The Lead: The was the Grizzlies' third straight convincing win over a Western Conference playoff team, and the best thing about it was that it didn't feel at all surprising. Unlike the team's big road win against the Lakers, in which a desultory performance from the defending champs was a major factor, these past two wins — over Oklahoma City Wednesday and over Utah tonight — game against good teams playing normal games and without the Grizzlies seeming to play beyond their normal capabilities.
In both cases, the opposition boasted the game's biggest star — Kevin Durant for OKC, Deron Williams for Utah — but in both cases the Grizzlies countered with a collection of talent that was at least comparable. Looking out on the floor, at the players involved, the Grizzlies looked to be roughly as talented as the other team. And they are.
As has become all-too-common, the Grizzlies dug themselves a bit of a hole to start the season, but are now climbing their way out of it by finally getting what I believe is the most talented all-around roster in franchise history — not saying a lot, I know — to play well together. Among the seven core players used in this game, five scored in double figures, four had three or more assists, and five had two or more steals.
As we all know with this franchise, good fortune is subject to sudden change, but right now this is a good team — and should be. This little streak is no fluke.
Man of the Match:Hard to do in such a strong team effort, but Lionel Hollins revealed in his post-game press conference that rookie back-up point guard Greivis Vasquez got the team's own game ball. It's easy to see why, with Mike Conley in some foul trouble and with a tough match-up against a big, powerful point guard in Deron Williams, Vasquez ending up playing the majority (by about four seconds) of the minutes at the one tonight, and responded with strong play on both ends.
Offensively, Vasquez had a career high 7 assists — after matching his previous career-high 6 in the OKC game — to only 1 turnover, with a couple of highlight-worthy passes. In the second quarter, Vasquez stole the ball from Jazz swingman C.J. Miles, O.J. Mayo raced past the Jazz defense, and Vasquez hit him with a pinpoint no-look pass for a lay-up. That sequence was a combination of effort, precision, and flair that satisfies you in the place where you love the game the most. Early in the fourth quarter, Vasquez found Darrell Arthur for a nice alley-oop feed. Scoring-wise, Vasquez was only 2-6, but both scores were three-point plays, one a scoop shot hoop-and-harm, the other a deep top-of-the-key three that answered Earl Watson's own shot from seconds before. Defensively, Vasquez was as solid as he's been all season.
But Vasquez will have to share this one with Rudy Gay, who overcame some early scoring struggles to put up perhaps his most impressive all-around stat line of the season, scoring a game high 28 points on an efficient 8-14 shooting, including 3-3 from long-range and 9-10 from the line. Gay also had 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals. Rudy is starting to put up big scoring nights without forcing a lot of shots and is starting to make impact plays without scoring. Midway through the fourth, with the Jazz threatening, Gay slipped through two Jazz defenders, dancing along the baseline to keep an offensive rebound alive, securing the ball and whipping it to an open Marc Gasol under the rim for a lay-up. And Gay's defensive improvement has gone beyond his increased steal rate. He's evolved over the course of this season into a more solid, more attentive all-around defender, and that was on display tonight.
Nightly Number: The Grizzlies forced 22 turnovers tonight — a season-high for the Jazz — which led to 27 points. By contrast, the Grizzlies took care of the ball, coughing it up only 13 times and allowing only 8 Jazz points on their miscues. The Grizzlies had 17 steals tonight, with 8 of 9 rotation players registering at least one. (Fine, the exception was Thabeet.)
The Match-Up: The Grizzlies used four different defenders — Mike Conley, Greivis Vasquez, Tony Allen, and O.J. Mayo — at different times on Deron Williams, and everyone held their own well enough, though Conley, understandably, got overpowered a couple of times. At the end of the night, Williams scored only 19 points on 4-13 shooting, with 6 assists and 5 turnovers.
Most effective on Williams was Tony Allen. With the Jazz down 12 midway through the third quarter, Williams started to look like he wanted to try to take over, leading a little run to cut the Griz lead to 8. But when Williams began to assert himself more, the Griz moved Allen over to Williams, letting Mike Conley guard Jazz swingman Raja Bell, who is mostly just a spot-up shooter offensively. Allen stifled Williams attempt to dominate, his finest moment coming on a possession where Allen bottled up Williams' attempt at penetration, pushed him deep beyond the three-point line, poked the ball away, and took it the other way for an easy score. It was a defensive dismantling of an elite ball-handler. This is precisely the situational impact defense the Grizzlies signed Allen to provide.
The Jacob Riis Report: What is it about former back-up point guards playing against the Grizzlies this season? Earl Watson was strong off the bench for the Jazz, scoring 12 points on perfect 5-5 shooting, including hitting two three-pointers, which has never been a specialty.
Tweet O’ the Game: @FlyerGrizBlog in all fairness it hit him in both hands. It's like watching a baby giraffe struggle to walk before lions show up
— @Hamlin38103 on a Hasheem Thabeet failing to get a shot off after Greivis Vasquez set him up for what should have been an easy dunk.
Arena Action: Michael Heisley was courtside (as was an Oak Ridge Boy) and the visiting Chilean miner modeled blue suede shoes.
Where They Stand: The Grizzlies improved their record to 17-19 and, with the Houston Rockets falling at Orlando, move into sole possession of 9th place in the Western Conference. The Grizzlies remain 2.5 games back of the current 8th seed Portland Trailblazers however, who won in Minnesota.
Looking Ahead: The Grizzlies head to Oklahoma City for a road-game rematch with the Thunder tomorrow night. Could be a big game.
Announced Attendance: 14,781
After the Oklahoma City game, in which he missed five lay-ups, Tony Allen said he needed to start dunking the ball. Two minutes into the game, he stole the ball from Andrei Kirilenko and heading down the court on a breakaway, went up — and dunked it. Promise kept, at least to for starters. On a latter breakaway, Allen laid it up instead, but did convert the shot.
Zach Randolph remained in the all-star groove, putting up 26 and 11. He's averaging 28 and 14 over his past five games.
What started out as the lead — the first game back for O.J. Mayo since his fight with Tony Allen — got buried by the game. Mayo sported minor lingering effects from the altercation, but both played well tonight and shared the court for a little while. The fight now looks like a non-issue, at least for the moment.