The Lead: Tuesday night, the Grizzlies moved one step closer to their first playoff birth since 2006, but it wasn’t because of anything they did. Roughly 15 minutes after a frustrating, controversial loss to the Clippers, the Grizzlies players sat in their lockers, watching the final minutes of a game in Houston, where the home-team Rockets were being upset by the Sacramento Kings. The Rockets' loss reduced the Grizzlies' "magic number" from 3 to 2.
Earlier, out on the FedExForum court, the Grizzlies gave their most lackluster home performance in at least a month, squandering a 13-point second-half lead with poor shooting, bobbled passes, and a failure to either exploit or counter fourth-quarter match-up problems.
But the poor basketball for 47-plus minutes was overshadowed by a chaotic, confusing finish. After Mike Conley scored on a fastbreak drive to cut the deficit to one, the Clippers had the ball, up 82-81, with 29.5 seconds left on the clock. With, apparently, 0.2 seconds left on the 24-second shot clock, Clippers point guard Eric Bledsoe and the Grizzlies' Tony Allen collided in the lane, a few feet beyond the restricted circle.
It was a bang-bang play: One official, Tony Brothers, on the sideline, called a charge on Bledsoe. Another, Violet Palmer, under the basket, called a block on Allen, a buzzing shot-clock adding to the chaos.
The officials consulted, registered the disagreement on the call, then went to the replay. The replay consultation was only to see if the shot-clock expired before the foul(s). The officials, as I understand it, were not allowed to rule on the block/charge question based on replay. With the ruling that the foul(s) occurred before the shot clock expired, a double foul was called on Allen and Bledsoe and the ball was jumped at center court. This is by the book. From my copy of the NBA Officials Media Guide:
72. Officials disagree on a block/charge situation not involving the restricted area, with one official immediately signaling a blocking foul on Player B1, while the other official is signaling a an offensive foul on Player A1.
How is this play administered?
A personal foul is assessed both players and play is resumed with a jump ball at the center circle between two opposing players.
There are a couple of practical questions here: With the clock about the expire and Bledsoe barreling down the lane, the block call, even if correct, essentially bailed the Clippers out of a bad possession. And one wonders about the discretion of the crew chief (Brothers, from what I understand) to settle the disagreement and make a call. For the Grizzlies, either call would have been better than what occurred. Even a blocking foul would have given the Grizzlies the ball back with a chance to tie or win on a final shot.
But I can see how, in the quickness and clamor of the moment, either a block or charge could have been called. And, given that both were called, the official response followed the letter of the law.
More questionable, in retrospect, may be what happened next: Jumping at center with 5.7 seconds left, the toss veered toward Clippers center Chris Kaman, who tapped it back toward the Grizzlies goal, into the hands of guard Eric Gordon. Shane Battier was the closest Griz player to Gordon and sprinted after him in an attempt to foul. Battier was bumped by Clippers forward Blake Griffin (potential foul on the Clippers) but still made it to Gordon and swiped at him, making contact (clear "intent" to foul). Neither was called and the clock expired. Given the surly mood in the building and the invective already being hurled at the officials, particularly Palmer, it felt like a ref crew that wanted the game to end.
Judge for yourself:
Ultimately it was a hiccup in a playoff push still wildly likely to end in success, but it was a poorly played game that ended on a sour, unsatisfying note.
Nightly Number: The Grizzlies had been getting strong bench play from Darrell Arthur all year and good shooting from a somewhat rejuvenated O.J. Mayo, but both players struggled terribly tonight, combining to shoot 1-16 from the floor. That lack of production was an absolute killer, but with a subpar 14 points on 6-15 shooting from Zach Randolph (good shots rolling out) and Tony Allen not finding his rhythm (4-13 shooting, one steal), the Grizzlies gave one of their worst offensive performances of the season, shooting 39.5% from the floor en route to their lowest-scoring game of the season.
The Match-Up: The Clippers went small late, with a three-guard lineup of Mo Williams, Eric Bledsoe, and Randy Foye. The Grizzlies stayed big, with Tony Allen and Shane Battier flanking Mike Conley. And the Clippers seemed to benefit more from the mismatches, getting most of their closing offense off Foye and Williams. Starter Sam Young, who had energized the Grizzlies with a strong third quarter, didn't see the floor in the fourth. After the game, Griz coach Lionel Hollins seemed to second-guess himself a little bit for the closing lineups. "They went smaller and I decided to stay the way we were," Hollins said. "I guess you could blame the loss on me for that."
Coaching decisions get second-guessed every night, of course, and that really wasn't what this game was about — more energy and fewer misses of shots normally made and none of the strategy or officiating questions matter — but I thought this was a nice, reflective moment from Hollins, who is often considered prickly but was not so in this comment.
Men of the Match: The Grizzlies got generally strong contributions from a couple of players tonight. With teammates struggling, Mike Conley was aggressive tonight and scored 20 points on 8-16 shooting. Conley's four steals pushed his season total to 138, passing James Posey's 137 in the 2003-2004 season for the franchise record. And Marc Gasol played with fire tonight, scoring 14 points (6-11 shooting) and grabbing 15 rebounds, with 4 steals and 3 blocks. He also delivered one of the hardest fouls of the season, putting Clippers center DeAndre Jordan on his back on a dunk attempt.
Where They Stand: It was road underdog night out west, with the Grizzlies, Rockets, and Blazers all losing at home to inferior teams. The night ended with the Blazers in 6th, a game ahead of the Grizzlies; the idle Hornets in 7th, half a game ahead of the Grizzlies; the Grizzlies — now 44-34 — in 8th, and the Rockets three games back in 9th, just barely hanging on.
Looking Ahead: The Grizzlies are off until Friday, when they will host the Sacramento Kings. Schedule watchers will want to keep an eye on Hornets-Rockets (mixed interests) tomorrow night and Blazers-Jazz Thursday night.
Announced Attendance: 15,433