The Lead: Friday night, against the Denver Nuggets, the Grizzlies played explosive offensive basketball to start, opening up a big first quarter lead. Their opponents roared back behind a barrage of three-point shots from one of their perimeter starters. The game wound down into a tight, hard-fought contest in the final minutes, with multiple ties and lead changes down the stretch. Rudy Gay scored six points in the final minutes, each score breaking a tie or regaining a lead. In the end, Gay held the ball, Griz down one, drew a double-team and pulled up for a mid-range jumper. It bounced off the rim and was tipped in by a teammate for the game-winning basket.
Saturday night against the Warriors? Same damn thing. The only things missing were Bill Murray and Andie McDowell.
Once again, the Grizzlies came out like gangbusters in the first nine minutes, building a 27-9 lead with strong work from all five starters, led by Mo Speights' 10 points on 5-6 shooting.
Then, first Warriors guard Steph Curry got hot, scoring 16 points across the late first and early second quarters. Then backcourt mate Monta Ellis joined in, scoring 14 points in a seven-minute stretch midway through the second quarter. With Curry and Ellis dominating (they scored 30 points between them in the second quarter and finished with 69 of Golden State's total 103 points), the Warriors outscored the Grizzlies 66-37 in the middle of the game to build an 11-point lead.
The Grizzlies fought back to tie the game early in the fourth and, the rest of the way, there were eight ties and nine lead changes. In the final three minutes, Gay hit three short jumpers, the first tying the game, the second breaking a tie, and the third bringing the Grizzlies from a one-point deficit to a one-point lead.
And, again, it came down to a one-point deficit, Grizzlies ball, fewer than 30 seconds on the clock. Gay's shot bounced up and Tony Allen tipped it in for a one-point lead. With six seconds left for the Warriors, Mike Conley stepped in to take a charge on Warriors forward David Lee and the Grizzlies survived another wild one.
The biggest difference? Well, that brings us to …
Nightly Number: If the Grizzlies were plagued by a couple of terrible turnovers late against the Nuggets, their (mostly) self-inflicted wounds Saturday night came in the form of a 9-point free-throw swing that created some unnecessary drama. In the fourth quarter, the Grizzlies outplayed the Warriors everywhere but the charity stripe, where the Warriors were 10-10 and the Grizzlies were 5-11.
On the Grizzlies end, in the final four minutes, Tony Allen missed two after being fouled on a break, then Rudy Gay had two empty trips, one wasting his own steal at the defensive end.
On the Warriors end of the floor, with the Grizzlies leading by three and two minutes left, Marc Gasol was called for a block defending a wild drive from Monta Ellis. This was a very debatable call, but it was worse when Gasol got a technical foul for slapping the floor in frustration. Steph Curry hit the tech, Monta Ellis hit both on the foul, and the game was tied. (My feeling: You don't call a technical foul late in a close game unless you absolutely have to. And the crew didn't have to in that situation.)
Man of the Match: The Grizzlies' offensive fireworks early, the Warriors' offensive fireworks in the middle, and the back-and-forth closing stretch all stand out when thinking about this game, but a crucial stretch for the Grizzlies came in the late third and early fourth when they were able to play the bench for extended minutes and cut into the Warriors lead.
The Grizzlies were down eight when Quincy Pondexter, Hamed Haddadi, and Dante Cunningham joined O.J. Mayo and lone starter Mike Conley in the lineup. A Mayo jumper and a Conley steal and drawn foul cut the deficit in half before Conley gave way to Jeremy Pargo and the Grizzlies played the next seven-and-a-half minutes with a full five-man bench unit.
Using the bench this much has been rare for the Grizzlies lately — Pondexter and Haddadi were both DNPs the night before — but after a draining win with a shortened rotation the night before and with his starters lagging, Hollins felt he needed to give them extended rest.
“The bench did a good job buying us time,” Hollins said after the game. “Even getting us a lead.”
The Grizzlies full bench lineup outscored the Warriors 11-7 in their stretch, turning up the defensive intensity and scoring just enough to get by. And O.J. Mayo was the key to making it work.
“I knew I needed to rest my starters,” Hollins said. “And Juice got it going. When he can do that, that group can stay on the floor longer, because they'll defend. But when you're playing a team like the Golden State, if you can't score then you can't play. Because they're going to keep scoring.
Mayo scored seven of the unit's 11 points during their full run, bracketing that stretch with long jumpers on either end for 12 points in about eight minutes. Mayo finished with 18 points off the bench on 7-12 shooting.
The Match-Up: While the Grizzlies were getting torched on the perimeter, they quietly pressed their frontcourt advantage with Marc Gasol (17 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists) thoroughly outplaying Golden State counterparts Andris Biedrins and Ekpe Udoh (a combined 7 points, 5 rebounds, and 10 fouls).
Elements of Style: The Grizzlies were once again wearing the yellow-and-green Tams throwback jerseys. These things just won't go away, but at least the Grizzlies improved to 2-2 in them, erasing any thought of a sartorial curse.
Where They Stand: The Grizzlies have now won four games in a row and six of their past seven, moving to 18-14 and sole possession of sixth place in the Western Conference.
Looking Ahead: The Grizzlies have the day off Sunday and then head into another back-to-back set, at Houston on Monday night and back at home for the Philadelphia 76ers Tuesday night.
Announced Attendance: 17,151 — which has to be the best attendance ever for a game with the Warriors.
Lionel Hollins got unexpectedly wistful after the game. “This is what it's all about,” he said, in response to a generic question about how the game went. “It's about the camaraderie, the caring for each other, the playing for each other. This is what you remember. Not the trophies [and accolades]. You get married, you can't put all that stuff out anymore. Your kids don't want to hear about it. They just care about the latest, greatest players.” Maybe it was the near heart attack Jeremy Pargo gave him in the fourth quarter. Early in the quarter, with the Grizzlies up two, Pargo dribbled deep into the shot clock, ignoring Quincy Pondexter, standing alone in the corner, calling for the ball. Instead, Pargo — who generally played encouraging minutes for the second straight game — dribbled into a defender, fell down, and flipped a pass backward to Monta Ellis, who streaked to the other end and was fouled by Mayo on a lay-up attempt. Hollins, standing at the scorer's table, turned and collapsed onto it in disbelief.
The Grizzlies again had balanced scoring, with six players in double figures: Gay (19), Mayo (18), Gasol (17), Speights (16), Conley (15), and Allen (11).
The team has now gone 17-11 since Zach Randolph went down to injury. They were 15-8 last season after Rudy Gay's injury, before all but throwing the final two games by sitting key players. They also went 8-2 last season during O.J. Mayo's 10-game suspension. The lesson I draw from all of this: This is a good team with lots of good players and a good coach. They're talented enough and play hard enough to overcome missing key players. (Which doesn't mean I'd want to test this theory with another Marc Gasol injury. That didn't go well a couple years ago.) This doesn't mean they're “better” without any of them.