The Lead: You could see this one coming. The Milwaukee Bucks entered the game 29th in offensive efficiency and were facing a Grizzlies team currently ranked 9th in defensive efficiency and moving up. Meanwhile, the Bucks were 6th in defensive efficiency and were getting a Grizzlies offense ranked 20th on the season and coming into this game without O.J. Mayo (league suspension) and Zach Randolph (nursing a sore ankle) and with Rudy Gay gutting his way through multiple injuries.
Given all that, this was shaping up to be a low-scoring muddle of a game, and that's exactly what it was.
Other than an unlikely third-quarter explosion from Corey Maggette, who scored 20 points in the quarter on 4-4 three-point shooting (he's a career 32% shooter from distance), the Bucks could never get anything going offensively. But that one little run of shot-making was enough to make this a competitive game as the Grizzlies own offense was searching for scoring options for much of the game: Mike Conley and Darrell Arthur, suddenly the primary shot creators, combined to shoot 4-17 in the first half. Back-up point guards Greivis Vasquez and a debuting Jason Williams created exactly zero points in a combined 11 minutes.
Rudy Gay delivered an admirably effective 14 points (5-11 shooting) and 3 assists in nearly 40 minutes, but you could tell early on that he was severely limited. In the first quarter, he finished a play on the block with a soft lay-up that would normally be a dunk, and with a reasonably clear angle to the basket on a 2-on-1 break, he gave the ball to Conley instead. Gay was clearly trying to pick his spots, but when the team ran a few isolation plays for him down the stretch, he struggled with turnovers.
Ultimately, good defense, a spark of energy from Tony Allen, and a bounce-back second half from Mike Conley was enough to polish off a bad Bucks team. But I don't think the Grizzlies could be this limited against better Denver and Philadelphia teams on Sunday and Tuesday, respectively, and hope to win.
Man of the Match: Rudy Gay played more minutes with better results than could have reasonably been expected. Tony Allen gave the team a spark. And Sam Young was the only truly efficient offensive player on the court for the Grizzlies with 19 points on 7-10 shooting. But this has to go to Mike Conley, who rebounded from a bad first half with a really good second half: 17 points on 6-11 shooting (including 3-4 from long-range), 5 assists, 3 steals, and 1 turnover.
Conley, who has had his problems in the clutch this season, also made a series of big plays late to seal the win. With the game tied 77-77 at the two-minute mark, Conley got a steal off John Salmons that he turned into a two-on-one break that he finished by setting up Tony Allen for the go-ahead dunk. On the next offensive possession, Conley nailed a corner three off a Rudy Gay feed to put the Grizzlies up 82-77. A couple of possessions later, Conley bottled up Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings, forcing him deep into shot clock and generating a steal. Sure, Conley missed both subsequent free throws, which would have effectively ended the game, but he did come back to hit two from the line a few seconds later.
Clutch has been a problem for Conley this season: His free-throw percentage has dropped from 76% overall to 61% in "clutch" situations (as defined by 82games.com), while his turnover rate has gone up. But despite the free-throw misses late tonight, Conley stepped up and made a lot of big, winning plays when the team didn't really have many other options.
Nightly Number: Even without Zach Randolph in the lineup, the Grizzlies managed to out-rebound the Bucks overall (45-44) while holding them even on the offensive boards despite the Bucks missing more shots. And it was a team effort. Among the bigs, Darrell Arthur and Marc Gasol had 8 rebounds each, while Hamed Haddadi came off the bench get corral 4 boards (and block two shots) in eight minutes. But the big help came from the perimeter starters, who all chipped in with better than normal numbers: Five from Conley, a career-high 8 from Sam Young, and a team-high 10 from Rudy Gay. For Gay, this has been a recent trend, as he's averaged 10 rebounds a game over the past four games.
The Match-Up: Marc Gasol had perhaps his best game of the season at Milwaukee last month, with 24 points and 16 rebound. He didn't fare so well tonight (9 points, 8 boards, 2 blocks), but played Bucks center Andrew Bogut essentially even overall, as each player struggled with the other's physical play.
The Jacob Riis Report:I didn't think much of this Bucks team to start the season mostly because I disapproved of off-season moves that invested multi-year money in proven non-difference-makers Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden. But what I didn't see coming was a lack of progression from second-year point guard Brandon Jennings, who has missed 20 games to injury this season, but has also been pretty erratic when he has played. Jennings looked pretty ordinary tonight. He jacked up shots (6-17), but didn't really put his stamp on the game.
Tweet O’ the Game: I really wanted to see Hasheem and DeMarre on the court at the same time so I wouldn't feel so silly wearing all this Dakota Wizards gear. — @RTSBlog
Arena Action: The Grizzlies brought back past dance-team members for some 10th-anniversary mega-cheerleader action.
Where They Stand: The win moves the Grizzlies to 29-26, still in 9th place, still a game behind a Portland Trailblazers team that just refuses to fade.
Looking Ahead: The Grizzlies host the Denver Nuggets on Sunday for an early game — 5 p.m. tip. Carmelo Anthony should be in the building for the Nuggets, who keep refusing to trade him.
Announced Attendance: 14,749. More paid no-shows than usual, apparently. Not a good crowd for Friday night game in the middle of an emerging playoff race. Also, not really a good game.
Check the highlights for a brutal Sam Young dunk on Andrew Bogut.
Jason Williams looked extremely rusty in his debut, but given how up-and-down Greivis Vasquez has been, I'd expect he'll get plenty of opportunities to push his way into the rotation.