Three games against elite NBA teams. Three chances for the Grizzlies' traditional post-oriented style to submit to trendier small-ball alignments. Three double-digit wins, the last two on national television. And after a weird, wooly, entertaining, and commanding win over the Knicks, the Grizzlies left the floor tonight with, for the first time in franchise history, the best record in the entire NBA.
What does it mean to be atop league-wide standings?
“Now what,” Lionel Hollins asked after the game. “Can we hold onto it tomorrow night? We're going to get in [to Charlotte] at four in the morning. Can we rev it up … and get a win tomorrow night?”
The win over the previously unbeaten Knicks completed what has to be the best three-game regular-season stretch in franchise history.
“If we don't win tomorrow, the game tonight doesn't mean anything,” Marc Gasol said.
But don't tell that to fans. The ones that showed up with homemade “I Don't Bluff” T-shirts in honor of Randolph's post-game comments about his skirmish with Thunder center Kendrick Perkins Wednesday night. Or the ones with who showed up adorned with Randolph's less considered retort to Perkins: “I'll Beat Yo Ass.”
Big-man corner in the locker room — Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Marreese Speights — was laughing about the shirts after the game, but Gasol latched onto the more family friendly variation. “'We Don't Bluff City,' that's good,” Gasol said, blessing as slogan-worthy a rallying cry that might become the new “Grit and Grind.”
And so it was. Faced with odd match-ups all over the court, the Grizzlies stuck with their game. If that meant hiding Zach Randolph on guards and wings such as Ronnie Brewer or Jason Kidd or Steve Novak, so be it. The Grizzlies stayed big and punished the Knicks, with Gasol and Randolph combining for 44 points and 22 rebounds.
When the game got chippy and colorful, with copious Rasheed Wallace trash talk and a near skirmish between reserve guards Jerryd Bayless and J.R. Smith, the Grizzlies went to work in the post and the Knicks got flustered.
When the Knicks cut a 21-point deficit to only 8 with nearly five minutes left, the Grizzlies gathered themselves and closed the door with a decisive three-possession sequence: Gay sizing up Carmelo Anthony and knocking down a three-pointer over him. Conley probing and dropping a pass back to Randolph for a mid-range jumper. And, finally, the nail: Conley's deep, low bounce pass to set up a baseline Gay dunk, force a Knick timeout, bring “Whoomp! There It Is” out of the arena sound system, and drain all the tension out of the building.
In what has been the biggest and best regular-season week in franchise history, the Grizzlies never bluffed. They played their old-school style against the league's best, and earned their place — for however long it lasts — at the top of the NBA mountain.
Man of the Match: After nearly matching his discombobulation of Kendrick Perkins with some baseline ballet against Rasheed Wallace at the end of the second quarter, Marc Gasol came out in the third and got the entire Knicks frontline in foul trouble. He finished with 24 points (6-10 from the floor, 12-13 from the line) and 7 rebounds.
Nightly Number: The Knicks entered the game as probably the league's best three-point shooting team (second in both attempts and percentage), but couldn't press that potential advantage tonight, shooting only 5-19 from long range.
The Match-Up: While he didn't have as strong a game as he did against Lebron James or Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay vs. Carmelo Anthony was still close enough to a draw for the Grizzlies:
Carmelo Anthony: 20 points on 7-14 shooting, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 stock
Rudy Gay: 17 points on 6-16 shooting, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 6 stocks
Anthony proved a more difficult defensive match-up for Gay with his physical, relentless, Charles Barkley-esque post-ups, but Gay again held his own.
Elements of Style: Sheed is back! After a year out of the league, the one and only Rasheed Wallace is back in the league and he was a show tonight. Mismatched against Rudy Gay in his first appearance, he scored on Gay down low on multiple possessions and then barked at the Grizzlies bench, “Get this little bitch off of me.”
When Gay did exit the game, Wallace, who finished with 13 points of the bench on 6-10 shooting, continued to bark at old Blazers teammate Zach Randolph, also out of the game: “Z-Bo won't help either!” Finally, during a stoppage in place, he simply looked at the Grizzlies bench, smiled, and exclaimed “I still got it!”
The Jacob Riis Report: This was not a particularly troubling loss for the Knicks, on the road, on the second night of a back-to-back, against a good team. Even watching them lose, I can see that I underrated the Knicks before the season. With Amar'e Stoudemire out, you can see how it all makes sense, even if it didn't work tonight: Tyson Chandler and Ronnie Brewer anchor the defense. Carmelo Anthony scores. Almost everyone else shoots threes. I don't think they're the elite team they've looked like early this season, but I do think they're sustainable. In a weak conference, they've got as good a chance as anybody of grabbing that second seed.
Tweet O’ the Game:
RT if you got cursed out by Rasheed Wallace in the first half. — @MarkMcCleskey
Michael Heisley was here again. If you're keeping count at home, The Michael Heisley-Robert Pera Game Counter is now at 3-1 Heisley.
Talked to Zach Randolph before the game, who seemed mildly chagrined at the attention his little dust-up with Kendrick Perkins has gotten. I warned him to expect some homemade “I'll Beat Yo Ass” T-shirts out there. Didn't see any of those, but there were two fans at courtside with shirts adorned with the more family friendly Z-Bo quotable “I Don't Bluff.” Once I tweeted that out, several fans reported back seeing “I'll Beat Yo Ass” shirts. And Chris Vernon didn't get paid off of none of that.
The Grizzlies gave tribute to Kenny Williamson tribute before the game, the team's assistant general manager for the past several seasons passed away this week after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Where They Stand: Savor it.
Looking Ahead: The Grizzlies travel out tonight to Charlotte where they'll face the suddenly pesky Bobcats in what John Calipari might have called “a danger game.”
Announced Attendance: 17,516