."
As an example, Prince uses the single play he's known most for during his time in Detroit, a game-saving block of Reggie Miller in game 2 of the 2004 Eastern Conference finals against Indiana.
It was a breathtaking display of sheer athleticism, Prince accelerating from midcourt to catch Miller at the goal just as he's about to lay the ball off the backboard.
"People praise me over and over for blocking Reggie Miller's shot," Prince said. "But I would have never been in that position if we didn't have 18 other blocks in that game. We had 19 blocks, the second-highest total ever in a playoff game."
Prince also learned a painful playoff lesson about momentum in the 2007 Eastern Conference finals against Cleveland.
"We won the first two games of the series at home, and we're up early in game three at Cleveland," Prince said. "Then, we get careless with three or four plays, they get on a 10-0 run, they rally to win that game and they go on to win the series,
"When you have momentum in the playoffs, you can't let a team steal momentum from you. There are times they will go on runs, but you can't let teams get on runs for long periods, because in the playoffs that carries over to the next game."