The Lead: The Grizzlies weathered an unlikely, late run from a colorful Hornets' bench crew to hold on for a 108-99 win and remain undefeated at home against teams not named “the Oklahoma City Thunder.”
Despite being down as much as 17 points late in the third quarter, a Hornets lineup lead by former Grizzlies reserve Greivis Vasquez — making his first appearance in Memphis following his Christmas Eve trade to New Orleans — went on a 26-11 run over a seven-minute stretch in the late third and early fourth quarter, bringing the Hornets to within two points, 91-93. But the Grizzlies kept their composure and never let the Hornets pull even, with consecutive Tony Allen scores following the Hornets drawing to within two and Rudy Gay then taking advantage of mismatches to put the game away.
Gay, two nights after finally breaking out with his 26 points against the Knick, drove past Hornets big Jason Smith for a foul and hit both shots to make it a seven-point game at 2:54, then shot over Vasquez for a three-pointer that made it a 10-point game with just over two-minutes to go. After starting 2-7 and missing some good shots — including a power dunk attempt — Gay went 7-12 the rest of the way en route to a game high 23.
Man of the Match: It's a testament to the kind of season Marc Gasol is having that his stat line of 20 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, and 0 turnovers seems like a run-of-the-mill game. This was Gasol's third 20/10 game in his past five. It was his eighth straight double-digit rebound game. His fifth straight game with at least two blocks. His fifth straight game to play at least 40 minutes. Gasol's big post-season last spring overshadowed what had been a somewhat disappointing regular season. But Gasol is back to where he was two seasons ago, when he was the Grizzlies best all-around basketball player even with Rudy Gay scoring 20 a night and Zach Randolph making the all-star team. In fact, he's even better, and the Grizzlies' fall off is frequently steep in the rare minutes when he's not in the game. I'm not sure how much of the greater NBA audience has taken notice yet, but Gasol is, at worst, the third-best center in the Association right now.
Nightly Number: Coming into the game, the Grizzlies were 6th in the league in pace of play while the Hornets were 28th. Without Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies are at their best forcing turnovers and scoring in transition. The Hornets, with their big frontline of Emeka Okafor and Chris Kaman and their power point guard in Jarrett Jack, wanted to play in the halfcourt. The team that was able to dictate pace tonight was going to have an advantage. And the Grizzlies scored 23 fastbreak points while forcing 17 Hornets turnovers.
The Match-Up: It was a contrast of speed vs. power at point guard with both Mike Conley and the Hornets' Jarrett Jack having productive games. Jack used his size and strength advantage to bully his way into the lane for short jumpers or all the way to the rim on the way to team-high 23 points on 8-14 shooting. But Conley, whose speed was just too much for all the Hornets guards, still won this match-up, balancing his season-high 17 points with 7 assists and 2 steals and managing the game beautifully. (The Grizzlies were +23 when Conley was on the floor; -14 without him.)
Elements of Style: Greivis Vasquez is one of my favorite Griz bench guys/role players over the years. From the moment he was drafted — pumping his fist and hugging his mom up in the stands — he brought personality and energy to the team, and was increasingly effective in his rookie season, culminating in a memorable performance in the playoffs after Mike Conley picked up two early fouls in Game 6 against the Spurs.
And Vasquez went a little Kyle Lowry on his return to Memphis, playing well and letting the Griz bench know about it, pausing a beat to flex and glare at the Griz bench after a fourth-quarter three pointer. Vasquez finished with 14 points and 6 assists off the bench, piling up those numbers with his typical flair. (My fave was an out-of-nowhere bullet pass to the rim after getting caught in the corner, which Hornets rookie Gustavo Ayon finished with a lay-up.)
I continue to think trading Vasquez was a mistake, albeit a minor one. The Grizzlies were betting on two unproven rookies in Jeremy Pargo and Josh Selby to man the minutes behind Conley, and each has been understandably erratic. (Selby struggled tonight in his second game as Conley's primary understudy, his three turnovers in six minutes disrupting an otherwise blank box-score line.) Vasquez was traded for Quincy Pondexter, who had a nice game off the bench tonight (9 points and 4 rebounds in 19 minutes), but whose more mundane attributes roughly duplicated other players already on the roster (Sam Young, Dante Cunningham).
Vasquez will never be a star, maybe never a starter. But 6'5” point guards with elevated court vision and passing ability — and loads of moxie — are a lot more rare than 6'6” swingmen without either high-level athleticism or scoring ability. On his rookie contract, Vasquez is going to provide tremendous value — not to mention entertainment value — over the next two or three seasons.
The Jacob Riis Report: Playing without Eric Gordon, their top prize in the Chris Paul deal, or Trevor Ariza, the normal defensive stopper and starting small forward, the Hornets frequently put together lineups that look like the Camp Fodder All-Stars. Is that Pistons washout Dajuan Summers starting? Really. Is that Lil Wayne logging couple of minutes at point guard? No, that's Carldell Jackson, from Parts Unknown (okay, from UAB, apparently, which shows how much I watch Conference USA basketball), looking less like an NBA player than anyone this side of Juan Jose Barea. But the Hornets played their best basketball with their least likely looking lineups, including reserve bigs Jason Smith (15 points, 10 boards, and 3 blocks) and rookie Gustavo Ayon, a previously unknown 26-year-old Mexican who had the best game of his young career with 9 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 blocks (all career highs). Ayon is a strong new addition to the Guys I Root For team.
Tweet O’ the Game: “20-11 for Wendigo. So glad to see him having a bounce-back season. Yes, last year was a down one for him. That's how good he is.” HPBasketball
Where They Stand: The Grizzlies improve to 5-6 and are 1.5 games behind the current eighth place Portland Trailblazers.
Looking Ahead: The Grizzlies will try to get back to .500 with their nationally televised Martin Luther King Jr. Day home game with the Chicago Bulls, who beat the Grizzlies by 40 in Chicago a couple of week ago. Is it okay to call an MLK Day game a “revenge game?” Regardless, it's probably accurate to call it a long shot.
Announced Attendance: 14,983