Last night was a good night to be a Grizzlies fan. Marc Gasol made his triumphant return to game action against the Oklahoma City Thunder and helped power the Grizzlies to a 90-87 win in front of an energized home crowd.
Zach Randolph got 23-13, a pretty big stat line for him coming against Z-Bo Killer Nick Collison and Steven "Slightly Shorter and Stockier Nick Collison" Adams. Kendrick Perkins got worked by Gasol even though Gasol hadn't played in an NBA game since late November.
The Grizzlies came out of the gate strong, clearly feeding off the energy and excitement of Gasol's return. New addition Courtney Lee had 14 points just in the first quarter (and finished with 24). They struggled in the second quarter, giving up 31 points to the Thunder and thus the lead, but after halftime they got back on track, reasserting control over the game until it came down to a Serge Ibaka corner 3 to tie, which missed.
Marc Gasol makes everything about the Memphis Grizzlies better, and not just because he's one of the best centers in the NBA. Gasol makes everything about the Grizzlies better because he so clearly enjoys every second that he's on the court.
I can't find a good GIF of the bounce assist where Gasol caught a pass from Conley and in one swift motion whipped it back to him in a bounce pass that Conley took all the way to the rim for a layup. But that was my "Oh yeah, Marc Gasol is back" moment. Griz fans were also treated to such classics as the "Marc Gasol embarrasses Kendrick Perkins with a spin move in the post" and the timeless "Marc Gasol catches a pass he didn't know was coming to him and still sinks a 20-foot set shot." It was glorious, and the crowd loved it, and Gasol loved it right back.
He even had occasion to pull out the seldom-seen Marc Gasol self-buttslap:
In the locker room after the game, Gasol said the ovation he got from fans when he was announced in the starting lineup gave him goosebumps that lasted a minute or two, and that he felt like a rookie all over again. He went out and played like a little kid on Christmas. Griz fans felt the same way watching him out there.
Head coach Dave Joerger said after the game that his original intention was not for Gasol to play 24 minutes, but that Gasol got competitive (and presumably Joerger did, too) and that's just kind of the way it ended up. Certainly, no Griz fans were complaining about how much time Gasol spent on the court.
Now the rotation changes that I've discussed here before are going to start to happen. Last night, the primary effect was that Kosta Koufos and Jon Leuer both only played 3 minutes. How quickly Gasol is able to integrate back into the lineups will determine how quickly the Grizzlies are able to make a push to catch and pass 8th place Phoenix in the Western Conference standings—which I think is very possible, especially given the injury to Eric Bledsoe—so these next couple of weeks are critical.
But worrying about minutes is for another time and place. For now: Marc Gasol is back.
Nick Calathes came in in the first half and played pretty poorly. The Thunder did a really good job of forcing him into the corner, where they were able to trap him and force him to make some tough passes—it really was pretty poor decision-making on Calathes' part. In fact, the Grizzlies are almost certainly going to make another roster move soon to add a backup point guard. They're going to have to if Calathes can't get his game going in the next couple of weeks.
So, when Calathes—the only backup point guard on the Grizzlies' roster at the moment, mind you—checked into the game in the third quarter, what happened? A bunch of Griz fans booed him.
Now, I know that Memphis has a long NBA tradition of excellence and all, but what's with the boos? I understand being upset that Conley is leaving the game and Calathes is coming in, but what's booing going to accomplish? Further rattle an already-rattled player instead of, you know, showing a little support for the guy who ostensibly plays for the team you're a fan of?
The Calathes booing incident isn't isolated, either. Against Phoenix, amidst an incredibly long run of missed free throws, Tayshaun Prince got booed for missing a pair. Tayshaun Prince, who has played through more injuries than any of us know about just to be on the floor trying to win games for this team. You know, the team Grizzlies fans are fans of.
Maybe my mistake was expecting fans not to be mean. Certainly fans have the right to do whatever they want. But I'm not sure when Memphis turned into Philadelphia. I guess three straight trips to the playoffs has Grizzlies fans expecting perfection. Griz fans are in a weird place this season—it seems like a lot of them are mad about literally everything the organization does. Let's not take this out on the players. These guys represent your city in everything they do. And that's the thing: when you're in the crowd at a Grizzlies game, you're representing your city, too.
Look: You don't have to like Nick Calathes. His play certainly hasn't been good enough to earn your support. But that's the thing: he plays for the Grizzlies, and you're a Grizzlies fan, and when has sports fandom ever been about earning support? Would you boo a Tigers player for missing a pair of free throws? I don't remember hearing any the year they totally didn't go to that Final Four because there's no record of it. I just don't get it. Whatever. But maybe ease up on the boo-birds for the home team. It serves no purpose other than to make Memphis look bad.