The Lead: The story of last night's game was Rudy Gay and Tony Allen forming a frequently destructive defensive tandem.
With usual starter Xavier Henry out with a bruised knee and coach Lionel Hollins opting to keep O.J. Mayo in his sixth-man role, Sam Young, rather than Allen, got the start at the two-guard position. This essentially put Allen in the role of the team's fifth wing player and he didn't enter the game until about three minutes into the second quarter. And yet, but the end of the night, Allen had played a season-high 34 minutes, registering 14 points (5-9 shooting), 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and 6 steals.
The Grizzlies got off to a sluggish start, falling behind 22-10 late in the first quarter, and were down 31-20 when Allen made his first appearance at the 8:51 mark of the second quarter. But over the next five minutes, Allen and Gay lead a 16-3 Grizzlies run to take the lead, blitzkrieging the Raptors' offense to the tune of six combined steals, three of them leading to transition dunks, including a climatic Gay steal in which he fed Allen for a dunk to put the Griz up 36-34.
On the night, Allen and Gay played together — by my count — for 29 minutes, during which the Grizzlies outscored the Raptors 71-46 and the duo combined for 9 of their 11 steals. These 29 minutes also included a three-and-a-half minute stretch in which Hollins scrapped back-up point guard Greivis Vasquez' usual second-half minutes and instead experimented with a big lineup that put Gay, Allen, and O.J. Mayo together along the perimeter — with Gay essentially playing point-forward. The Griz looked good in this configuration, outscoring the Raptors 5-2, with Gay registering an assist.
Might we see this look again?
An abbreviated post-gamer tonight due to a fussy baby (and, okay, a depressing game):
The Lead: An inconsistent, frustrating, and perplexing Grizzlies season took another bad turn tonight with one of the worst losses of the season.
The five best teams in the NBA so far this season have been the Celtics, Spurs, Mavericks, Heat, and Lakers. The Grizzlies have wins against three of these teams and have taken the other two to overtime. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies have now lost to the Cavaliers (8-20), Wizards (7-19), the Warriors (9-18), and the Nets (9-20) en route to a 8-7 mark against teams that currently have losing records. You can't be more than a mediocre team until you start beating the mediocre and bad teams more often. Extra note of frustration: Per ESPN, the Nets were 7-1 this season when point guard Devin Harris scored at least 21 points and 1-19 when he fell under that threshold. Make that 2-19 now, as Harris managed only 12 points on 4-11 shooting.
Making the loss more frustrating tonight was that the team's three most effective players for most of the game — Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and O.J. Mayo — ended up playing only 28, 32, and 27 minutes, respectively, and foul trouble wasn't really at the root of this. Gasol and Randolph sat to start the fourth quarter, with the Grizzlies down 9, and didn't re-enter the game until the 3:27 mark, with the team down 7.
The Lead: Heading into tonight, the Grizzlies and Bobcats had each played a league-high 8 games decided by three points or less (Griz 4-4, Bobcats 3-5). This was not one of those nights.
This was the first true rout of the season for the Grizzlies. An earlier 20-point win against the Minnesota Timberwolves hovered in the teens until well into the fourth quarter. But tonight, the Grizzlies overcame a slow start offensively to build a 23-point lead at the half and then overcame another brief offensive hiccup at the start of the second half to build a 35-point lead.
Another fastbreak trifecta happened midway through the fourth quarter: First an alley-oop from Mayo to Darrell Arthur that Arthur finished with a thunderous one-handed dunk. Then a Mayo lay-up in transition in which he brought the ball behind his back and finished, twisting, over a Bobcats defender. Two possessions later, a Gay block led to another alley-oop, this time Gay feeding Arthur for another big dunk. This sequence pushed the lead to 33 and, anticipating a Bobcats timeout that didn't come, Mike Conley and (I think) other players on the Griz bench ran onto the court to celebrate, getting the most comical technical foul we're likely to see this season. The Grizzlies ended up with 31 fastbreak points on the night.
The Grizzlies needed a game like this and, with things coming easy, the team created something of an offensive roadmap: Good shots were funneled to the team's three most-talented scorers — Zach Randolph (8-16), Gay (8-15), and Mayo (10-15) — while both point guards registered more assists than field-goal attempts (Mike Conley: 9:6, Greivis Vasquez 6:3). There are some nights, obviously, when a good match-up or a hot hand should lead to Conley being more of a primary scorer. But, on average, the best scorers on this team are not at that position.
And even more than Conley, getting more judicious shot selection from Vasquez and Tony Allen seemingly lead to a more effective attack: On the season, this duo has averaged 8 field-goal attempts in 22 combined minutes. Tonight, they took only 5 shots in 30 combined minutes, funneling more off-the-bench shots to Mayo, where they belong.
The win adds to what is now a season-high four-game win streak.
1. David Stern in Town: NBA commissioner David Stern is in town for tonight's game. Wednesday night against the Bobcats in unusually cold weather? Should be a great crowd for the commish! Stern will be speaking at a "Chalk Talk" for season-ticket holders at 6 p.m. tonight and will be meeting the media, briefly, afterwards.
2. Stopping Stephen Jackson: The Bobcats primary scorer, Stephen Jackson, is one of the biggest two guards in the league at 6'8" and is taking six three-pointers a game on 39% shooting, so he could pose a big problem for the Grizzlies. He has in the past, where he's been one of O.J. Mayo's toughest match-ups. Jackson averaged 22 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists in two games against the Grizzlies last season. So it will be interesting to see what happens to the Grizzlies' deep, ever-evolving two-guard rotation tonight. Xavier Henry will get the start, and as the biggest of the team's three options at the position, he has a chance to play the most minutes if he's effective. If he's not, re-emerging defensive specialist Tony Allen could take over. Certainly, a Jackson-Allen match-up has a chance to be, um spirited. Where will this leave O.J. Mayo? With a 6'8" Jackson averaging 36 minutes at the two spot for Charlotte and the athletically dominant Gerald Wallace manning small forward for 39 minutes a night, match-up problems might limit Mayo's minutes — unless he lights it up when he does get the call.
The Lead: The Grizzlies avenged their 100-99 home loss to the Blazers back in mid-November with an ugly, hard-fought 86-73 win. The Blazers were certainly not in top shape, coming in on the second half of a back-to-back road set and with their ostensible best player, Brandon Roy, in bad shape. But this was still a good win for the Grizzlies. It moves the team to 11-14 and within one game of the now 12-13 Blazers for 8th seed in the Western Conference.
Most interesting was how Lionel Hollins used his roster tonight, giving significant minutes to both Tony Allen and O.J. Mayo — including using them together at times — and playing match-ups and offensive/defense switches effectively. It was probably the best game management I've seen from the Grizzlies this season.
It's also the second game in a row in which Mayo and Allen have figured prominently and the team has won, which could be — and should be — a sign of things to come if this team is going to make a playoff run. Mayo and Allen have been the two most underutilized players on the team this season. If these two games are more than just a blip and the team is ready to make good use of both, then the Grizzlies could be ready to make a strong push.
Man of the Match: After a slightly sluggish start to the season, Zach Randolph is back in beast mode. Randolph put up a game high 25 points and 20 rebounds tonight, his second 20-20 game of the season, and he's averaged 26 points and 17 rebounds in the current three-game winning streak. Portland power forward LaMarcus Aldridge has been a match-up problem for Randolph in the past with his combination of length and deft shooting, but Aldridge's mid-range game wasn't much of a factor tonight, as he hit only 1-2 outside the paint and scored only 13 points overall. Randolph just outworked Aldridge tonight, and on both ends: Randolph matched his season-high with 3 steals.
The Grizzlies return home from a 2-2 West Coast road trip to face playoff-positioning rival the Portland Trailblazers at FedExForum tonight. I'll be on hand and will be tweeting from press row. Until then, a few thoughts on tonight's game. And if you read to the bottom — or even just scroll down — you'll find info on a ticket giveaway for Wednesday's game with the Charlotte Bobcats.
1. Revenge Game: This has been a season of bad losses and good wins for the inconsistent Grizzlies, and the team's November 16th home loss to a Blazers team then playing without its best player, Brandon Roy, constituted one of the bad losses. The Grizzlies have a chance to avenge that loss tonight, and with the team two games behind the Blazers in the race for the Western conference's final playoff spot, a win tonight would give the team a big boost as it tries to get back in the post-season picture. Both teams have been a little wobbly since that game, the Blazers going 5-7 since, and the Grizzlies slightly better at 6-6. The Grizzlies may be helped by the Blazers coming in on the second night of back-to-back road games (having lost to the San Antonio Spurs last night), while the Grizzlies have had a day's rest.
2. Two-Guard Tumult: Both teams are undergoing some complications at their two guard position, with transitions that started around the time of the previous meeting. That November game was the Blazers first of three without Roy, whose long-festering knee issues have taken a bad turn. Roy's been playing the past few weeks, but not well. In his last five games, he's averaging only 16 points on 35% shooting and tweaked his knee again last night in San Antonio. Roy's availability and effectiveness are both a mystery heading into tonight's game.
In Roy's absence back in November, free agent Wesley Matthews stepped up and provided what, at the time, was a career performance for Portland, scoring 30 points on 11-19 shooting. But that performance proved to be a launching pad for Matthews, who has stayed in the starting lineup even with Roy back (replacing a slumping Nicholas Batum at small forward) while averaging 21 points over the past five games. Before the first meeting with the Grizzlies, Matthews hadn't hit more than two three-pointers in a game. Since, he's done so four times, including equaling the career-high five he set against the Grizzlies twice more.
After a long Thanksgiving holiday trip to visit my in-laws in Minnesota, I returned to FedExForum tonight for the first time in more than a week. Did I miss anything good? Let's count it off:
1. Zach Randolph and O.J. Mayo miss shootaround, are benched to start the Heat game.
2. Rudy Gay ends a wild final minute with a buzzer-beater over Lebron James in one of the great moments in Grizzlies history. The building goes bananas. The season, for the moment, is saved.
3. O.J. Mayo becomes Sixth Man. Xavier Henry installed as starter.
4. A ho-hum route of a bad Pistons team.
5. Hamed Haddadi loses his mind.
6. A fun win over the Golden State Warriors on national television.
7. The return of Hubie Brown, which may have hurt almost as much to miss as the Rudy Gay buzzer-beater.
Yikes. But, hey, at least I was gifted with a good game on my return to FedExForum tonight:
The Lead: Grizzlies fans are certainly no stranger to disappointment over the years. But — opening nights aside — it seems like whenever there's a high-profile team in town and a good crowd in the building, the result is a close, exciting game. This was the case with the Boston Celtics (overtime loss) and Miami Heat (final shot win) earlier this season and was the case with both home Laker games a year ago, both of which — if memory serves — came down to final Laker shots, one a Ron Artest miss and one a Kobe Bryant make.
Tonight was something of a repeat of last season's first home Laker game. In both instances, the Grizzlies held a two-point lead while the Lakers held the ball for the final shot. Like last season, a Griz defender closed out aggressively on Kobe Bryant (last year Marc Gasol, this time O.J. Mayo) and Bryant passed to Ron Artest for a potential game-winning three-pointer. And, like last season, Artest missed. (In this case, his attempt was blocked by Rudy Gay.)