The Grizzlies overcame a rocky start and fourth-quarter scare to overpower the Golden State Warriors in a fun, high-scoring game, improving their record to 13-15 and moving ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers and New Orleans Hornets to reach 11th place in the Western Conference standings. The Grizzlies are now 9-5 on the home floor. If they can steal a win Saturday afternoon in Dallas, then the Griz could come home Monday to host a struggling Washington Wizards team for a chance to move to .500. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. First …
1. The Broken Record: Whaddya know? The Griz frontcourt had another monster game with Zach Randolph leading the way. Randolph scored 33 points on 14-21 shooting, with 18 rebounds, just missing posting back-to-back 30/20 games. Randolph set a season high in scoring and notched a franchise record for most rebounds in a three-game stretch with 58. Meanwhile, yet again, despite having his frontcourt partner post huge numbers, Marc Gasol also had a terrific game with 22 points (10-17) shooting, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks, and 2 steals. I don't know if Randolph/Gasol are the league's best frontcourt tandem right now, but they're probably the most productive.
Against a Warriors team geared toward small-ball, there was a real question about who would dictate style tonight. The answer is the both teams played to their respective strengths and the Grizzlies won that battle, decisively. The Warriors had no one who could guard Randolph and, after a few good early minutes from journeyman Chris Hunter, no one who could guard Gasol either, and the Griz made them pay for it.
The Grizzlies were at their best at the end of the second and fourth quarters when Gasol and Randolph were back in together:
In the second quarter, the team was down three when Gasol re-entered at the 6:05 mark. The Griz finished the half on a 20-7 run with Gasol and Randolph accounting for 16 of the 20 points (and 14 of those within 10 feet or from the line).
In the fourth quarter, the Griz were up seven when Gasol re-entered at the 5:39 mark. They finished the game on a 17-11 run with Gasol and Randolph accounting for 7 of the 17 (all from within 10 feet or from the line).
But despite all that point and rebound production, my favorite plays from each player tonight showed other facets of their game. For Gasol, it came midway through the second quarter when he pinned a defender on a fastbreak and made eye contact with Mike Conley and nodded to the right. It might have looked like he wanted the ball, but really he was creating a driving lane for Conley and directing him through it. Gasol released the defender just as Conley passed and rolled to the rim for a potential tip-in that was almost needed, but Conley's Gasol-created lay-up dropped, giving the Griz their first lead since the beginning of the game. This is one of the "little things" Gasol does all the time. Watch him closely and you will see lots of great basketball plays like this that don't show up on the stat sheet.
For Randolph, it came late in the third when he sealed Vladimir Radmanovic on the right block and demanded the ball from O.J. Mayo. A similar bit of body-language communication sent Mayo cutting baseline, where Randolph dropped a soft pass over his defender, completing the give-and-go for a Mayo lay-up. Well-played basketball is a beautiful thing.
2. Two Keys: In addition to fully exploiting their match-up advantages against the Warriors, the Grizzlies did the job tonight on the two other keys I cited in my pre-game post: They kept the Warriors' secondary shooters in check, holding Anthony Morrow and C.J. Watson to a combined 15 points and two three-pointers. And the Grizzlies won the turnover battle with a +3. This second point was huge. Coming into the game the Warriors were one of the league's best turnover-differential teams and the Grizzlies were one of the worst. The Warriors needed to exploit this to mitigate the Grizzlies' certain offensive-rebounding advantage (+8 tonight) and get their transition game going. That didn't happen. Give some credit here to Mike Conley, who had a rough game shooting and finishing (5-15 with several missed lay-ups and badly missed short jumpers) but had only one turnover in nearly 39 minutes.
3. Give It Up For Lionel Hollins: At the end of his post-game press conference, coach Lionel Hollins made a remark about people coming to the presser but not asking questions. This comment was partly directed my way. In truth, Hollins had already responded to the elements of the game I was interested in and I didn't need to just hear myself talk. And I didn't need to ask a question to know this: Lionel Hollins is doing one hell of a job with this team.
A lot of early Coach of the Year talk has been directed at Oklahoma City's Scotty Brooks and Sacramento's Paul Westphal for taking young teams coming off sub-25-win seasons and pushing them toward .500 ball and at least nominal playoff contention. Well, isn't it now time to put Hollins in that conversation as well?
Unlike Brooks and Westphal (the latter of whom, in particular, does seem to be doing great work), Hollins has had to overcome a 1-8 start and an early, counterproductive, ownership-imposed circus in the form of the Allen Iverson signing. Perhaps Hollins could have done more to guard the Grizzlies' financial and marketing investment in managing Iverson, but he should never have been put in that position. As far as building a good, cohesive basketball team, Hollins was right to treat Iverson with fairness rather than favoritism, something that clearly underscored the locker-room respect Hollins already had.
Hollins has a talented starting line-up to work with, but also one of the league's youngest and shallowest rosters, and one limited by a lack of outside shooting. He's weathered inconsistent point-guard play and has his team playing tough-minded team basketball, committed to exploiting its frontcourt strength but also building balance. And, increasingly, he's got the team executing out of timeouts and on set plays in a way not seen since Mike Fratello prowled the FedExForum sidelines. I could nitpick small things, like anyone else who watches games closely and has opinions about them, but Hollins is getting results. He's earned the contract extension that now seems inevitable.
The Jacob Riis Report: As the founding president of the Anthony Randolph Fan Club (I had him ranked as my #3 prospect in his draft class until I saw him work out in person and realized how much of a project he would be), I was a little disappointed. Despite promises to unleash him, Randolph played only 20 minutes (partly due to foul trouble) and gave a so-so performance. He put up numbers (10 points on 4-8 shooting, 5 rebounds, a block), but didn't demand attention — from spectators or opponents. Randolph remains one of the league's most intriguing talents, a blend of athleticism and skill that oozes all-star potential, and I'd love to see him in a Grizzlies uniform. But it's hard to tell at this point which way his career is headed.
O.J. Mayo's declining three-point shooting (0-3 tonight) is a real concern, especially on a team that lacks other outside options, but he's improving as an all-around player, especially creating off the dribble, and he showed that versatility tonight with 22 points (9-14 inside the arc), 7 rebounds, and 5 assists.
Rudy Gay's foul trouble and the Warriors' small-ball contributed to more than 17 minutes for DeMarre Carroll, his longest run of the month. And they were good minutes as he knocked down a couple of shots, had a couple of steals, and made some of the hustle plays that could yet earn him an important role.
Z-Bo Moments: Randolph addressed the home crowd before the game. He ended the first half with a long buzzer-beating jumper to give him a 20/10 heading into the break. Heading to the bench late in the third quarter, already at 27/16, he got a mini-standing ovation. He's becoming a cult hero before our eyes.
Announced attendance tonight: 12,827. For a weeknight game against a bad Warriors team, it could have been worse. Similar games in previous seasons have been worse with a better season-ticket base. Still, the announced crowd for the University of Memphis' noon game today, a glorified exhibition against something called Southeast Missouri State? 16,894. This looks preposterous if you don't know the context. Even in context it's pretty sad. So much good basketball going underappreciated this month.