The Lead: The Grizzlies had a tense but productive few minutes tonight, closing with a 22-10 run in the final 5:11 to overcome a fourth-quarter deficit and defeat the Spurs, while, at the same time, the Miami Heat was holding off the Houston Rockets down in Florida. The results gave the Grizzlies a bit of breathing room, pushing their lead over the hard-charging Rockets to 2.5 games with eight games left to play for the Grizzlies, nine for the Rockets.
The past three games — at Boston, at Chicago, and home against San Antonio, three of the league's five best teams record-wise — were supposed to be a dangerous stretch before the schedule lightened, but the Grizzlies nearly swept it, bracketing wins against the Celtics and Spurs around a loss to the Bulls in which the Grizzlies had a chance to tie on the final shot.
The Grizzlies got a bit of help tonight — Tim Duncan was out with a sprained ankle, Manu Ginobili bumped knees with Marc Gasol in the second quarter and ended up exiting the game in the third quarter as a result, and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich exited even earlier, tossed for arguing a no-call on the play where Ginobili went down.
But this one still wasn't easy, with the Spurs starting each half on a 7-0 run and with reserve guard George Hill pouring in 30 off the bench on a series of tough, dynamic makes.
The victory moves the Grizzlies to 41-33, besting last year's win total by one and guaranteeing the team's first non-losing season since 2005-2006.
Man of the Match: The Grizzlies threw a trio of heroes up the pop chart in the fourth quarter. First runner-up O.J. Mayo, helped the team respond to the Spurs 7-0 by scoring eight straight for the Grizzlies early in the quarter — two three-pointers and a lay-up. In all, Mayo came off the bench to score 17 points in 27 minutes, including 4-6 three-point shooting, exactly the kind of production the team envisioned from Mayo when they moved him into the sixth-man role but has rarely gotten. The 17 points was the most Mayo has scored in two weeks and the four threes was his highest total since before Christmas.
After Mayo got the Griz going, the team regained control of the game by riding Zach Randolph, who went into beast mode inside, scoring 10 points during a 12-3 Grizzlies run late in the quarter, in which the team went from a five-point deficit at the 5:11 mark to a 101-97 lead with 1:45 to go.
The other Griz player to score in that stretch was Tony Allen, who danced around defenders to the rim for a lay-up that tied it at 97-97. After Spurs forward Antonio McDyess responded to the Griz run with an 18-footer, bringing the Spurs back to within a bucket, Allen came back, improbably, with a 21-footer of his own to push the Griz lead back to four. Allen sealed the game in the final second by making two free-throws then stealing a Spurs' in-bounds pass to get himself back to the line again. That final bit of thievery — Allen's fifth steal of the game — provoked a "TO-NY TO-NY" chant in the building. In all, Allen scored 23 points in 31 now typically spirited and wildly entertaining minutes, shooting a ridiculous 9-10 from the floor that was far from a lay-up fest. Allen hit 3-4 on long jumpers, making a mockery of my "5/5 Rule," and added 4 boards, 2 assists, and a block to go with the 5 steals and several moments of theatrical, idiosyncratic joy that has made his season a cult event for those following it.
Nightly Number: Marc Gasol showed his versatility tonight, with 4 blocks and 4 assists, the first time he's has at least that many of each since January. Gasol's most memorable moment of the night, however, came in the fourth quarter, when he hit a hook shot over Matt Bonner to put the Grizzlies up four in the final minute. Gasol's response was the run down the sideline, hulking up and howling all the way.
The Jacob Riis Report: Obviously the Spurs would likely have Tim Duncan back for the playoffs, but the rest of San Antonio's frontcourt rotation — Dejuan Blair, Antonio McDyess, Tiago Splitter, and Matt Bonner — doesn't really scare you. These are solid role players who can hurt you at times — especially Blair with his bulk and Bonner with his outside shooting — but the Grizzlies match-up well in the frontcourt with the Spurs, who can only use Duncan on Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol, giving the Grizzlies a post mismatch at the other spot. That's the main reason the Grizzlies would be much more optimistic about a potential playoff match-up with the Spurs than with the Lakers despite splitting the season-series with both.
Tweet of the Game: @steph38103: I like it when Marc #gasol growls! #caveman #sexy #gogrizz #grizz
Where They Stand: At 41-33, the Grizzlies are still eighth in the West, now 2.5 games ahead of the Rockets and one game behind the 7th place New Orleans Hornets (assuming a probable Hornets loss to the Lakers tonight) and 1.5 games back of the 6th place Portland Trailblazers, who lost in Oklahoma City.
Looking Ahead: The Grizzlies will have a couple of days off, hosting the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday, but a couple of relevant games between now and then: Portland is at San Antonio tomorrow night and Houston is at New Jersey on Tuesday night.
Announced Attendance: 17.098. A very good crowd. The Grizzlies are closing strong on the floor and at the gate.
Sam Young played only 12 minutes, leaving the game with a sprained right ankle. Shane Battier started the second half in Young's place. Mayo finished the game. If Young's — hopefully minor — injury eases a transition into more of those wing minutes going to Mayo and Battier, I would very much approve of that. But with Rudy Gay out for the season and both Jason Williams and Xavier Henry modeling street clothes for a while now, the Grizzlies don't need to lose any more perimeter depth, especially for the post-season.