Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Postgame Notebook: Grizzlies 98, Warriors 94 — Where the Griz Muddle Around But Keep Hope Alive

Posted By on Wed, Apr 4, 2012 at 12:36 AM

The Lead: For more than three quarters Tuesday night it looked as if the Grizzlies were going to follow up one of their best wins of the season (94-88 over the Thunder Monday night) with one of their worst losses.

The Grizzlies have been terrific on the second night of back-to-back games this season, but coming off the intense road win in Oklahoma City they played down to their competition in this one. Facing a depleted Golden State team starting three rookies, in the middle of a five-game losing streak, and looking ahead to the lottery, the Grizzlies trailed 79-70 to start the fourth quarter. Thirty seconds into the final period, a Quincy Pondexter turnover and a Brandon Rush three-pointer pushed the Golden State lead to 82-70 and Lionel Hollins called an immediate timeout.

A minute later, Hollins finally found a combination of players ready to dig in and fight: O.J. Mayo, Gilbert Arenas, Tony Allen, Dante Cunningham, and Marc Gasol. That group went on a 22-6 run over the next seven minutes, spurred by heady, interchangeable backcourt play on both ends from the Mayo/Arenas duo, 9 points (on 4-4 shooting) from Cunningham, and an intense — and heretofore missing — blast of team defense.

A late, fatigue-inspired substitution of Mike Conley and Rudy Gay for Arenas/Mayo (Mayo re-entered after a rest) threatened to stall momentum, but Gay's putback dunk with a minute-and-a-half to play partially redeemed what had been a poor performance to that point and essentially sealed the game.

It was something of a mini-me version of the crazy early-season game in Golden State, where the Grizzlies trailed big before going on a ferocious fourth-quarter run to win the game. And it was one the team really had to have, to keep from negating their good work the night before in Oklahoma City.

“They don't have, really, something to play for, so they were just jacking up shots. Taking bad shots and making them,” Marc Gasol said afterward, bluntly but accurately. “They were playing without conscience, and we knew that coming in. But we finally got stops and rebounds and got the win.”

Man of the Match: For the second night in a row, O.J. Mayo lead the way for the Grizzlies, scoring six of his team-high 19 points in the fourth quarter and shooting 6-12 overall. The night before, against Oklahoma City, Mayo had a game-high 22 points off the bench, including the game-sealing shot late. And Saturday in Milwaukee, Mayo lead the team with 24 off the bench, including a game-sealing 10-10 from the line with the Bucks having to foul late in a comeback attempt.

This feels like the best stretch Mayo has had in a couple of years and his increasing effectiveness on the ball is getting more and more persuasive — not that Mayo should be a full-time point guard, but that he's a true combo. And Hollins seems to be getting comfortable, in particular, with Mayo and Arenas on the floor together — essentially two combo guards — where they can alternate ball-handling duties and Arenas can help settle things down if Mayo's aggression starts running a little too hot.

Nightly Number: Until that classic grit-and-grind fourth quarter stretch, this was not the Grizzlies you've come to know. They were getting outscored in the paint and on the break and losing the turnover battle. What was keeping them alive? The team's biggest weakness: Three-point shooting. With Mayo (4-6) and Conley (3-4) leading the way, the Grizzlies shot 9-17 overall from three-point range, one of their better showings of the season.

Not joining in: Rudy Gay, whose 0-3 three-point shooting stretched his long-range drought to 0-13 over his past 5 games. If the team as a whole was listless tonight until the final quarter, Gay was more so. Hollins hinted after the game that Gay has been sick lately, something Gay acknowledged but dismissed afterward.

The Match-Up: Zach Randolph's progress in his return to the court continues to be slow. With Warriors power forward David Lee having a strong night with a 23-13-4, the Grizzlies weren't able to mitigate Lee's offense with what would normally be a mismatch at the other end. Randolph had 6 points and 4 rebounds in only 15 minutes (2-4 shooting). Randolph got deep post position on Lee in transition soon after entering the game and finished close off a nice feed from Gay and it felt like maybe the team could feed that match-up. But on the next possession, Randolph faced up and Lee and couldn't get by him, forcing and missing a contested runner, and Randolph never really got going. And if he looks erratic on the offensive end right now, the story is worse defensively. You wonder if he'll be limited Wednesday night on the back end of the team's three-game/three-day set, but after that Randolph really needs to start ramping up if he's going to be a primary factor in a probable post-season run.

“If Zach is able to produce, he'll be the starter [come playoff time],” Hollins said after the game. “But this is how we need to play now.” Hollins expressed uncertainty over whether Randolph would be able to do what he's used to doing in the post anytime this season, with the knee brace he's having to wear.

Asked about a little limp Randolph seemed to have in the second half, Hollins said, “I didn't notice a limp. I just noticed he wasn't getting up on the pick-and-roll.”

The Jacob Riis Report: With Monta Ellis jettisoned to Milwaukee and Steph Curry and new acquisition Andrew Bogut sidelined with injuries, the Warriors are playing out the season by taking a long look at some of their young players. Rookie shooting guard Klay Thompson never seems to put up good numbers when I watch him (6 points on 2-8 shooting), but I like his big, strong frame and textbook shooting stroke. I'll be surprised if he's not at least a good role player at some point. Also impressive in a minor way was raw rookie center Jeremy Tyler, who went overseas for a year after high-school before entering last summer's draft. Tyler is a big body and active athlete who had a productive game for the Warriors, with 9 points (4-8 shooting), 11 rebounds, and a block in 30 minutes. If Bogut can return to his old self as a starter for the Warriors next season, Tyler looks like someone who can develop into a quality second-unit center, at least.

Arena Action: The Rev. Jesse Jackson, presumably in town for an event related to the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination, sat courtside with owner Michael Heisley. Could have swore I saw him mouth “Keep Hope Alive” when Tony Allen found Dante Cunningham for an alley-oop dunk early in that game-swinging fourth-quarter run.

Where They Stand: The Grizzlies improve to 30-22 and are 5th in the West, 1.5 games behind the fourth-place and a game in front of the sixth-place Mavericks.

Looking Ahead: The Grizzlies finish up their lone back-to-back-to-back set in Dallas Wednesday night where they'll have a chance to put more space between themselves and the Mavs.

Announced Attendance: 14,310

Deflections:

In his Grizzlies home debut — the team had played seven of their previous eight games on the road and he DNP'd in the lone home game — Gilbert Arenas had his best game yet, scoring 10 points on 4-4 shooting (including a three-pointer and a hilariously slow-motion “fast”break lay-up) with three rebounds, two assists, and two steals in 15 minutes. In addition to his versatility and shooting ability, Lionel Hollins talked about the veteran poise Arenas brings to what is still a young team, comparing it to the addition of Shane Battier late last season, and Hollins comments rang true. You could sense Arenas' composure on the court and the positive impact it was having. While Arenas seems very limited athletically compared to his prime, tonight was the first real glimpse at how he could become a good, regular, back-of-the-rotation piece for the Grizzlies heading into the post-season, especially given what seems to be a good comfort level Hollins is developing with an Arenas/Mayo combo.

Arenas and Dante Cunningham combined for a perfect 10-10 off the bench.

Mike Conley returned to the lineup after missing the previous two games with a sprained ankle. And Conley acknowledged after the game that he should have missed three games. Conley played hurt in his first game after the injury and was ineffective in a loss to Houston. “I wanted to play, but I shouldn't have,” Conley said.

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