I almost went to bed after the third quarter, when the Grizzlies were down 20. Disappointed by their performance in the last two games, assuming that both teams would pull the plug and coast through the last 12 minutes, I’d had enough and I was going to go read a book and get to bed early (which is a precious commodity in these weeks with three West Coast road games). If I had, I’d have missed the latest in a long string of Grizzlies comebacks and nail-biters, and arguably the greatest of them all.
I first thought it could happen at 6:28 remaining, when Troy Daniels (who else?) hit a three to cut the Grizzlies’ deficit to single digits. The Core Four + Troy lineup looked like they were getting into a good rhythm, and the Warriors were starting to get frustrated by the Grizzlies’ defense, which was slowly but surely choking the life out of them, like a python they didn’t notice until it was too late.
From there, it was history. Zach Randolph had one of his best games of the season, because Kevin Durant and Zaza Pachulia were defending him and Kevin Durant and Zaza Pachulia can’t stop Zach Randolph any more than I can stop a garbage truck from running me over. In a season where he’s hardly gotten to play with Marc Gasol on the court, Randolph and Gasol picked up right where they left off with their on-court chemistry, and 27 Z-Bo points, 11 rebounds, and six assists later, the Grizzlies’ old lineup, the one that wasn’t supposed to work in The Modern NBA, had beaten the Warriors (the second time this year the Grizzlies have done so) and left them frustrated about how to play together with Durant. Yet again, the Grizzlies made the Warriors have to stop and say “Wait, that didn’t work against those guys.”
But here’s the thing about that Core Four lineup. Part of the reason it worked so well last night was that Tony Allen was rebounding so well on the offensive end that even if he wasn’t making shots—and he definitely wasn’t making shots last night—he still made the team better. The other reason it worked so well: with Troy Daniels on the floor, the Grizzlies have the “Core Four + deadeye shooter” lineup they’ve been searching for since before I started writing about the team all those years ago. This is it! Finally, a guy who can’t be left open, who will shoot it every time he has a chance whether his shot’s falling or not.
Everyone played a part last night. I can’t go through and call out the performances that made a difference, because they all did: Mike Conley looked bad in the first half but recovered in the second to play his best ball since returning from injury. Marc Gasol struggled with Pachulia’s physical defense early but still shot 50% from the floor and got his high/low game with Randolph working down the stretch like they were still doing it every night. Zach Randolph pounded whoever the Warriors threw at him the way only he can pound people. Tony Allen was 5 of 16 from the field, didn’t seem to be able to hit anything at all, and still had a positive impact in almost every other area of the game. Chandler Parsons played all of his minutes in the first half, got in a rhythm, looked better than he has yet, and gave us all some hope that he might actually go back to being a basketball player someday soon. JaMychal Green seemed bothered by his new facemask, but that’s fine, because he was carrying on the glorious Grizzlies tradition of playing NBA basketball with a broken face. Ennis was good. Vince hit some threes. Andrew Harrison had an off night, but he was also guarding Steph Curry, who makes everyone have off nights. I didn't write down anything bad about Jarell Martin, which is progress for him.
This team is special. I wish they could play with the proper level of intensity every night, but when they claw back from a 24 point deficit in 18 minutes and then beat the best team in the league on the road, how could a Tuesday night in Orlando possibly feel like it’s equally important? I get it. When it matters, or when they have something to prove, the Grizzlies will street-fight their way to a victory—except now they also have guys who can actually hit an outside shot, making it even harder to keep them from punching you in the mouth. And last night, the guys who have been through all the old scuffles together showed they still know what to do, especially when they finally have the offense and the personnel to open up the paint more than ever before. The old battles are still there if they go looking for them. Down 24 at Oracle is one place to find them, and they left some wounds that the Warriors will be licking for a while.