The Lead: After getting poor combined play from three young frontcourt players elevated by the absence of Zach Randolph and Darrell Arthur, seeing his team look sluggish and out of sync on both ends of the floor, and falling down by as many as 17 points in the third quarter, Lionel Hollins went small, bringing Tayshaun Prince back into the game for Ed Davis late in the third quarter.
At that point, the Grizzlies were down 11 points and Marc Gasol and Mike Conley were playing well but couldn't find anyone to join them. Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter had just missed consecutive wide-open jumpers that would have cut the deficit to single digits. Nothing was working. But against the Blazers reserves, with combo forward Victor Claver at power forward, going small generated energy in the form of a furious 10-1 closing run.
Hollins stayed small throughout the fourth, even when the Blazers brought their starters back in, and the Grizzlies ended up closing the game on a 36-19 run over the final 15 minutes with Prince joining Marc Gasol up front, Mike Conley and Bayless manning the backcourt, and Pondexter and Tony Allen splitting up small forward minutes.
Prince put on a clinic for much of the game in the art of missing wide-open mid-range jumpers — when one finally dropped, he raised his endless arms to the sky in relief — but his ability to hold his own defensively and on the boards even after the Blazers brought back burly starter J.J. Hickson was a quiet key that allowed Gasol, Bayless, and Conley to make a series of game-saving plays.
But this clearly goes to Marc Gasol, who was by far the best all-around player on the floor. Let's start on the defensive end, where Gasol guarded the long, skilled All Star Lamarcus Aldridge for most of the game. Aldridge is the league's 11th leading scorer at 20.8 points per game. He shot 2-13 in this game. One basket came on the left block against Ed Davis after a switch. The other was an assisted dunk. When he went at Gasol he got nothing.
On the other end, Gasol provided a novel answer to the hand-wringing question about what the Grizzlies could possibly do late in a close game without Rudy Gay's dribble-blind 40% shooting. How about run sets through your best combination scorer/playmaker? The Grizzlies ran most of their offense down the stretch through Gasol on the block, and he scored a seven-foot jump hook from the right block and got fouled on the left (making both) in the final two minutes to extend a one-point lead. He also set up the hook by hitting the hardwood to corral a loose ball and call a timeout. He finished the game with a blocked shot at the buzzer.
Final line for Gasol: 23 points on 10-17 shooting, 12 rebounds, 3 assists.
Nightly Number: The Grizzlies are the best offensive rebounding team in the NBA, but a lot of that is because of Zach Randolph. Even without Randolph and even going small in the final quarter-plus, the Grizzlies still bested the Blazers 16-7 in offensive rebounding, on the way to a 20-8 advantage in second-chance points.
The Match-Up: In the previous meeting with Portland, rookie Damian Lillard got the best of Mike Conley, and it looked like that's where we were heading in this one, with Lillard doubling-up Conley in the first half, 14 points to seven. But Conley came out more aggressively in the second and reversed the trend, outscoring Lillard 13 to six. But it was really Conley's overall activity — probing the defense, jumping into passing lanes, and even rising up for two second-half blocks.
Elements of Style: It was a Tony Special. Early on, when Tony Wroten Jr. was in the game against Blazers reserve Eric Maynor, Tony Allen, towel around his neck, was in straight coach mode on the sideline, barking at his pet rookie: “Dat's it T-Wrote! We here! We here! He just came off a injury. Pick 'em up full court! We here!”
Allen started the game with his gas turned up a bit too much, with his shot-searching perhaps knocking the offense out of sync. But he entered the fourth quarter on fire and ended up tracking down three rebounds and blocking a shot in the final 74 seconds. After the block, Allen celebrated with a spontaneous outburst — conventional jersey-popping giving way to a slinky dance and fog-eyed mugging — that immediately gets added to the season highlight reel.
Tony the Younger showed out a little too. There was the delirious ball-fake that completely froze the Blazers defense and ushered Wroten, unharmed, to the hoop. And there was one cross-court pass to an open Quincy Pondexter in the corner that looked like it was going to sail out of bounds. I think it curved. But it hit Pondexter in perfect shooting position. He missed the shot, but that doesn't detract from the pass.
The Jacob Riis Report:Hey, the Blazers have a live body on their bench! Recent trade acquisition Eric Maynor was good for the Blazers, scoring 12 points on 3-5 shooting and dropping four assists in 25 minutes. The discrepancy between the Blazers starters and bench might be the starkest the NBA has seen since the 40-win Grizzlies a few years ago. Maynor is no world-beater, but I feel like Portland would be in stronger position relative to the playoff race if they'd had him all season.
Tweet O’ the Game: “A win is a win is a win, and that was fun, but a disturbing trend is developing. We cannot keep falling behind big. It will catch up to us.” — @jmay11
This is true. Especially at home, the Grizzlies have been too prone to muddling about early on.
Where They Stand: The Grizzlies moved to 40-19 — the quickest to 40 wins in franchise history — and maintain their slim advantage over the hard-charging Denver Nuggets. The Grizzlies are fourth in the West, 1.5 games ahead of Denver and also 1.5 games behind the Clippers. This renders tomorrow night's nationally televised Clippers-Nuggets game some kind of psychological test for Grizzlies fans.
Looking Ahead: Grizzlies have a day off and then head to Cleveland for a game Friday night.
Announced Attendance: 16,214