The Lead: The Grizzlies struggled early tonight, trailing the Sacramento Kings for much of the first quarter before ending the period down 28-23. But over the next three quarters, the Grizzlies put on perhaps their most dominating display since an early home win over the Minnesota Timberwolves — outscoring the Kings 97-64 over the final three quarters.
Along the way, there were so many interesting in-game storylines and subplots that putting them in list form is about the only way to keep up:
*Shane Battier made his first appearance since Thursday's trade back to the place where his NBA career began.
*Former University of Memphis star Rodney Carney made his debut in a Grizzlies uniform.
*Marc Gasol got in a little tiff with coach Lionel Hollins and took it out on the Kings in his most swaggering performance maybe ever.
*Hamed Haddadi took the departed Hasheem Thabeet's back-up center role and responded with his first career double-double off the bench.
*Jason Williams got comfortable and loose, showing the first flashbacks of the "old" J-Will we've seen since he rejoined the team.
*O.J. Mayo, in his first game since his awkward near-trade to the Indiana Pacers, fought hard through his shooting slump and busted out with a big fourth quarter.
That all of this occurred with Rudy Gay on the bench in street clothes, Zach Randolph delivering a ho-hum 23-12, Sam Young and Darrell Arthur continuing their breakout seasons, Tony Allen howling in approval at teammates' plays, Greivis Vasquez providing good spot minutes, and Mike Conley having a quietly effective night underscores how a team that, a year ago, was perhaps the most shallow in the NBA, has suddenly become impressively deep. The necessary caveat is that this blowout game came against a bad team playing without its best player (former UofM Tiger Tyreke Evans), and playing its fourth game in five nights — all on the road — on the second night of a back-to-back. The Kings were primed to get knocked around tonight, but the Grizzlies sure looked good obliging them.
Man of the Match: This game was going to be about Shane Battier — who spoke to the crowd before the game and entered to thunderous applause midway through the first quarter — no matter what he actually did on the court. But it turned out to be an interesting, instructive performance. In a game where everyone for the team played well, Battier put up arguably the least impressive stat line on the team: He scored two points (1-3 shooting) and grabbed two rebounds in 25 minutes. And yet he ended up with the team's best total plus/minus on the night at +23. Other than missing both his three-point attempts, Battier had a very Battier-like game: Three blocks, three assists, a steal, not many shots, effective but unspectacular defense, on-court communication and leadership that was very apparent.
"It was awesome," Battier said of his welcome from local fans, speaking from his new spot in the locker room post-game, both knees packed in ice. "It's gonna take a few games to understand everything. I got more playing time tonight than I expected, but I need the reps to get familiar with the terminology and schemes."
"My game's never been about stats," Battier said a few minutes later. "I just want to make basketball plays."
And so it was. One of those plays I took particular note of: O.J. Mayo, in his first game since the Grizzlies tried and failed to trade him to the Indiana Pacers, was playing hard but still struggling with his shot through the first three quarters, shooting 1-5 from the floor and 0-2 from the three-point line. But, early in the fourth quarter, Mayo got a steal, and sprinted down the floor, delivering a bounce pass to a trailing Battier. Rather than take the open mid-range shot, Battier drove into the defense and passed back to Mayo, who had spotted up in the corner. Mayo, wide open, measured the shot and drilled it. Mayo turned to the sideline, exhaling, "Finally," then turn back to Battier, who smiled and nodded. The look on Mayo's face was a mixture of relief and gratitude. Mayo knocked down another three 30 seconds later and then hit another a few minutes later, again off a Battier set-up.
Battier seemed to be making an extra effort to get Mayo that first open look in what felt like a recognition of Mayo's shooting slump, but when I asked Battier about the play after the game, he said that that wasn't the case.
"He's an elite NBA shooter," Battier said of Mayo. "One of the best in the league, according to all the info I was given on him when I was in Houston. So I'm always going to be looking for him. I want to get him the ball and I want him to let it fly."
If Battier's confidence in Mayo helps rebuild Mayo's confidence in himself, then it could be a big boost to the team's playoff run.
Nightly Number: The Grizzlies season-high 120 total points included 78 points in the paint, an "unheard of" number in Lionel Hollins' estimation. After scoring only two points on 1-5 shooting in the first quarter, Zach Randolph settled down and dominated to help the Grizzlies put the Kings away in the second and third quarters, scoring 21 points on 9-10 shooting across those two quarters, and then took a rest in the fourth.
Meanwhile, Randolph's frontcourt partner, Marc Gasol, was also having a big scoring night, putting up 21 on 10-15 shooting. After Gasol settled for and missed an 8-footer and the Kings scored in transition, Lionel Hollins snapped at Gasol, who immediately buried a 22-foot jumper in what felt like defiance, then back-peddled down the floor, muttering angrily. On the next trip down, he scored on a strong drive to the hoop. Gasol was still hot during a following time-out and was calmed down by assistant Damon Stoudamire, but he ended up taking his frustration out on the Kings, scoring on jumpers, post moves, and tip-ins and taking charges, all while displaying a swagger and edge he's never quite showed before. Whatever happened between Gasol and his coach, Gasol responded to it. It was almost like he thought Kobe Bryant's recent quote about becoming the black swan was meant for him rather than his older brother.
After the game I tried to ask Gasol about the exchange with Hollins and his subsequent improved play, but Gasol just gave a knowing look and said, "I don't know what you're talking about."
The Match-Up: The NBA: Where Hamed Haddadi vs. DeMarcus Cousins happens. The battle of back-up centers tonight featured two of the league's biggest and most colorful players — one a high-profile rookie with clear star potential, the other a little-used, little-known Iranian import whose NBA career could be coming to a close.
But tonight, given the chance to be the primary back-up center in the wake of the Grizzlies trading Hasheem Thabeet to Houston and failing to import trade-target Josh McRoberts from Indiana, Haddadi responded with his best game ever and his most memorable since last season's dunk-on-Shaq/put-Lebron-on-his-butt party against the Cavs.
Haddadi played an unlikely 22 minutes off the bench, registering his first career double-double: 10 points on 5-11 shooting, 10 rebounds (four offensive), two blocks, and one assist. Meanwhile, his more heralded opposite number for the Kings fouled out in 27 minutes, scoring 14 points (5-12 shooting) and grabbing 7 rebounds.
For what it's worth, Haddadi's rebound and blocked-shot rates have always been very high. He's a poor athlete with no shooting range and no real post game aside from the occasional shocking drop-step, and his slow reactions lead to the occasional posterization (two tonight). But he's a legit rebounder and shot-blocker who has good hands and good court awareness. He may look like a joke to many observers, but he's better than many, many players this franchise has employed over the past 10 years, including two recent first-round picks the Grizzlies shipped to Houston this week.
Yes, that's right: Hamed Haddadi is a better basketball player than Hasheem Thabeet. And with Thabeet gone and no other center added to the roster, this could be Haddadi's chance to get more regular minutes.
"He doesn't have to earn them," Lionel Hollins said after the game, when asked about Hadaddi taking on a larger role. "He's going to get them. He's the only true back-up center I've got. But I told him, he's got to get in better shape and get ready. I'm not even sure if he knows all the plays."
After sitting most of the year and, from what I understand, not really getting much run in practice, Haddadi acknowledged after the game that he's got a lot of catching up to do and not much time to do it, but seemed hopeful he would find his way on the floor more and take advantage of the opportunity. Haddadi's contract is up at the end of this season, and he told me his goal is to play in the NBA again next season, but he seemed to realize that being able to get a second NBA contract is far from a sure thing.
As a cheap, third-team center, I think teams could do worse. The Grizzlies certainly have over the years.
The Jacob Riis Report: Where would the Kings have been tonight without point guard Beno Udrih? If Udrih isn't a starter on the "Griz Killer Team," he's certainly vying for a spot in the rotation. He seems to frequently play well against the Grizzlies and he was great tonight, particularly early on. Udrih scored a game-high 24 points on 10-13 shooting, with five assists and only one turnover.
Tweet O’ the Game:
Thabeet on 'active list.' Won't be active. Rick Adelman: 'He hasn’t been playing for them. I don't know what I'm supposed to do with him." — @Jonathan_Feigen
Arena Action: Rudy Gay, in street clothes and with his arm in a sling, addressed the crowd before the tip, introducing Shane Battier, who took the mic and said he was here to "help these guys — Rudy, Z-Bo, Marc — get into the playoffs." That Battier appears palpably, if slightly, embarrassed at the extent of his local adoration speaks well of him.
Students from the Stax Music Academy were also featured tonight, performing on the court and on the concourse before the game and again on the court at halftime.
Where They Stand: The Grizzlies improved to 33-27 and, with help from the embattled Detroit Pistons, who held on at home tonight to defeat the Utah Jazz, find themselves all alone in the 8th slot in the Western Conference, one game ahead of the 9th place Jazz and one game up on Jazz and one game behind the 7th place Denver Nuggets and 6th place Portland Trailblazers.
Looking Ahead: The Grizzlies have a perhaps prohibitively tough one Sunday night, playing the San Antonio Spurs on the road on the second night of a back-to-back. The Spurs are 27-2 at home.
Announced Attendance: 16,028 — a strong crowd to welcome Battier back to Memphis.
Rodney Carney made his Grizzlies debut late, scoring on an offensive rebound and put back and getting a steal in three minutes of play. Carney's on a 10-day contract and his stay here could be short lived after the acquisition of Battier. Too bad, really. Carney is a legit NBA player and should probably be on someone's roster.
The Grizzlies took four charges, which Lionel Hollins says is a season-high. Amazingly, none of them came from Battier.
Jason Williams seems to be getting more comfortable. For the first time since returning to the team, he showed flashes of the "old" J-Will tonight — zipping a behind-the-back bounce pass to Gasol for a lay-up and setting up a Hamed Haddadi dunk with another flashy feed. But Williams was also solid in 16 minutes, scoring 6 points on 3-6 shooting and notching 5 assists to only one turnover. He's been an upgrade and a stabilizing force behind Mike Conley at the point. We give Michael Heisley a lot of grief, most of which he earns, but give him credit for this: The Jason Williams signing looks like a very good move so far.
Shane Batter after the game, when I asked him if, in his first stint with the Grizzlies, he could have imagined he'd one day have Marc Gasol as an NBA teammate: "I saw Marc play as a high-school freshman, at Lausanne, when my wife was coaching there. He was seven feet tall, probably 330 pounds, being guarded by 6'3" kids. He was like King Kong slapping airplanes away, guys just bouncing off him. I could have never imagined that, years later, he'd be sitting four lockers down from me. But here he is. He's worked really hard."