The Grizzlies had played a close game in Toronto last night and had flown home afterward, where a well-rested Pistons team — which hadn't played since Wednesday — awaited them. And, despite their horrid overall record, the Pistons have been very competitive lately, going 8-6 in February.
For three quarters, the Grizzlies just couldn't put it together. They seemed to be playing hard, but were plagued by bad turnovers (including two by three-point shooters stepping on the sideline), fouls (eight in the third quarter alone), and lots of missed shots in the paint.
They trailed 70-69 entering the third quarter and then 78-76 on a three-pointer from Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey four minutes into the quarter. From that point on, the Grizzlies went on a 17-0 run over the course of about five minutes to put the game away, a stretch that included two big three-pointers from O.J. Mayo, 8 dynamic points from Quincy Pondexter, and stifling team defense throughout.
This was a game that could easily have been a “one of those nights” or “they were due for a letdown” kind of game. But the Grizzlies found an extra reservoir of energy, focus, and teamwork when they needed it, turning a battle into a blowout. Legit contenders do this. And that's what the Grizzlies, even without their ostensible best player, are starting to look like.
Man of the Match: With 17 points off the bench, including 4-5 from three-point range, O.J. Mayo tied Marc Gasol for the team high, and also showed the versatility that could make him such an unusually valuable sixth-man as the playoff race heats up.
Mayo was a sniper off the ball, hitting 3-3 from long-range in the fourth quarter, with the first two makes both go-ahead scores, holstering his shooting hand and letting Rodney Stuckey know about it each time.
But, with rookie Josh Selby not getting the call tonight as he had in the first half of the previous two games, Mayo held his own in 10 minutes as a back-up point guard, with Grizzlies getting out-scored by a manageable three points in those stretches.
Nightly Number: Mayo is a given, but the Grizzlies are starting to get some consistent production out of an energetic bench tandem of Dante Cunningham and Quincy Pondexter, whose combined 51 minutes against the Pistons are the second most they've played together in a game this season (after the February 8th home game against Minnesota, which Pondexter started.)
Abetted by early foul trouble for Rudy Gay and late foul trouble for Tony Allen, Pondexter played 28 minutes off the bench, and earned a full run in the fourth quarter.
“His play was stellar on offense and defense [earlier in the game], and that gave me the confidence to play him longer,” Lionel Hollins said after the game.
Pondexter played strong team defense throughout, then really stepped up offensively in the fourth quarter. He scored five straight early in the Grizzlies closing run, flashing to the basket to draw a foul off a feed from Marc Gasol, then hitting a corner three off a Mike Conley drive and kick. A few minutes later, Pondexter scored the hoop and harm on a twisting finish off a Conley steal and fastbreak feed.
Cunningham's box score looks dire: 0 points (0-4 shooting), 0 rebounds, and 0 assists in 23 minutes. But he made a series of terrific defensive plays, including two dramatic blocks at the rim. Cunningham is so energetic and disruptive in the open court that I'm starting to think he's the team's best transition defender since the days of Shane Battier and Bo Outlaw.
The Match-Up: Second-year center Greg Monroe is one of the best young bigs in the league, putting up numbers that would have made him an easy All-Star selection on a better team. But he couldn't quite handle the bigger, tougher, more experienced Marc Gasol. Monroe had 6 offensive rebounds on the way to a game-high 11, but scored only 14 points on 4-12 shooting and had four turnovers.
Getting deep post position early, Gasol scored 11 points in the first quarter and finished with 17 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, and only turnover. That's a mundane game for Gasol, but his physical, effective defense on Monroe was his greatest contribution. Outplaying the opponent's best player is always a good starting point to getting a win.
Elements of Style: With the gas turned way up on their defense, the Grizzlies forced three shot-clock violations in the fourth quarter. During one of them, Grizzlies P.A. announcer Rick Trotter tried out one I hadn't heard before: “Shot clock: VIOLATED.”
The Jacob Riis Report: I'm rooting for the Pistons to win the draft lottery. It would keep prospective top pick Anthony Davis out of the West and form a potentially dynamic frontcourt pairing with Greg Monroe.
That would be a great foundation to build on for the Pistons, but they would still need to sort out their backcourt. Rodney Stuckey and rookie Brandon Knight are both talented players, but both seem to profile as combo guards. Knight still has lots of development time, but at the moment they both seem best equipped to be third guards on good teams.
Sad sight tonight: Watching Ben Gordon, who dropped 40 in a playoff game not so long ago, go scoreless off the bench for a bad team. Gordon managed only one field-goal attempt in 15 minutes.
Tweet O’ the Game:
Grizzlies sideline reporter Rob Fischer dropping some knowledge:
Big 4Q leads to @memgrizz win over DET. Grizz have won 10 of 12- first time since Nov-Dec '05. Lionel Hollins now .500 as head coach 120-120— @thefishnation
Where They Stand: The Grizzlies are now 22-15 and remain in sole possession of 5th place in the West, only a half game behind the two Los Angeles teams for fourth and third.
Looking Ahead: The Grizzlies have three days off before heading to Golden State Wednesday night. With presumably at least a couple of practices, the big story is going to be whether Zach Randolph has his first full-contact practice and whether he'll make his return on the road trip.
Announced Attendance: 17,569