The Lead: As a home game against the league's worst team that was bridging both a three-game West Coast road trip and a high-wattage weekend ahead, this was likely to be a pretty subdued game. And for three quarters it was.
The Grizzlies seemed to be playing at about 80 percent intensity but building a solid lead anyway, pushing their lead to nine at the end of the first quarter off a show-off Marc Gasol baseline bucket and a power transition hoop-and-harm from Ed Davis.
Still leading by nine at the half, the team got especially listless, letting the Bobcats whittle the lead completely away. This sent Lionel Hollins looking to his bench for energy and execution and this time he found it in a big, big way.
With Mike Conley opening the fourth quarter surrounded by four reserves — Quincy Pondexter, Austin Daye, Jon Leuer, and Ed Davis — the Grizzlies went on a 15-0 run, pushing a three-point lead early in the quarter to an 18-point lead with with under eight minutes to play. A minute later, Conley's driving lay-up gave him another 20-point scoring night, bringing the lead to 19 and Conley to the bench for good. He was the only starter to play in the fourth.
It was a particularly good night for Daye (10 points on 4-7 shooting and 7 rebounds in 17 minutes) and Leuer (11 points on 4-4 shooting and 5 rebounds in 13 minutes).
One sequence — the play of the night — symbolized the fourth-quarter explosion: A Davis block into a Daye defensive rebound, which he dribbled toward mid-court before firing a no-look pass to Leuer, on the move in the middle of the lane. Leuer caught the pass and finished a twisting lay-up for the hoop-and-harm.
In his best performance of the season, Leuer showed everything he's got. In addition to the transition bucket, he scored on two long pick-and-pops off Conley, got a dunk off a Davis feed, was solid on the defensive boards, and forced turnovers. After all that, he even decided to drop some dimes, setting up three-point buckets on back-to-back possessions.
“I kept looking for people to have energy,” Hollins said about going deep into his bench. “We weren't running and had lost our pizzazz. I rolled the dice a little keeping Mike [Conley] in, but I thought he could lead that group and would be able to get into the lane with the floor more open.”
Man of the Match: Jon Leuer had the most memorable game, but Mike Conley was the best player on the floor. Conley hit the 20-point mark for the fifth straight game, shooting a nifty 8-13 from the floor with seven assists, two steals, and nary a turnover. His jumper actually wasn't falling (0-3 from long-range), but Conley darted around Bobcats defenders, finishing with all manner of floaters and runners. Seven of his eight makes came in the paint and all came within 10 feet.
Nightly Number: How about 8 — as in the Grizzlies had five players each score eight points in the game. Okay, that's statistical happenstance, but it does suggest the balance that's become a team hallmark. After Conley's game-high 20, the Grizzlies had eight — that number again — players finish with between eight and 11 points.
The Match-Up: Honestly? It was Keyon Dooling and Jannero Pargo. The two journeymen combo guards went head-to-head, with Pargo hitting a few shots (10 points on 4-9 shooting) to get the best of Dooling, who made his home debut for the Grizzlies. Dooling didn't do much in his 12 minutes, but didn't make mistakes and seemed to fit into the team defense. After the game, Lionel Hollins suggested he wasn't expecting a lot from Dooling in the post-season but was expecting him to play some limited minutes behind Conley and Jerryd Bayless, with Tony Wroten in deep reserve. “It's good to have another vet that won't just go crazy,” Hollins said.
Elements of Style: That Davis-Daye-Leuer sequence was the play of the night, getting the nod over an angry Davis dunk in the first half. But the most stylish moment had to be late in the fourth, when Leuer helped double Bobcats small forward Reggie Williams along the sideline, forcing a turnover. Afterward, Leuer, clearly feeling his oats, gave a more modest display of Tony Allen's trademark “first down” signal.
The Jacob Riis Report: There are a few decent players here but I'm not sure I see a strong building block, and yes that might even include rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. I know he's one of the youngest — the youngest? — players in the league, and he's a good athlete. But I'm not sure he's an electric athlete by NBA standards and his offensive skills are just so raw. A quality starter and defensive stopper? Sure. A top two or three player on a contender? I'm not sure if he gets there. Beyond that, no one looks like more than a role player. Gerald Henderson is the definition of a mid-rotation player on a decent team. Bismack Biyombo is a specialist who isn't quite special. And even Kemba Walker, who's had a nice year, seems better equipped to be a sixth man on a good team. It's a long way up in Charlotte, but I think coach Mike Dunlap deserves a long leash. As bad as the Bobcats are, they aren't underperforming their talent.
Tweet O’ the Game: Jon Leuer holds the head of Hamed Haddadi for all to see. "This is what your 12th man was!" he shouts. "I am what your 12th man is!!!" — @TheRealHrdlicka
Where They Stand: The Grizzlies pushed their already franchise-best regular season to 53-25, a half game behind Denver and 1.5 game up on the Clippers in the 3-4-5 race.
Looking Ahead: There's a big, big weekend looming with the Grizzlies playing in Houston on Friday night and then coming home on Saturday night for a no-holds-barred brawl with the Clippers that could be both a playoff preview and a game that determines homecourt advantage in that potential series. But first Grizzlies fans will want to keep a close eye on two games Wednesday night. The Clippers are unlikely to stumble at home against the Timberwolves, but more intriguing will be the Nuggets at home against the Spurs. The Grizzlies really need Denver to lose that one to keep the fading hopes for a third seed alive.
Announced Attendance: 16,591
Zach Randolph got a technical foul for flipping the ball over his head and — unintentionally — into the front row, where it hit a fan. Randolph was flinging the ball toward the rim. The fan was not harmed and Randolph went over to apologize.
I almost got through this notebook without mentioning Marc Gasol.