Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Postgame Notebook: Grizzlies 100, Nuggets 97 — Where Energy Finally Begets Execution and a Huge Win is Attained

Posted By on Wed, Feb 1, 2012 at 12:45 AM

The Lead: The Grizzlies fought back from a double-digit deficit midway through the fourth quarter for a rousing, badly needed overtime win over one of the league's best and deepest teams, ending a four-game losing streak and easing the memory of the previous night's debacle against San Antonio.

On paper, the first half of this game probably resembled the first half against the Spurs: The Grizzlies struggled to score (37 points on 28% shooting) and went into the half down double digits. But down on the floor it felt very different. Unlike in the Spurs game, the effort never wavered. The Grizzlies fought hard throughout the first half but the execution wasn't there — missed shots, bad turnovers, stuttering offensive sets.

The big question heading into the second half was how this energy/execution divide would resolve itself. Would the team be able to maintain their energy long enough to find better execution. Or would the poor execution eventually sap their energy.

Thankfully, for a team desperate for a win, it was the former, with the Grizzlies finally finding their groove in a 31-point fourth quarter in which they shot 69% with twice as many assists as turnovers.

This was a huge win for a team that was reeling and looking ahead to a tough three-game road trip in which all games are against probable playoff teams.

Man of the Match: Tony Allen got dubbed “Trick or Treat” based on his volatile play for the Boston Celtics. And while Allen has been a more meaningful player for the Grizzlies, that trick or treat dynamic hasn't totally disappeared.

Allen was mostly trick in the first half, where he shot 1-8 in making a series of frustrating offensive plays. But as the second half wore on, trick gave way to treat and Allen increasingly imposed his maniacal intensity and intimidating physicality on the game. Allen scored 8 points on 4-4 shooting — every basket at the rim — during an 18-8 closing run in the final six minutes of regulation, including a dunk off an O.J. Mayo drive and feed to tie the game with five seconds to play. But his finest play in this closing run came on the defensive end, when he — in his own parlance — turned the water off on Andre Miller, locking the Nuggets' veteran point guard up at mid-court in the final minute and forcing a backcourt turnover.

In overtime, Allen had two blocks, including as dramatic one on Nuggets forward Al Harrington, but his best play was an offensive rebound during a wild possession that set up a Mayo three-pointer with 35 seconds left that gave the Grizzlies the lead for good, 98-97.

The Nuggets' penchant for playing double-point-guard lineups — with Miller and Ty Lawson — to close out games probably helped the Grizzlies, as Mike Conley acknowledged after the game. Historically, Conley has struggled with the bigger, stronger Miller late in games. But with the small backcourt, the Grizzlies were able to put Allen on Miller without forcing Conley into a defensive mismatch. And Allen's defense on Miller was perhaps decisive. Miller had 20 points and 6 assists on the game, but only 5 points and 1 assist in the final 11 minutes with Allen draped on him.

Nightly Number: Marc Gasol entered the game averaging 37.9 minutes per game, fifth highest in the NBA and a huge amount for a true center. Tonight, Gasol played a season-high 50 minutes and 13 seconds, including the entire 29 minutes of the second half and overtime. Well after the game, in a sparsely populated locker room, Tony Allen yelled out to nobody in particular: “Marc played 50 minutes, bruh! He need a hot tub or an ice tub or somethin'!”

Most Griz followers worry that this workload will not be sustainable as the team's schedule gets more compressed, but the Grizzlies desperately needed this game and needed every bit of that 50:13. And if Gasol wasn't at his sharpest offensively, he battled through some difficult match-ups — particularly Nuggets' rugged big Nene — to assemble 20 points, 13 rebounds, and 3 blocks.

The Match-Up: There's basically a three-man race to be the second best small forward in the Western Conference behind runaway #1 Kevin Durant. And two of the three contenders (the other being Portland's Gerald Wallace) squared off tonight in Rudy Gay and Danilo Gallinari, and Gay won that battle decisively.

The spotlight was on Gay after his deplorable performance against the Spurs. And whatever was going on with him then, he was re-focused for the Nuggets. Gay's offense was still shaky at times — he shot 2-8 in the first half and had five turnovers. Gay's had a particular problem lately with getting the ball stripped on drives, a partial result I think, of forcing drives into traffic at times instead of creating space for cleaner mid-range shots. (The Grizzlies want Gay going to the rim, but this needs to come with proper balance and a better feel for the defense.)

But Gay's effort — on both ends and from buzzer to buzzer — was perhaps at the highest level this season, captured in part via his season-high 13 rebounds. And Gay's most decisive plays in overtime were on the defensive end: Running down Ty Lawson for a huge, layup-saving block that led to an O.J. Mayo transition score that cut the deficit to 2 with a minute-and-a-half to play. Then bottling up Nuggets guard Arron Afflalo on an isolation play with the shot clock off and the Nuggets down one, forcing a bad pass turnover that made the Nuggets start sending the Grizzlies to the line.

Gallinari, by contrast, had a game more like Gay's the night before — shooting 1-10 in 25 negligible minutes.

Elements of Style: Nuggets' back-up big Chris Anderson — hair slicked back, neck covered in colorful tats, creative facial hair — looks a little more insane every season. He's definitely the NBA player who looks most like a Breaking Bad extra.

The Jacob Riis Report: Al Harrington continued his terrific season for the Nuggets with a blend of deep threes and power rebounding leading to 23 points and 10 rebounds off the bench. On the opposite end, can't help feeling like advanced-stat and blogger fave Afflalo is the new captain of the So Underrated They're Now Overrated Team.

Tweet O’ the Game: "This Grizzlies team will continue to be a bipolar head-case. When they believe, they are unbeatable. When they doubt, they are unwatchable." — @jmay11

Where They Stand: The Grizzlies remain 10th in the West but are only a game back of the final playoff slot and only 3 games out of second place in what is likely to remain a very clustered playoff race.

Looking Ahead: The Grizzlies head out on a three-game road trip where they'll be underdogs in every game — Thursday at Atlanta, Friday at Oklahoma City, and Sunday at Boston.

Announced Attendance: 13,651

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