For most of the game, the Grizzlies' out-of-sorts O wasn't much worse than their curiously flat-footed D, allowing a Cavs team playing without their own starting point guard — emerging star Kyrie Irving — to shoot 48% and take a 69-62 lead into the fourth quarter. It was the first time this season the Grizzlies had trailed after three quarters.
But the Grizzlies clamped down defensively in fourth quarter, finally bringing full grit-and-grind intensity to an otherwise sleepy Monday-night game against a low-profile opponent.
The Grizzles began the fourth with six consecutive stops and ended the game with a series of big defensive plays in the last three minutes: A forced shot-clock violation while clinging to a two-point lead. Marc Gasol picking up a charge to stop a Cleveland fastbreak. And two Tony Allen steals in the final 1:18, the second off Varejao along the sideline. The second came with the shot-clock off and Cleveland down four, forcing a foul and essentially sealing the game. Allen swaggered along the sideline, slapping hands with the front-row fans.
“In our defense, whenever we have a big handling the ball and he makes his move toward the basket and turns around, our principle is to go and run down the big,” Allen explained afterward, describing that final steal. “I saw him turn his back, and when he turned around it was too late.”
On the whole, the Grizzlies held the Cavs to only 9 points on 4-20 shooting in the final period. And if the offense was still a mess, they made enough plays to get by: Quincy Pondexter scored 7 straight, including back-to-back jumpers off broken plays. Rudy Gay, struggling offensively after a good first quarter, hit a straight-away three to tie it up. Zach Randolph fought through two defenders and willed in a tough shot to push the Grizzlies lead to 80-76 after a string of missed jumpers. And Jerryd Bayless went the wrong way on a designed play but buried a mid-range jumper anyway to give the Grizzlies another four-point lead with 23.8 to play.
“We overcame adversity and showed a lot of pride,” Lionel Hollins said afterward. “As I told the team, when you play these teams that are up-and-coming, you remember when we were trying to get here. They played hard.”
Man of the Match: On a night where his season-long double-double streak finally ended, Zach Randolph was still a rock for the Grizzlies. Re-entering the game at the start of the fourth quarter, with the momentum not going the Grizzlies way, Randolph set an immediate tone with a steal and a made baseline jumper on the quarter's first two possessions. He finished with 19 points on 8-11 shooting and 8 rebounds, both team highs.
Nightly Number: As I wrote in my game preview, the Cavs have been dependent on three-point shooting all season, but even more-so in Kyrie Irving's absence. But the Grizzlies held them well under their norms tonight at 4-16 on the game, including 1-10 in the fourth quarter.
The Match-Up: The Grizzlies excellent two-guard defense continued. Cavs rookie Dion Waiters was searching for shots and Tony Allen (and Quincy Pondexter) were doing their best to ensure they were misses. Waiters finished with 15 points but on 5-16 shooting.
Elements of Style: The Cavaliers sported dueling Men With the Masks in their frontcourt with starting power forward Tristan Thompson and reserve center Tyler Zeller, but they couldn't quite get that vintage Rip Hamilton juju going, combining for 9 points on 4-8 shooting.
The Jacob Riis Report: The Return of Jeremy Pargo was pretty uneventful, with Pargo shooting 4-12 on a bunch of off-balance jumpers and notching as many turnovers as assists (3). Instead, the Cavs story was Anderson Varejao, who we really need to get traded to a playoff team, because this is a waste. The kind of quick, relentless big that can give the Grizzlies' plodders problems, Varejao darted and chased his way to 22 rebounds, expanding his lead over second-place Zach Randolph among league-leaders. Varejao added 15 points and 3 assists. He's having spectacular season in relative anonymity and was the best player on the floor tonight.
Tweet O’ the Game: Instead of the typical halftime bullshit I'd like to see Marc Gasol marry Miss Elizabeth. #grizz — @Amy Hoyt
Arena Action: The Michael Heisley-Robert Pera Game Counter is now Heisley 5, Pera 1.
Where They Stand: The Grizzlies improve to 10-2 and maintain a narrow lead over the Spurs and Thunder at the top of the Western Conference standings.
Looking Ahead: The tour of former Grizzlies back-up point guards continues, with Kyle Lowry bringing the Toronto Raptors into FedExForum on Wednesday night.
Announced Attendance: 13,485
With Mike Conley out, Jerryd Bayless struggling in the starting role much of the night, and rookie Tony Wroten not with the team (he was set to join the team's D League affiliate after attending to some family matters), back-up point guard became a big issue for the Grizzlies. Josh Selby got four minutes in the first half and ended up with two fouls, a bad turnover, and no shot attempts. Wayne Ellington got the nod after that and went 1-5 without an assist. Hopefully Conley's absence is a one-game thing.
Lionel Hollins seemed visibly upset after Jerryd Bayless' big jumper late in the game. A much more subdued Hollins after the game explained that Bayless had mis-run the play by going the wrong way off a Marc Gasol pick. Obviously Bayless made up for the mistake by hitting the clutch shot. Making up for poor execution was basically the story of the game for the Griz.
Marreese Speights didn't play in the second half, with Darrell Arthur getting all 13 frontcourt minutes behind Gasol and Randolph. Hollins said afterward that he opted for Arthur's quickness to match up better with Cleveland's bigs. Arthur didn't score in the half, but had two blocks, two defensive rebounds, and helped set the defensive tone at the start of the fourth quarter. Even with Arthur's offense still looking rusty, it was easy to see how he adds a missing dimension to the Grizzlies frontcourt rotation.