The Lead: The Grizzlies head into the All-Star break with a four-game winning streak and a 12-3 record over their past 15 games, but the real lead tonight was the injury Rudy Gay suffered in the middle of the second quarter.
After hitting the floor on a drive and taking two free throws on one-hand shots, Gay left the game for good with a subluxation on his non-shooting shoulder. As I understand it, a subluxation is a partial dislocation. Essentially, Gay's shoulder popped out and immediate popped back in. The damage this did will be determined by an MRI tomorrow, and until that happens, no one can be sure about how serious this is. The range could be anywhere from surgery to a few days rest and treatment. The best guess seems to be that given Gay's youth, lack of history with shoulder problems, and where the injury occurred (i.e., shoulder rather than knee), there's a good chance that this isn't serious. But we won't know until tomorrow. If nothing else, the All-Star break gives Gay a weeklong rehab cushion that could minimize the number of games missed.
As for the game itself, the Grizzlies came out tonight and blitzed the Sixers in the first quarter with stifling defense that, for once, wasn't a by-product of Tony Allen, who played only two minutes in the quarter. The Grizzlies used five steals and three blocks in the quarter to force eight Philadelphia turnovers while not having any turnovers themselves. As a result, the Grizzlies went up 26-10 after one quarter.
The Grizzlies pushed the lead to 18 midway through the second quarter and were up 41-26 when Gay left the game. But Gay's departure and the free-throw awkwardness — both Gay's and the Grizzlies fouling on the other end to get him out of the game — seemed to knock the team out of its rhythm. Over the next 15 minutes, the Sixers outscored the Grizzlies 44-30 to pull to within one but could never get over the hump, as the Grizzlies used a fourth quarter shooting explosion from Mike Conley — 15 points on 6-8 shooting, including 3-4 from three-point range — to put the game away.
Man of the Match: Mike Conley's big fourth quarter pushed him to team-high 22 points, but he also pitched in five steals and two blocks. Over the past few weeks, Conley has outplayed Jameer Nelson, John Wall, Brandon Jennings, Chauncey Billups, and now Jrue Holiday in head-to-head battles as he's continued to solidify himself as a quality starter. But he'll have to share this one with Zach Randolph, who was solid start-to-finish in an otherwise up-and-down game. Randolph's 21 and 10 is pretty mundane for him, but add to that a season-high (and game-high) seven assists to go with two steals. The most memorable Randolph play, for me, came at the end of the first quarter, when he showed hard on a pick-and-roll, pushing Sixers point guard Lou WIlliams out deep and bottling him up until Griz point Jason Williams could get back to help him. Randolph and J-Will combining for a defensive stop? Defensive intensity is definitely contagious on this team right now.
Nightly Number: As I write about a lot, Grizzlies basketball this season is defined by ball-hawking defense and ball-protecting offense, leading to the league's best turnover differential. But tonight was an extreme version of that. The Grizzlies turned the Sixers over 17 times while only coughing the ball up seven times themselves for a huge -10 turnover differential. The Grizzlies got at least one block or steal from eight different players (including seven total "stocks" from Mike Conley) without having a single player have more than one turnover.
The Jacob Riis Report:Grizzlies fans got a nice, long look at Sixers rookie Evan Turner, the second overall pick in last summer's draft. Turner was abysmal in 27 minutes, scoring only two points on 1-7 shooting and not doing much of anything else. This was an unusually bad game even in the context of a wildly disappointing rookie season, but what strikes me about Turner is that it's hard to detect where the upside is. He doesn't seem to have any particularly special NBA-level attributes: Not size or athleticism or shooting ability or playmaking ability. I just don't see it. A player I do see it with, however, is second-year point guard Jrue Holiday. Holiday's stat line was nothing special — 10 points, 4 boards, 5 assists, 3 steals. But Holiday is still only 20 years old and is a strong athlete with terrific size for the position (6'4"), a huge wingspan, and the DNA to defend. If I could pick any Sixer to start my team with, Holiday would be an easy choice. A tip of the cap, as well, to Memphis native Thaddeus Young, who scored a game-high 23 off the bench for Philly in his only homecoming game of the season.
Arena Action: Zach Randolph received his Western Conference Player of the Month award for January before the game.
Where They Stand: The win moves the Grizzlies to 31-26 and has them only a half game out of the playoffs in a race that is getting very tight. With losses tonight by Utah and — presumably — New Orleans (who are down big in the fourth quarter as post this), the Grizzlies are only a half game behind Utah and Denver for the 8th and 7th seeds, one game behind Portland for the 6th seed, and only two games behind New Orleans for the 5th seed.
Looking Ahead: The Grizzlies are off until after the All-Star break, but Griz fans have a few games worth keeping an eye on before the break: Denver is at Milwaukee, Utah hosts Golden State, and New Orleans visits Portland tomorrow night.
Announced Attendance: 11,197.
For the first time in a while, the Grizzlies have no one involved in any official All-Star activities. Given how well the team is playing right now, you sort of don't want to take a break. But the timing is good for Rudy Gay, in particular, and should give Zach Randolph time to rest his still-sore ankle. One team member who does have plans for the break: Lionel Hollins, who will have his jersey retired at Arizona State along with fellow NBA coach and ASU alum Byron Scott.
O.J. Mayo returned from his 10-game suspension and played six minutes. He hit a corner three soon after getting on the floor, but struggled on both ends after that. Hollins referred to it as Mayo "getting his feet wet" after a long layoff. But even with Gay out, the Grizzlies gave Greivis Vasquez more of the back-up two-guard minutes late in the game.
Tonight marked the final game on-duty for Dustin Krugel, the team's media relations director for the past few seasons. Dustin is moving back home to Phoenix to take a government job with a more family-friendly schedule. He's been a pleasure to work with and I wish him well with the move.