The Grizzlies won their second game in a row with a 15-point victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. What I saw at the Forum:
1. Bench Play: I wrote in my pre-game post that I would be interested to see how the team's three rookies faired tonight, and that getting solid contributions from DeMarre Carroll and/or Sam Young would be a key to victory. Well, all three rookies gave the team good minutes tonight.
Carroll had 10 points (4-6 shooting) and 5 rebounds in 20 minutes and made some of the energy plays that are key to his game: Stepping up to take a charge from a rumbling Craig Smith, following his own miss for an offensive rebound, finishing plays around the rim off setups from teammates.
Young played 12 minutes and was an efficient scorer with 6 points on 3-6 shooting. He missed a dunk off a terrific Marc Gasol feed, but made a Tim Duncan-esqe mid-range bank shot that I'm almost certain was intentional. After shooting an abysmal 5-24 over the previous four games, Young has gone 10-17 in this two-game win "streak." And I think that's far from an accidental correlation.
As for Thabeet, he came back from injury to give the team respectable back-up center minutes: 4 points (2-4 shooting) and 4 rebounds in 11 minutes with a nice weakside block on an Al Thornton drive. Thabeet's complete lack of fluidity on the offensive end is discouraging — he scored his first basket on an alleged baseline jump hook that was more like a flukish jump "push" and one offensive rebound that should have been a putback dunk came up dry as he was unable to gather himself to get back off the floor in time. But we all know now that we aren't judging Thabeet by typically #2 pick standards: He needs to become the next Joel Pryzbilla before he can start thinking about being a poor man's Mutombo. Thabeet's rookie season is about baby steps, and he took one tonight.
Overall, the Grizzlies got 31 points from a group of bench players who had averaged a collective 17.2 coming into tonight.
2. The Marc Gasol Appreciation Section: Marc Gasol had one of his best all-around games tonight with 16 points (7-8 shooting), 8 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 blocks. In hitting his first seven shots — following his 8-8 performance against Minnesota — Gasol set a new franchise record with 15 consecutive made field goals, surpassing the immortal Tony Massenburg. Gasol's record might still be active if not for his last shot tonight — a desperate contested floater he had to throw up after getting the ball at the very end of the shot clock.
The assists total tonight is a good sign as it’s the one area of Gasol's game that's been down from his rookie year despite arguably being the team's most talented passer. Gasol's playmaking skills need to be exploited more by the team and his high assist total tonight was a result of much better all-around team basketball. Gasol also authored my favorite moment of the game: After Gasol's nifty feed set him up for a dunk late in the fourth quarter, Zach Randolph came down the floor and rather the typical knowing point and nod or hand slap, he and Gasol greeted each other with a firm handshake and a respectful little bow. It was cool.
Gasol will not be making an appearance in the NBA's all-star game this season, but shouldn't he at least be in the discussion? I would argue that Gasol is clearly among the Western Conference's five best centers so far this season. Look at the numbers (points/rebounds per game, blocks per game, field-goal percentage):
Marc Gasol — 15/11, 1.7, 56%
Nene — 14/9, 1.2, 61%
Chris Kaman — 22/9, 1.5, 54%
Andrew Bynum — 20/12, 1.8, 59%
Amare Stoudemire — 20/8, 0.9, 54%
Among these five players, Gasol is second in rebounds and blocks and third in field-goal percentage. The problem: Three of those players represent arguably the West's three best teams and the other (Kaman) is the leading scorer at his position. But Gasol is currently right in the mix with the conference's best centers.
3. No Clarity at the Point: Mike Conley started and newcomer Jamaal Tinsley made his debut, but the Griz' best point guard tonight was Marcus Williams, who gave the Grizzlies 9 points and 6 assists in 26 minutes while Conley and Tinsley combined for 1 point (0-6 shooting), 2 assists, and 7 fouls in a combined 22 minutes.
Coach Lionel Hollins was measured in his praise of Williams after the game, saying, "Marcus has been fine when he tries to run the team first and score second. When he tries to score first, he looks bad and we look bad." And I think that's about right. The point guard story tonight wasn't Williams playing well as much as the other options playing poorly. And match-ups were a factor: By my quick count, Conley played all but one minute against Baron Davis, whose size and strength has always been a tough match-up and who played really well early tonight. And all of Tinsley's minutes came against Davis. By contrast, more than half of Williams' minutes came against back-up Sebastian Telfair.
Still, Tinsley looked extremely rusty tonight (understandably so) and Conley was bad. When asked about his point guard rotation going forward in lieu of tonight's game, Hollins was dismissive of the suggestion that it would be a matter of feeling out all three players during the games, saying that Mike Conley was his starting point guard and that his limited minutes tonight were a function of foul trouble. There's something to that latter point, of course, as Conley finished with five fouls tonight and got two in the first quarter. But I don’t think Conley's quick hook in the fourth quarter tonight was purely a function of foul trouble: Conley re-entered the game at the 5:39 mark with the Grizzlies up 17. He got fouled on an explosive drive to the rim on his first possession (it does happen occasionally), but couldn't finish the lay-up and missed one of two free throws. A couple of possessions later, Conley tried to drive put turned the ball over to the Clippers' Craig Smith and fouled Smith to prevent the breakaway. Conley hit the bench and Williams returned. It was Conley's fifth foul, but at that point there were only four minutes left in the game.
The Jacob Riis Report: Ricky Davis loves FedExForum. Last season, Davis had his best game of the season in a wildly comical display here. Tonight, he had only his second double-digit performance of the season for the Clippers with 12 on 6-11 shooting, yapping all the time.
Heading into tonight's game, the Grizzlies had an abysmal +1.4 assist/turnover differential. Tonight it was +10 (23 to 13). The opponents had something to do with that, but there's no doubt that the Grizzlies played better team basketball tonight. "We're starting to work our way back to being a team again, to caring about each other, playing together," Hollins said afterward, referencing some type of player's meeting after the Houston game. "They decided among themselves to hold each other more accountable," an account that Marc Gasol confirmed after the game as well.
Rudy Gay scored all 21 of his points in the second half after going scoreless on 0-3 in the first half. But I thought it was about as solid of a scoreless half as I've seen Rudy play. Defensive lapses were more rare, he forced fewer questionable shots, and he seemed active and attentive all over the floor. It was a good all-around game for Rudy.
Tonight was probably the worst attendance I've ever seen at a regular-season Grizzlies game. The announced attendance was 10,012. The real attendance was probably half that (and that might be generous). Among the hundreds in the building: Owner Michael Heisley sitting courtside.