Monday, November 8, 2010

Game 8 Notebook: Grizzlies 109, Suns 99

Posted By on Mon, Nov 8, 2010 at 11:39 PM

The Lead: After a brutal double-overtime loss at Phoenix Friday, the Grizzlies got their revenge tonight and, along the way, settled into something close to what might be a regular rotation for the near future.

The Griz were greeted to vintage Z-Bo tonight.
The Grizzlies built a modest lead in the second quarter on the strength of Zach Randolph's energized play and then pushed the lead up to 18 early in the fourth quarter after Randolph came out of a scrum with the ball and laid it in. The team seemed to have control of the game at that point, but, fittingly given the lessons of last weekend, the Suns didn't go down easy, going on a 7-0 run out of a timeout and eventually cutting the Grizzlies lead to 7 at the five minute mark before Rudy Gay and Mike Conley ended the Suns run with back-to-back three-pointers from opposite corners.

After leaning heavily on the starters on the recent road trip, the minutes were more reasonable tonight. Randolph played a higher-than-typical 41, but after that it was Gay at 38, Conley at 36, O.J. Mayo at 31, and Marc Gasol at 28. Off the bench, three players got regular rotation minutes: Xavier Henry (25), Darrell Arthur (20), and Acie Law (12). Sam Young got nine spot minutes, and that was it.

In the post-game, coach Lionel Hollins suggested that this would be his normal rotation in the next few games with one exception: Hasheem Thabeet would join the mix. Hollins cited the Suns small-ball lineups as the reason for Thabeet's DNP tonight. Hollins suggested that other players had had a chance to earn minutes and hadn't done so, and were taking a backseat for now. Hollins said he hoped to settle on something of a set rotation by the 20-game mark.

Two conclusions to draw from this: Tony Allen is in the doghouse and Acie Law has been given a bit of leash. It had been reported that the coaching staff thought Allen had been forcing the issue too much offensively and wasn't settling into his role as a defensive specialist. I heard tonight that there was some concern on the road trip about Allen missing defensive assignments. It's still early in the season, but the team needs to try to find a useful role for Allen, who has proven he's capable of filling one and whom the team has invested three years of significant (for the Grizzlies) salary for a bench player. Allen isn't eligible to be traded until December 15th, so for now the focus should be on trying to make it work.

As for Law, he had his maddening moments (including picking up his dribble twice against pressure, far away from the basket) but was probably more passable tonight than he's been in any regular season game. Law had three assists and one turnover tonight, generally held his own defensively, and the team was +7 with him on the floor. He's bought himself a little time, but I still don't see him holding this job all season. I suspect he's a placeholder awaiting a Greivis Vasquez audition, with Tony Allen/O.J. Mayo as an alternative the team — rightly or wrongly — is trying to avoid.

Man of the Match: This is an easy one. Zach Randolph was very effective in his last game, against the Sacramento Kings, but tonight was the first glimpse this season of vintage Z-Bo. Randolph's quick second jump was back tonight and he beasted the undersized Suns for his first 20/20 game of the season (and fifth of his career): 23 points (9-16 shooting) and 20 rebounds, including 8 offensive rebounds. Randolph also played the most energetic defense I've ever seen, the area where his somewhat slimmer physique this season seemed to show up the most. Randolph was credited with three steals, which is one less than he really had, as he was whistled for a questionable foul call while taking the ball from Hedo Turkoglu on one possession.

Nightly Number: 23 (31). With the Grizzlies' early injuries and uncertain bench play, they haven't really had a chance to establish a personality yet. But if there's one thing that's been a constant so far it's that the Grizzlies are forcing turnovers on the defensive end and generally taking care of the ball offensively, yielding a league-best +5 turnover differential heading into tonight's game. Against the Suns, the Grizzlies scored 31 points off 23 Suns turnovers while only giving up 12 points off their own 15 turnovers. Fueling this has been a league-best 12.6 steals per game and a league-leading 3.29 steals per game from point guard Mike Conley. Those averages held up tonight as well, with 12 team steals, four from Conley.

The Match-Up: Suns vs. Grizzlies is the ultimate battle of power vs. finesse, particularly in the frontcourt, where the Grizzlies bigs specialize in offensive rebounding and the Suns bigs (minus center Robin Lopez) specialize in three-point shooting. In Phoenix Friday night, Suns "power" forward Hedo Turkoglu hit five three pointers while his opposite number, Zach Randolph grabbed three offensive rebounds. Tonight, Randolph got the best of this two-way mismatch, notching eight offensive rebounds while Turkoglu hit only two three-pointers.

Rookie Xavier Henry had a breakout game with a career-high 14 points.
  • LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Rookie Xavier Henry had a breakout game with a career-high 14 points.
The Jacob Riis Report: Former Griz bench favorite Hakim Warrick has found the right team in Phoenix. After bouncing between the Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls last season without fitting in well in either location, Warrick has been a great fit in Phoenix, coming off the bench and acting as something of a poor-man's version of departed Suns star Amar'e Stoudemire. Like Stoudemire, Warrick is an athletic finisher who is great as a "dive" man on the pick-and-roll and also a good mid-range shooter. As such, he thrives off the Suns superior point-guard play. Warrick was effective again tonight, putting up 16 points (5-6 shooting) against his former team.

Tweet O’ the Game: My wife just said my hair was similar to Robin Lopez. What time does Sports Clips close? — @RTSblog

Arena Action: Griz owner Michael Heisley was in the building, with his usual courtside seat. No word on what he thought of Hakim Warwick's big night.

Where They Stand: The Grizzlies got back to .500 at 4-4, but are still in fourth place in a strong-as-ever Southwest Division.

Looking Ahead: The Griz host the Dallas Mavericks Wednesday night.

Announced Attendance: 10,786. This was not a good crowd.

Deflections:

Xavier Henry set new highs with 25 minutes and 14 points. He had some bad moments (including dribbling into a shot-clock violation late in the game when Randolph was open on the block), but also made shots and gave the team good minutes. He's still got plenty of adjusting to do — especially to the NBA three-point line — but he could be a big help as the season wears on.

Mike Conley has a pretty mediocre night in his first home game since signing his new contract extension. I thought he was looking for his shot a little too much at times.

Overhead from the Suns bench late in the game, when the Suns were trying to put the Grizzlies on the line: "Foul Conley! Let Conley catch it!" The Suns have fresh memories of Conley missing big free-throws.

Suns back-up point guard Goran Dragic made the play of the game, bringing the ball behind his back in traffic to finish a coast-to-coast transition lay-up.

Suns starting point guard Steve Nash — who is a joy to watch up close — made the unintentionally entertaining play of the game, bouncing a pass off the face of center Robin Lopez.

Rudy Gay ran his season-opening streak of 20+ point games to 8 with 22 points tonight.

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