Friday, January 13, 2012

Postgame Notebook: Grizzlies 94, Knicks 83 — Where Rudy Rebounds and the Juice Breaks Loose.

Posted By on Fri, Jan 13, 2012 at 8:38 AM

The Lead: The Grizzlies ended a three-game losing streak — and got a couple of key scorers into a needed groove — with a commanding win over the Knicks, going up by as much as 25 points late in the third quarter before a combination of a defensive letup and a series of three-pointers from Knicks bench players made the score closer without ever putting the outcome in doubt.

The Grizzlies needed a game like this to rein in anxiety over the team's 3-6 start, but got plenty of help from a Knick team whose 6-4 record coming into the game was probably misleading (lots of wins against bad teams) and whose top two scorers (Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire) had dud games for different reasons.

Man of the Match: After getting off to a poor start to the season and struggling terribly in Tuesday night's game against the Thunder, the pressure was obviously on Rudy Gay, and he responded tonight, with a season-high 26 points on 11-16 shooting, heavy on fluid mid-range jumpers and alley-oop finishes (and one monster dunk in traffic). Gay's best sequence came late in the third quarter, when he stuffed Knicks seven-footer Tyson Chandler at the rim then buried a straight-away three-pointer at the opposite end. But, if onlookers shouldn't have gotten too low after Gay's poor showing against the Thunder, they should be wary of getting too high based on his play against the Knicks. Gay is apparently dealing with a minor hip injury in addition to the other challenges associated with his return from a major shoulder. He needs to put together a string of strong performances to really get right. We'll see if a trend develops when the Griz face the New Orleans Hornets Saturday night.

Nightly Number: The Knicks were playing poorly at the offensive end in the first half and not getting back well on defense, while the Grizzlies were getting better-than-normal performances from Gay and Mayo. It felt like a blowout, but the Grizzlies lead hovered around 10 most of the half. The Grizzlies made some miscues offensively, but the real reason they couldn't open up a bigger lead was a relative lack of defensive intensity, especially in the second quarter. They were taking advantage of Knicks mistakes rather than forcing mistakes, with only three steals and six Knicks turnovers in the half.

The Grizzles took a 49-38 lead into the break, but turned up the heat defensively when they came back out, effectively ending the game with a decisive 20-5 run during an eight-minute stretch in the third quarter in which they forced five Knick turnovers on four steals and two blocks.

The Match-Up: Somewhat lost amid the Grizzlies injuries and slow start is how terrific Marc Gasol has been. Facing another top center in Tyson Chandler — who was arguably the second (or third?) most important player on last year's Mavericks' title team — Gasol dominated the match-up despite only scoring 10 points on 3-7 shooting. He grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds and bested anyone on the Knicks with 5 assists. His four blocks doesn't even begin to tell the story of how good he was defensively, but a game-best +21 +/- is a start. Gasol now has three or more blocks in each of his past four games and has had double-digit rebounds in seven consecutive games. Next step: Get this dude some rest. Gasol hit the 40-minute mark for the fourth game in a row, playing for a significant stretch in the fourth quarter even with the Grizzlies taking a 23-point lead into the final period and the Knicks never seriously threatening.

Elements of Style: Is O.J. Mayo back? My favorite moment of the game was a missed shot. It happened late in the first quarter, with about 12 seconds still on the shot clock and Mayo holding the ball deep in the corner with Knicks swingman Bill Walker draped over him. Mayo brought the ball up in a shooting motion, but hesitated when Walker jumped out on him, and I expected him to put the ball on the floor or whip a pass back out to the top of the key. Instead, Mayo rose up anyway, releasing the ball nearly straight into the air to avoid Walker. The rainbow of a shot found the middle of the rim, going halfway down before somehow rattling out. Mayo seemed to barely register the miss, remaining in attack mode. That moment felt like a flashback to first- and second-year Mayo, when he routinely fired — and made — jumpers with defenders up on him. Mayo had buried an 18-foot jumper seconds after first entering the game and kept plugging away, notching 18 points in under 21 minutes on 7-12 shooting (4-7 from three).

This was supposed to be the idea behind moving Mayo to the bench — to give the Grizzlies an instant-offense sixth man. A Jason Terry type. But it hasn't generally been a reality, with Mayo, as he suggested after the game, trying perhaps too hard to “play the right way” — to please his coaches and teammates at the expense of getting his own game on track. Mayo said that after Tuesday night's game, in which he shot well (3-3 from long-range) but not often (four field-goal attempts total) while the team lost, he decided that he had to be more aggressive in looking for shots. And coach Lionel Hollins had a very interesting comment after the game, saying “the one thing I'm learning about Juice is that he needs to play freely. He took some bad shots tonight, but he made them.” Hollins suggested that he's come to understand that he needs to let Mayo play looser to get himself going.

Mayo played with a swagger in this game that we haven't seen much over the past year or so. If this evolving mindset for both Hollins and Mayo carries over and Mayo does finally emerge as that Terry-type off-the-bench scorer he's allegedly meant to be, this could be a very significant and promising development for both Mayo and the team.

The Jacob Riis Report:Not to dampen enthusiasm over this win too much, but the Knicks were a mess. Carmelo Anthony was playing well, but a minor wrist injury and foul trouble slowed him down before a sprained ankle took him out of the game entirely. He finished with 14 points in 20 minutes. Amare Stoudemire got two fouls in the first two minutes and never got on track. In the third quarter he twice got the ball simply taken out of his hands by a Griz defender — by Marc Gasol on a short jumper attempt and by Tony Allen in a scrum. He finished with six points (1-7 shooting) and 3 rebounds in 20 minutes. With their stars faltering, someone had to pick up the load for the Knicks. Enter rookie “point guard” Iman Shumpert, who started raining bad shots even before Stoudemire's and Anthony's struggles en route to a ridiculous 5-20 shooting night with three assists and six turnovers.

Tweet O’ the Game: "Grizzlies just announced Rudy Gay will be having make-up sex with all interested fans after the game" — @KevinRitz

Arena Action: Tony Allen turned 30 on Wednesday — celebrating with his teammates at a surprise party at Benihana. And he got another birthday surprise against the Knicks, getting serenaded by a small but loud cadre of fans, who sang “Happy Birthday” when Allen went to the free-throw line late in the first quarter. Allen said after the game that he heard the singing. “I wanted them to stop because I was worried I might miss a free throw,” Allen said with a laugh. (He made both.) Later, he saluted the fans on Twitter, saying that he wanted to wave to them but didn't want to lose his focus.

Fans enjoyed an epochal Jumbotron moment in the second half, during the usual dance-cam segment. The “Big Man Who Dances” was doing his crowd-pleasing thing like he does every game, but this time he had some competition in the form of a middle-aged blonde woman who took the accompanying music's “get low” command to heart. After cutting between the two, the board operators put them together for a split-screen pas de deux. Good times were had by all.

Former Grizzlies head coach Mike Fratello was on the broadcast crew for TNT tonight and I had a chance to say hello after the game. Another familiar but more unexpected face was Brendan Brown, former Griz assistant coach under his dad, Hubie Brown, who is now doing commentary for the Knicks' radio broadcast.

Where They Stand: The Griz improved to 4-6 and are 1.5 games behind the Dallas Mavericks for 8th place in the Western Conference.

Looking Ahead: The homestand continues with the New Orleans Hornets in town Saturday night — aka the Greivis Vazquez homecoming game — and the Chicago Bulls — with or without an injured Derrick Rose — in for a noon national TV game Monday as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday.

Announced Attendance: 15,324

Deflections:

If the play of Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo were the headlines for the Grizzlies in this game, another notable development was the elevation of rookie Josh Selby into the backup point guard role. I'd speculated if this could be coming, but didn't expect it quite this soon. In his 12 minutes of action before end-of-game mop-up duty, Selby flashed the offensive ability that makes him such an intriguing talent: Knocking down a three-pointer, knifing through traffic in transition for a pull-up in the lane, feeding Dante Cunningham with a nifty bounce pass on the break. Selby is a talent but was considered more of a two by coaches in training camp. He seems to have taken to the point guard spot better than many — myself included — anticipated. Hollins said after the game that the role is now Selby's to potentially keep — or lose if he plays himself back to the bench.

Quincy Pondexter had a rough night, missing all three field-goal attempts and all four free-throw attempts while picking up three fouls in under 10 minutes. Exiting the arena roughly an hour after the game, I saw him alone on the practice court, working on his shot.

Hamed Haddadi was on a plane to New York last night. As I understand it, Hadaddi's work visa has been approved, but he has to go to the Canadian embassy in New York to gain entry to the country to get the visa — and then get entry back into the U.S. The expectation is that he will be in a uniform soon, but given the looming weekend and holiday, a team official expressed doubt that Haddadi would be able to go by Monday's game.

While O.J. Mayo was racking up points on the court, a report came out on Twitter via Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski that the Grizzlies were discussing a trade that would send Mayo to the New Jersey Nets, potentially for shooter Anthony Morrow and a draft pick. It was reported that the deal is unlikely to be completed. That would be a tough one for the Grizzlies. They want to win now, and if Mayo if really rejuvenated, that could be a big boost to the team's short-term prospects. But, for financial reasons, if nothing else, it's still highly unlikely that the team would resign him this summer. Morrow is a comparable if less dynamic shooter on a reasonable deal that extends beyond this season. Getting him and a pick for Mayo would be perhaps only a minor step back in the short term that would add value going into next season. It's the kind of deal the team would have to consider.

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