With a win tonight, the Grizzlies secured their first winning season since 2005-2006 and moved a big step closer to clinching a playoff spot. I'm breaking up the usual post-game template with a few thoughts on the night's action:
"It Was a Tale of Two Halves": If any Grizzlies game this season warranted that deliciously awful hoops-writer cliché, this may have been it.
The Grizzlies and their fans were both pretty listless in the first half — not swarming defensively and thus not generating turnovers and getting in transition. The Grizzlies were also not hitting the offensive boards and not asserting their inside game enough against a Warriors team without inside defenders to combat Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
The Grizzlies coasted through the first quarter, content with a single-digit lead, but then Warriors reserve Vladimir Radmanovic came off the bench slinging three-pointers, scoring 11 points in a five-minute stretch to get the Warriors a two-point lead that they pushed to 53-48 at the end of the second quarter. Lionel Hollins watched his team incredulously from the sideline.
Tony Allen Happened: When the Warriors scored the first five points of the third quarter to take a 10-point lead, things were looking bad for the Grizzlies. But then, as has been the case in many games this season, Tony Allen happened.
The Lead: The Grizzlies had a tense but productive few minutes tonight, closing with a 22-10 run in the final 5:11 to overcome a fourth-quarter deficit and defeat the Spurs, while, at the same time, the Miami Heat was holding off the Houston Rockets down in Florida. The results gave the Grizzlies a bit of breathing room, pushing their lead over the hard-charging Rockets to 2.5 games with eight games left to play for the Grizzlies, nine for the Rockets.
The past three games — at Boston, at Chicago, and home against San Antonio, three of the league's five best teams record-wise — were supposed to be a dangerous stretch before the schedule lightened, but the Grizzlies nearly swept it, bracketing wins against the Celtics and Spurs around a loss to the Bulls in which the Grizzlies had a chance to tie on the final shot.
The Grizzlies got a bit of help tonight — Tim Duncan was out with a sprained ankle, Manu Ginobili bumped knees with Marc Gasol in the second quarter and ended up exiting the game in the third quarter as a result, and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich exited even earlier, tossed for arguing a no-call on the play where Ginobili went down.
But this one still wasn't easy, with the Spurs starting each half on a 7-0 run and with reserve guard George Hill pouring in 30 off the bench on a series of tough, dynamic makes.
The victory moves the Grizzlies to 41-33, besting last year's win total by one and guaranteeing the team's first non-losing season since 2005-2006.
Man of the Match: The Grizzlies threw a trio of heroes up the pop chart in the fourth quarter. First runner-up O.J. Mayo, helped the team respond to the Spurs 7-0 by scoring eight straight for the Grizzlies early in the quarter — two three-pointers and a lay-up. In all, Mayo came off the bench to score 17 points in 27 minutes, including 4-6 three-point shooting, exactly the kind of production the team envisioned from Mayo when they moved him into the sixth-man role but has rarely gotten. The 17 points was the most Mayo has scored in two weeks and the four threes was his highest total since before Christmas.
The Grizzlies made official a worst-case scenario that had been feared for a while: That Rudy Gay will have to have surgery to repair the shoulder he injured against the Philadelphia 76ers last month. This will end Gay's season and put him on a 4-6 month rehab stint could inch uncomfortably close to the start of next season. (Though a potential lockout might give Gay plenty of time to get ready for next season.)
But what does it mean for the Grizzlies?
Putting the Loss in Perspective:
I think we have to be careful with comparing this team pre- and post- Rudy Gay's injury. While the body of games — 14, in which the team as gone 8-6 — the team has played since Gay's injury are easy to generalize from, the 57 games — in which the team went 31-26 — the Grizzlies played before losing Gay for the season are not. The Grizzlies have evolved into a better team over the course of the season and that process was happening — had happened, really — before Gay was injured.
The NBA regular season is a long one, but fans who have been paying attention from the beginning will remember that this team had lots of problems early on that were entirely unrelated to Gay. The Grizzlies started the season 8-14, dealing with season-starting injuries to big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. More so, the team wasn't utilizing its backcourt rotation well, playing the wrong veterans over the wrong rookies, and vice versa.
Behind Mike Conley at point guard, the Grizzlies went with vet journeyman Acie Law over rookie Greivis Vasquez to start. In that opening 22-game stretch, Law appeared in half the games, dragging the bench down with a scary 0.4 player efficiency rating. Vasquez, who has played most of the back-up PG minutes since the team jettisoned Law, has provided a modest but vastly better 9.4 PER. But the starker difference was on the wing, where the team spent the first quarter of the season playing rookie Xavier Henry over free agent signee Tony Allen.
Barring the unexpected, Beyond the Arc will be dormant for the next week. I hate to do so in the middle of the first real playoff race in years, but I'm putting on my music hat full time this week, heading down to Austin, Texas, Wednesday morning for the annual South by Southwest Music Festival. I'll miss Saturday's home game against the Indiana Pacers and probably next Monday's home game with the Utah Jazz. With a roadie against the Knicks preceding those, I'm looking for the team to go 2-1 in my absence.
See you all next week.
The Lead: The Grizzlies bounced back from their season-worst 33-point loss to the Miami Heat on Saturday with a 23-point win tonight. (Subject for someone else to research: Is this is biggest game-to-game point swing in franchise history?) After losing their past two games and looking ahead to brutal road games at New York, Boston, and Chicago in the next couple of weeks, the Grizzlies badly needed this one tonight. They got it dominating this one from buzzer to buzzer — leading by as many as 31 points and never trailing.
But the win probably takes a back seat to injury issues as the story of the night. And the news isn't as good on that front.
Rudy Gay, out since February 15th with a left shoulder injury, had a follow-up MRI this morning, and the news was mixed. Gay had hoped to be cleared for on-court work, but that didn't happen. Results showed that the shoulder is healing — allaying, for the moment, fears that surgery might be required — but not fast enough for Gay to get back to basketball activity. The team is not specifying a timetable for Gay's return, but he is likely to be re-evaluated in a couple of weeks with the hope that Gay can still get back in time for the post-season.
As if the Gay news wasn't enough, Marc Gasol came up limping in the second quarter after Clippers center DeAndre Jordan stepped on his right ankle — the same one Gasol injured in the preseason. Gasol came back to play most of the third quarter, but went to the locker room for x-rays when he finally left the court. The results were negative, but Gasol is being listed as day-to-day.
The Blake Show: It's taken nearly five months, but tonight Grizzlies fans finally get their first of two up-close looks at Blake Griffin, the power-dunking Los Angeles Clipper who is enjoying one of the most productive and most exciting rookie seasons in the sport's history. Griffin is averaging 23 points, 12 rebounds on 4 assists on 51% shooting on the season. And he's doing it like this:
Crucial Game/Standings Watch: With their last-possession home loss to the Knicks Wednesday and their season-worst domination at the hands of the Miami Heat Sunday, the Grizzlies have lost back-to-back games for the first time since early February, when they followed an overtime road loss to Houston with a more thorough defeat to the Lakers. A loss tonight would be the first full-fledged losing streak since a three-game slide in mid-December.
The Grizzlies have been fortunate not to lose ground the past few days, with Portland ahead of them and Phoenix, Utah, and Houston behind them all also on two-game losing streaks. But you can't expect that to last. And the Grizzlies particularly need to reassert their home dominance after losing two of their past three on the FedExForum court. With a rough road schedule looming — Knicks, Celtics, Bulls — the Grizzlies can't afford many slip-ups at home the rest of the way.
Want to see dunk champion Blake Griffin up close? We're giving away two lower bowl tickets to tonight's game between the Grizzlies and Griffin's Los Angeles Clippers. Tipoff is 7 p.m. at FedExForum.
Go here to enter your name for the drawing, which will be conducted at noon. Winners will have to be able to pick up tickets at the Flyer's downtown offices by 5 p.m. today.
Look for a preview of tonight's game here later this morning.
The Lead: With half a second left in the game that was tied 108-108, Carmelo Anthony did to the Grizzlies what Zach Randolph did to the Mavericks last weekend and Rudy Gay did to the Heat and the Raptors earlier this season: Delivered a gut-punch loss with a baseline jumper.
The Grizzlies did well to even get the game to that point, after trailing by as much as 17 in the second half and holding a lead (27-26) for a total of 18 seconds during the entire game.
For most of the night, the Knicks delivered an overwhelming offensive barrage, raining jumpers like an entire team of Lamar Mundanes. Through three quarters — after which they held a 96-82 lead — the Knicks were shooting better than 60% from the floor and nearly as well (12-21, 57%) from three-point range. An astounding 74 of those 96 points had come from the perimeter.
That the Grizzlies were still maintaining something of a pulse through all this was do mostly to active play from the starting backcourt of Tony Allen and Mike Conley, who had combined for 38 points on 13-18 shooting and 6 steals. There was a connection between the steals and points, of course — Allen had steals and breakaway layups on consecutive positions midway through the second quarter to tie the game for the last time until the final seconds. Forcing turnovers and scoring in transition was about the only thing the Grizzlies were doing right through three quarters: 22 points off 11 Knicks turnovers and 26 fastbreak points in all.
The Lost Weekend: Sadly, a very compelling long weekend of basketball went by without any activity in this space. I was on-hand for both Friday night's loss to the New Orleans Hornets and Monday's win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, but my desire to knock out standard post-game write-ups was thwarted by — respectively — a post-game social engagement and pressing non-Grizzlies deadlines for both this week's paper and next month's Memphis magazine.
It's no use going into detail on the weekend's games at this point, but there are some individual and team trends worth putting a spotlight on.
Add in the home win last Tuesday against the Spurs and the past week — win over Spurs, loss to Hornets, win at Dallas, win over Thunder — was a continuation of a season-long trend for the team, in which the Grizzlies are extremely competitive against the West's elite but struggle more against the team middle group of teams they're competing with for playoff positioning.
Record vs. West's Big Four:
Spurs - 1-2
Mavs - 3-1
Lakers - 2-2
Thunder - 3-1
The Grizzlies have won the season series against the Mavs and Thunder, tied the season series against the Lakers, and have a chance to tie the series with the Spurs with San Antonio comes back to town on March 27th.
Record vs. Other 5-8 Contenders:
Nuggets - 1-2
Blazers - 1-1
Hornets - 0-2
Suns - 2-1
Rockets - 1-3
Jazz - 1-2
The Grizzlies have won the season series against the Suns but have lost the season series to the Rockets and Nuggets. They'll need to beat the Jazz on March 21st to tie that series and sweep the Hornets on their remaining two games (April 1st and 10th) to notch a tie with New Orleans. An April 12th game at Portland will determine who wins the season-series with the Blazers.
The Leon Powe Signing: The Grizzlies are adding what is presumably the final piece to their playoff-push roster today with the expected signing of free-agent forward Leon Powe for the remainder of this season.
Wallace wasn't kidding when he said, recently, that the team was "all in" on the playoff race.
A lack of frontcourt depth was the team's only immediately addressable need, and credit owner Michael Heisley for giving Wallace the latitude to address it. The same owner who had to be convinced to sign Quinton Ross to a minimum contract a couple of years ago has been more than willing to commit resources to bolster this team's playoff chances — first bringing in free agent point guard Jason Williams, then taking on extra salary to import Shane Battier back from Houston, and now signing Powe — who was recently bought out by the Cleveland Cavaliers — to bring his team's roster to the maximum 15. (Powe replaced Rodney Carney, whose 10-day contract with the team had come to an end and who was no longer needed given the acquisition of Battier.)
The Lead: If the season had ended today, the 8th seed Grizzlies would face off with the #1 seed Spurs in a first-round playoff series. For that reason, there's been a lot of talk about how the two-game-in-three-night set the two teams just played could be something of a playoff preview. If that were the case, then the results would bode well for the Grizzlies.
In San Antonio on Sunday night, the Grizzlies came back from a 20-point first-half deficit to hold a lead with about 90 seconds to play before finally fading. Tonight, the Grizzlies controlled the game in the first half and ran away with it in the second, leading by as much as 25 at one point. The Spurs biggest lead was 2.
Three games into the season series, the Spurs are up 2-1, but the Grizzlies have now outscored the Spurs 303-300, with both losses tightly contested games in San Antonio.
The Spurs didn't have Tony Parker tonight, but Grizzlies haven't had Rudy Gay for a single minute in three games against the Spurs this season and played the last 29 minutes tonight without starting center Marc Gasol.
"No Call" Marc Gasol lived up to the nickname I've given him, getting bumped hard by Tim Duncan on a lay-up attempt without drawing a whistle. Complaining about this no-call get Gasol a technical foul. In the second quarter, Gasol stepped out to try to block a George Hill, and got called for a foul, his animated reaction drawing a surprising second tech and an automatic ejection. Surrounding all of this was a Jason Williams tech in response to a no-call on a Darrell Arthur attempt, another no-call on Duncan, and a tick-tack offensive foul on Shane Battier. All of this put the home fans in a bad mood, and lead official Dick Bavetta and his crew were booed loudly exiting the floor at the end of the first half.
The Grizzlies took a nine-point lead into the half, but were coming out without Marc Gasol and without a viable big to defend Tim Duncan. Darrell Arthur drew the assignment, and did as well as you could have hoped, but the big difference was that the Grizzlies were able to use quick, aggressive team defense to force turnovers (six in the third quarter), get out on the break, and push their lead into double-digits. Playing from behind, the Spurs went away from their potential post advantage, played smaller, and started forcing more three-points, with little effectiveness (4-16 in the second half) — the Grizzlies' quicker, non-Gasol lineups providing better floor coverage to defend against the three anyway.