The Lead: The Grizzlies started what Rudy Gay called “Revenge Week” — four straight games against Western Conference playoff contenders the team had not beaten so far this season — with a commanding win, controlling the game from buzzer to buzzer despite under-performing in what are usually areas of strength and making some late miscues that made the game closer than it needed to be at the end.
Most importantly, it was a win that brought the Grizzlies to within a half-game of the currently fourth-seeded Clippers. Given the scheduling disparities the rest of the way, the Grizzlies should now be the favorite to get to #4 and host a playoff series for the first time in franchise history. And if the Lakers stumble, the third seed could well be in play.
In this one, the team's recently sharp three-point shooting fell off (4-13 overall), they got outscored in the paint (46-40), and, worst of all, they were +9 on turnovers.
Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph combined for half of the team's 20 turnovers, but the worst one came in the final minute, when O.J. Mayo sprinted past two Clippers defenders attempting to foul him and instead lost the ball out of bounds. This came immediately after an “over-exuberant” (per Lionel Hollins) Quincy Pondexter foul on Chris Paul that sent the Clippers star to the line.
The result of these maddening dual errors gave the Clippers, down by double digits two minutes earlier, the ball, down 90-85 with 26 seconds left. But Mike Conley leapt over two taller defenders to rebound a Randy Foye miss then made both free-throws the push the lead back to 7, subsequently stealing the ball in the backcourt after the Clippers in-bounded to seal the game.
Despite a more compelling than necessary final couple of minutes (“I knew that they weren't going anywhere,” Hollins said. “Chris Paul is one heck of a competitor and he just kept willing them back into the game.”), the Grizzlies impressed with the combination of sharp defense and balanced offense that has the team looking increasingly playoff-ready.
Though Paul (21 points, 6 assists) and Blake Griffin (19 points, 6 rebounds) were both effective, the Clippers were never able to get their hi-octane “Lob City” game going, with the Grizzlies generally denying them home-run plays and holding the Clippers to 25 or fewer points in all four quarters.
“That was our theme going in,” Hollins said. “We didn't want them to run free and get a lot of lobs. We wanted to be physical and aggressive with them, and I think we accomplished that.”
On the offensive end, the Grizzlies continued to look like a more high-powered version of the old Hubie Brown 10-man rotation teams. Eleven players saw the floor, with 10 scoring and six players players hitting double digits. Marc Gasol led the way with a modest 18. No-one had more than 12 field-goal attempts.
The Grizzlies have now won eight of their past 10 games, with six of those wins coming against potential playoff teams.
“We're definitely getting in playoff mode,” Zach Randolph said afterward. “It's coming.”
Man of the Match: Marc Gasol was rock solid tonight, leading the team in scoring (18 points on 6-12 shooting) and assists (7) while adding eight rebounds and two blocks.
With Zach Randolph rounding back into form, there's less of a need for Gasol to carry the major load as rebounder and post scorer, so its a good sign that his game is picking up in other areas. Over his past five games, Gasol is averaging five assists and 2.8 blocks.
Gasol was also the victim of a bizarre foul call in the second quarter, when Gasol had the ball on the block and Chris Paul ran into him chasing a cutter. Presumably the officials thought Gasol stuck out his hip to bump Paul, but you rarely see that called when the player in question has the ball, and replay showed Gasol seemed to pivot normally on the play:
Nightly Number: The only two point guards in the NBA averaging more steals than turnovers on the season were in tonight's game, with Chris Paul increasing his small lead over Mike Conley in the steals-per-game department by out-stealing him 3 to 1. But Conley's eye-popping steal-to-turnover ratio has been emblematic of a team strength, with the Grizzlies leading the NBA in steals and sitting second in turnover differential. Tonight? Not so much. Instead, the Grizzlies turnovers (20) more than tripled their steals (6).
When Randolph entered the game late in the first quarter, Griffin's aggressive defense on him featured a lot of grabbing and tugging. This clearly annoyed Randolph, who started calling for the ball. The Grizzlies tried too hard to feed him on the next possession, and ended up turning it over. But on the following trip down, Randolph isolated Griffin on the baseline and hit a step-back jumper on him that also drew a foul and was followed by some quality mean-mugging. At that point it seemed like we were going to get a good game-within-the-game match-up going, but nothing as interesting as these early battles materialized.
Still, this was another promising game for Randolph, who again moved well and was more assertive with the ball.
“I feel a lot different. I feel better everyday. It's progressing,” Randolph said after the game.
Randolph's 30 minutes tonight are his second highest total since his return, but he's starting to get hungry for more.
“They need to let the reigns go with me. I've missed half the season. I need all I can get right now to get myself ready,” Randolph said. Asked if he'd like to be a starter again, he said, “Yeah, I want to be back in the starting lineup whenever it comes. I'm getting ready.”
Elements of Style: Lionel Hollins broke form by going with a tie-free look tonight. Was he just feeling low-key and relaxation-friendly in this one? Nope. “That was just me being forgetful Lionel,” he said. “I forgot to bring a tie.”
One of the best things about this season: Marreese Speights' bouncing, smiling retreat to the bench after something good has happened and a timeout has been called. We saw that a couple of times Monday night.
The Jacob Riis Report: Chris Paul is fearsome, a six-foot basketball bully easily capable of taking over any game against anybody. But the rest of that Clippers team? Not really so frightening. Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are captivating athletes who, as a duo, still haven't quite harnessed their ability beyond their “Lob City” forays. Somebody — can't remember who; it was pointed out to me my someone else on press row, not from my feed — on Twitter wrote that Jordan/Griffin vs. Gasol/Randolph is like Air vs. Earth. Come playoff time? Give me Earth.
I also think this team, despite a recent good record, will really miss Chauncey Billups in the post-season. At one point, the Clippers played a lineup of Eric Bledsoe-Randy Foye-Nick Young-Kenyon Martin-Jordan. That's just too many unreliable guys to have on the floor together, especially with a shaky coach patrolling the sidelines. Chris Paul in a magician, but if I'm ranking the West teams most capable of making a run, I'd have the Clippers fifth at best, and I'm not sure I'd really take them over the Mavs or Rockets.
Tweet O’ the Game: “3 sets of 25 pushups 25 jumping jacks, 25 situps b4 I go 2 !bed I'm pumped up!! GNG” - @aa000G9 – Tony Allen continuing his relocate his cheerleading exploits to Twitter.
Where They Stand: The Grizzlies improved to 33-23 and moved to within a half a game of the Clippers. They remained two games back of the third-seeded Lakers, who barely squeaked by in New Orleans Monday night, playing without Kobe Bryant.
Looking Ahead: The Grizzlies have the day off tomorrow and then host the Phoenix Suns at FedExForum Wednesday night.
The Grizzlies have lost both previous games with the Suns, both in Phoenix.
“They play small-ball and try to keep us away from the paint,” Marc Gasol said about the coming match-up with the Suns. “We haven't come out the way we should have in both games against them. It's time to get them now in our place.”
Announced Attendance: 17,219. That has to be a franchise record for a week-night game against the Clippers.
Tony Allen missed his third straight game since suffering a mouth laceration last week at Dallas. Allen should return sometime this week.
Zach Randolph was in a minor fender-bender this morning, causing him to miss shoot-around. No-one was injured in the accident, in which Randolph was rear-ended. With his Challenger unfit to drive, Randolph admitted he had to go deploy a vehicle he wouldn't normally drive to the arena. “I drove my Rolls today,” he said. “It was kind of scary.” A disappointing aspect of Randolph's unfortunate morning was that he didn't live-tweet it the way Allen did (one of) his fender-bender(s) last year, a missed opportunity I pointed out to Randolph. “You know what,” he said. “I thought about Tony too. I texted him and said, 'I feel like you.' But it wasn't my fault. Somebody hit me. Tony's a horrible driver. He needs a for-real chauffeur. That's my man, though. But he cannot drive.”
Josh Selby was back with the team. Selby's two D League games with the Reno Big Horns before his call-up today: 27-7-7 (3 steals, 2-5 from three) and 38-7-9 (2 steals, 2-5 from three).
The Grizzlies have trailed for only 19 seconds total in their past three games. [That one's from Rob Fischer.]
The Grizzlies shot 50% from the field, improving to 11-0 when they shoot 50% or better.