The Lead: The Grizzlies completed their long march back to .500 with a rather thorough pounding of a Washington Wizards team that is now 0-23 on the road.
The Griz have been making a habit of blowing double-digit leads of late — I know, "of late" — most recently against the Toronto Raptors and New Jersey Nets last week. But not tonight. The Wizards held a two-point lead for a few seconds midway through the first quarter, amid five early ties, but then the Grizzlies built a multi-possession lead on a flurry of buckets from Darrell Arthur and Zach Randolph and never really let the Wizards back into the game.
After a 9-2 Wizards run cut the Grizzlies' game-high 21-point lead to 14 early in the fourth quarter, instead of letting the momentum completely turn, the Grizzlies responded with run-stopping buckets from Sam Young and Marc Gasol and never let the Wizards get within single digits.
The Grizzlies got double-digit scoring from six players in a strong team-wide effort, that number not including O.J. Mayo, missing the second of 10 games to league suspension for violating the NBA's drug policy, or Rudy Gay, who struggled through foul trouble and general ineffectiveness en route to season-low four points on 2-11 shooting.
"It's nice to be back at .500," Lionel Hollins said after the game. "We've been scratching and clawing. Stuttering and starting and stuttering." The team was last at .500 back on November 8th, when a home win over the Phoenix Suns put the Grizzlies at 4-4. The team followed that game with a five-game losing streak that the culminated in a road loss to this same Washington Wizards team. Since then, the team had gotten to within two games of .500 six times without closing the deal. Now after winning five of its past six games to get back to even the team gets something of a clean slate, as Zach Randolph put it after the game, and a chance to build on this momentum and make a legitimate playoff push in the season's final three months.
Man of the Match:The Grizzlies were held back by the league's worst bench a year ago. The bench this season still has its questions, but has been much improved, thanks, primarily to two "new" additions.
One is Tony Allen, who had one of his most effective and most entertaining games as a Griz player tonight. Allen scored 15 points on 6-8 shooting, grabbed a game-high three steals, and just made things happen all over the floor. Allen earned his oh-so-appropriate "Trick or Treat" moniker on a breakaway where he passed up an uncontested layup to whip a behind-the-back pass to a very covered Rudy Gay, resulting in a turnover. But the good heavily outweighed the bad tonight, as it has for most of the season when Allen's gotten rotation minutes.
Allen also put on a show. After he finished off one spin move with a feathery pass to Zach Randolph for a layup, Allen turned to head back down the floor, looked over at the scorer's table, and gave an exaggerated shrug and smirk. He kept up a running commentary all game — with officials, with Wizards shooting guard Nick Young, with Wizards assistant Sam Cassell, and at one point, apparently, with Wizards coach Flip Saunders who made the mistake other suggesting Allen stop yapping. As if he's capable.
But Allen wasn't even the Grizzlies best bench player tonight. That was the other key "new" addition this season: A reborn Darrell Arthur. Arthur missed half of last season with a bad chest injury and was never really comfortable or effective upon his return. This season, he's been what the Grizzlies thought they were getting when they traded to get him on draft day a couple years ago: An energetic, skilled back-up power forward who can finish plays around the rim, knock down open mid-range jumpers, and rebound and defend well enough for his size.
Arthur did all of that tonight on the way to a career-high 22 points on 9-11 shooting.
"A healthy Darrell is one of the best bench players in the league," Rudy Gay insisted after the game. "We know he's not a center, but he'll go out there and compete with anyone."
Nightly Number: This game's box score reflects an awful lot of what's defined the Grizzlies all season: They impacted the game at the margins by winning on the battle for offensive rebounds (+8) and by forcing more turnovers than they gave up (+5). By creating extra possessions for themselves on the boards and taking away opportunities from the opposition with disruptive defense, they ended up getting more looks at the basket (86 attempts to Washington's 75). And they made up for their poor three-point shooting (2-7) by being effective in the paint (68 points in the paint to Washington's 36). That's basically a snapshot of what Grizzlies basketball has looked like this season.
The Match-Up: John Wall has immense potential, but the rookie didn't look to be at 100% tonight, his inherently electric athleticism missing. He was outplayed by Mike Conley, who was rock-solid tonight, registering his fourth double-double of the season and his first since December 8th. Conley had 15 points on an efficient 6-12 shooting to go with 12 assists to only one turnover, making sharp passed to set up easy shots at the rim for teammates all night.
The Jacob Riis Report: The Wizards roster is a bit of a mess. The two real keepers, to me, are Wall, who has a chance to be great, and pterodactyl center JaVale McGee, who was inactive tonight. Nick Young, who has emerged as a strong scoring threat this season, didn't look like much tonight (8 points on 2-9 shooting), though physical defense from Sam Young and Tony Allen contributed to that. I like Kirk Hinrich, but he's wasted on this team. He'd be a nice secondary player on a contender. One interesting player tonight, however, was rookie Trevor Booker. Another one of those tough, quick, unheralded, and undersized power forwards who it turns out can really play, Booker looks like he can cut it on this level. He did his damage around the rim tonight, helping the Wizards with a double-double (12-12).
Tweet O’ the Game: LOL at Sam Cassell yelling "Hell naw!" to Tony Allen when he put up a jumper (which in fairness was a huge brick). - @peteredmiston
Where They Stand: The win moves the Grizzlies to 24-24. They remain at 9th in the Western Conference, but are now 1.5 games behind the 8th seed Portland Trailblazers, who did not play tonight.
Looking Ahead: The team's hold on .500 could be short lived, as the Grizzlies will host the 30-17 Orlando Magic Monday night.
Announced Attendance: 14,722
Marc Gasol tied his career high with five blocks, playing an effective all-around game (14/8) despite familiar foul trouble.
Zach Randolph delivered a workmanlike, ho-hum, unexceptional 24-20 tonight, extending his franchise-record double-double streak to 14 games. It's his fifth 20-20 game this season.
Despite having a rough night, Rudy Gay had the most exciting missed shot of the season, attempting a thunderous, reverse, double-pump slam in traffic on a baseline drive. He couldn't quite connect, but if he had it would have been a dunk-of-the-year candidate league-wide.
The team started the second quarter with Hasheem Thabeet in the middle of a zone-defense alignment, which had helped turn the game around last night in Philadelphia. The team only stayed with this for about two and a half minutes, but extended the lead by point with Thabeet looking respectable. He grabbed a rebound out of his area. He caught a tough transition pass from Tony Allen in traffic, got fouled, and made one of the foul shots. And he came out to contest a Rashard Lewis three-point attempt, nearly blocking and certainly altering it. We're not still in the baby steps phase with Thabeet. We're back in the baby steps phase, which is progress. He's starting to show some signs lately and that zone look seems like a good way to use him. Would have liked to see the team run with it a little longer tonight.