The Lead: The Grizzlies won this one 119-112, but that final score is a little misleading. This was not generally a close game. Through three quarters, the Knicks were simply outclassed both in terms of talent and effort, and were down 94-73. Then the Grizzlies got too comfortable with the lead and stopped playing defense, allowing 39 fourth-quarter points. The game never really felt in doubt, but the Knicks did get it down to 5 points in the final minute.
That lackadaisical fourth-quarter defense kept this one from being the blowout it should have been and prevented coach Lionel Hollins from being able to empty his bench down the stretch and get his starters more rest, which would have been useful with a much more talented Denver Nuggets team coming in tomorrow night.
Despite the disappointing finish, the Grizzlies got efficient performances from four of five starters (lone exception: Zach Randolph, who got a typical 24-11, but on 7-20 shooting) and useful production off the bench. The Grizzlies have now won two in a row at home and five of their past six games to move to 35-31 on the season.
Game Ball: Zach Randolph was the team's leading scorer and rebounder. And O.J. Mayo put on a nice show with 18 second-half points on 7-11 shooting, including back-to-back circus shots in the lane and a couple of rather insolent three-pointers. But I'll go with Mike Conley here. Conley continued his vastly improved recent play with 18 points on 4-8 shooting and a season-best 10-11 from the free-throw line. Conley also had 5 rebounds, 6 assists, and only 1 turnover. And the 6 assists don’t fully reflect his strong play-making, as I noted several passes that led to teammates getting fouled but not completing their shots. Conley is averaging 16 and 6 on 52% shooting in March so far and seems to be penetrating more consistently and with more purpose and confidence. This is a Subject For Further Research, but this has been a pattern with Conley through three seasons: Erratic play (or, in some cases, erratic playing time) the first few months of the season followed by a strong closing stretch in the final couple of months. It's like he's the Adam LaRoche of basketball players. (A journeyman first-baseman, LaRoche is the current poster-boy for "second-half players" in a sport where such splits are far more common.)
Nightly Number: 18-8. That's the Knicks advantage in points-in-the-paint in the fourth quarter, despite the Grizzlies having such an enormous talent advantage inside. The Knicks got much of those points in transition and off turnovers as the Grizzlies got sloppy.
The Match-Up: Tracy McGrady was once a Top Five (at least) player in the league and on a fast track to the Hall of Fame. Sam Young is a 24-year-old rookie taken in the second round. In the first quarter, Young found himself isolated on McGrady just inside the three-point line in the corner by the Grizzlies bench. Young froze McGrady with one of his exaggerated pump-fakes and drive baseline for what could have been the dunk of the year. Young couldn't quite finish the play, but the moment symbolized this match-up: Young was dynamic; McGrady was static. McGrady scored 4 points on 1-5 shooting and had a -25 +/- rating for the game. Young scored in double-digits for the third straight game, with 13 points in 14 minutes. Young has been coming on strong of late. It'll be interesting to see how his minutes will be affected when Ronnie Brewer returns.
The Jacob Riis Report: David Lee had sneaky production for the Knicks with 17 points and a game-high 14 rebounds, but he'll be even better if he can land somewhere where he can play the four and pair up with a true center. You really need to pair him with a better defender up front. Lee did provide the most entertaining play of the game, misfiring on an in-bounds pass so badly that it tagged Lionel Hollins in the back while he was standing on the sidelines by the scorer's table. The most impressive Knick tonight? Recent acquisition Bill Walker, who's getting a chance to play after sitting on the Celtics bench most of the past two seasons. Walker came off the bench and scored 21 points with a combination of strong, athletic finishes at the rim and surprising three-point shooting.
Tweet O’ the Game: @FantasyLionel David Lee look like he never seen a #thundastick before...
Arena Action: Ellen Taylor, a five-year-old patient at St. Jude, sang the anthem tonight, getting a huge ovation from the crowd and also from the Griz players and coaches. Halftime featured my favorite annual Griz promotion, a mass paper-airplane throwing contest.
Playoff Positioning: No movement tonight. The Griz got no help tonight from the Minnesota Timberwolves, who lost big at home against the San Antonio Spurs. And the Portland Trailblazers were cruising against the Sacramento Kings as I published this post.
Announced Attendance: 12,236