Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Grizzlies 116, Wizards 111 Post-Game Three-Pointer

Posted By on Tue, Dec 29, 2009 at 12:30 AM

The ZBo Show rolls on.
  • LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • The ZBo Show rolls on.
1. A Win: It wasn't always smooth sailing, but the Grizzlies got a good win tonight all things considered. Among the factors: The team was playing without it's leading scorer, Rudy Gay, who missed the game after spraining his ankle Saturday against the Mavericks. In Gay's absence, the team had to rely more on its very unsteady bench and use more lineups that haven't had much court-time together, resulting in some decidedly choppy stretches of offensive non-execution. The Wizards' Big Three scorers all had it going, getting 30 points from Gilbert Arenas, 24 from Antawn Jamison, and 24 from Caron Butler. And after losing a 10-point 4th-quarter lead, the Griz had to fight through a tightly contested final stretch of regulation and an overtime period.

The win moves the Grizzlies to 14-16, gives them an 8-4 record in December and a 13-8 record since the 1-8 start. The team has also won four-straight on the home floor.

With Gay out, the Grizzlies got 20 or more points from the other four remaining starters (including dual 20-10s from Randolph and Gasol) and mitigated their even battle on the offensive boards (a rarity this season) by winning the turnover-differential battle (another rarity).

Up 94-84 with just under six minutes left in regulation, the Grizzlies let the Wizards go on a 10-0 run in two minutes to tie the game up. But the team found its footing, getting points from six different players over the final eight minutes, including clutch free-throws from Zach Randolph (to force overtime) and Marc Gasol (to seal the win).

2. Zach Randolph's Player of the Month Push: Though he had some offensive (7-17 from the floor) and defensive (Jamison with 24 points, including 3-5 from downtown) struggles, Zach Randolph fought his way to another big night, finishing with 23 points and 19 rebounds, preserving his cult-hero status with those huge clutch free-throws at the end of regulation, and scoring six of the team's 14 points in overtime.

Check out these numbers: Randolph is averaging 28 points and 18 rebounds over the past five games (four of them Griz wins) and 23 and 14 with 51% shooting from the floor and 90% from the line in December while the Grizzlies have gone 8-4. Randolph has another game left this month (a meet-up with good buddy Tyler Hansbrough in Indianapolis Wednesday), but his Western Conference Player of the Month credentials are looking strong.

Who else could get it? Brandon Roy, who has gone 28-5-5 while keeping the Blazers in the black despite mounting injuries, is probably an equally deserving candidate. Kobe Bryant, 30-6-5 for an 11-3 Lakers team is in the conversation. But I think those are probably the only players who could reasonably get the nod over Randolph.

What Randolph is doing this season for the Grizzlies is terrific, and tonight's game has tipped him over into the 20/10 average with which he's become associated. But those similar surface averages obscure just how differently — and better — Randolph's playing than he has since early in his career (if ever). I'll get into much more detail on that with a longer, analytical post on Randolph later this week.

3. The Close-Out Offense: Down the stretch of regulation and through overtime, the Grizzlies relied heavily on high pick-and-roll sets involving Mike Conley and Marc Gasol and certainly got enough out of it to win the game, including corner three attempts from O.J. Mayo and interior looks for both Gasol and Zach Randolph. But it wasn't always textbook, particularly the possession the forced overtime, in which Randolph got a kickout near the three-point line and drove for a foul call that, while certainly legitimate, also bailed out a poor last-shot possession.

I'm never been a devotee of the idea that O.J. Mayo would suddenly become an all-star point guard if you just gave him the ball. Nor have I ever thought Mike Conley is a crime against basketball. But I do think the team should use Mayo more as a creator in halfcourt sets, both for what the team could get out of that now and what the team could learn going forward about just what Mayo could become.

It's probably relevant to note that the team's best stretch tonight came in the first half of the fourth quarter, a 13-4 run with Conley on the bench and Mayo being assertive offensively, scoring or assisting on nine of the 13 points.

Overall though, Conley and Mayo both stepped up in Gay's absence with strong if imperfect games. Conley rebounded from a terrible game at Dallas to score a season-high 22 points on 9-15 shooting, with 4 boards, 5 assists, and zero turnovers in 39 minutes. Mayo had a big night with a team-high 28 points to go with 7 boards and a team-high 6 assists. Outside of a poor showing against Denver, Mayo's scoring and assist numbers are rising in unison of late, a sign that he could be re-asserting his rookie-year star potential despite a still shaky three-point stroke.

The Jacob Riis Report: The Grizzlies bench scored 16 points on 6-20 shooting and still managed to outplay their Wizards counterparts, who notched only 10 points on 3-14 shooting. Mike Miller, nursing a calf injury, did not play. The Wiz could have used him.

Deflections:

Overheard: When Antawn Jamison re-entered the game in the fourth quarter, a Wizards assistant shouted: "Put him on Thabeet! Put him on Thabeet!"

Overheard, Part II: "Don't shoot me, Gil" — Thoroughly expected fan heckle as Arenas argues with a referee during a stoppage in play.

This was a rare game where Grizzlies fans really have nothing to complain about re:officiating, as the Grizzlies were the beneficiaries of close and non-calls all night, including the ones that put Randolph and Gasol on the line at the end of regulation and overtime.

The announced attendance was 14,571. Not sure the crowd looked any different than recent games with announced 12,500 attendances.

DeMarre Carroll was respectable in his first NBA start: Seven points on 3-6 shooting and four assists in 23 minutes. Didn't make as many of the crowd-igniting hustle plays you'd like to see, but didn't force anything either.

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