Last night in Utah, the Grizzlies took care of business on the road (no thanks to some unfortunate free throws) against a Jazz team with the same record (19-13) as the Grizzlies since February 1st. Without Mike Conley and Tony Allen, it certainly wasn't pretty, but pretty isn't reflected in the playoff standings, and last night was extremely important to the Grizzlies' hopes of hanging on to the 2-seed and finishing ahead of the Spurs and Rockets to win the Southwest division.
The game was pretty much exactly like the other three Grizzlies/Jazz games this season: at times the Grizzlies looked like they should be ahead by 15 points, but they never made it that far ahead (the largest lead by either team was 9) and the Jazz actually spent most of the second half with the lead. The Grizzlies were playing hard, but because of the excellent Jazz defense (especially on the interior, anchored by the very, very tall and very, very athletic Rudy "The Stifle Tower" Gobert), they never really looked like they were playing well, having to fight for every basket.
Down the stretch, though, when it seemed like they might actually lose the game, the Grizzlies did exactly what they needed to do: they got consecutive stops and turned them into hard-fought baskets on possessions extended by multiple offensive rebounds. It was the same thing we've seen them do in countless other games this year that they "should" win: put the clamps on a team in a five minute stretch and come out with a win.
No thanks to the referrees, it almost didn't happen that way. Up 89-86 with 1 second left (thanks to an inbounds play that was the result of a hilariously mismatched Zach Randolph/Rudy Gobert jump ball), the Jazz had time to run one play, for a Gordon Hayward corner 3 which Marc Gasol blocked out of bounds as time expired...
...except the referee called a foul on what the replay showed was a perfectly clean block. Referees reviewed the play to determine how much time was left on the clock, but whether or not the foul actually happened couldn't be reviewed, so I'm sure they stood around saying "well, we can't take that back" and proceeded with the free throws. Hayward went to the line to take 3 shots with .1 second on the clock, and if he made them all, the game went to overtime tied at 89.
He missed the last one, and the game ended with a Grizzlies win.
Several players had good performances last night for the Grizzlies, even as it looked like they were all struggling, but two in particular are worth talking about a little more in-depth:
Marc Gasol had 22 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists while clearly willing the Grizzlies to victory on both ends of the floor. Gasol played excellently against Rudy Gobert, who has been the best interior defender in the league through the second half of the season, using footwork and skill to overcome Gobert's sheer size and ability block everything above the rim. Gasol's defense (as per usual) was also great. Sometimes it's easy to forget that Gasol anchors everything the Grizzlies do on both ends of the floor, and it takes a game where it's obvious that he's doing everything to remind us of that. Last night was one of those games.
The other Grizzly who performed well last night was Courtney Lee, who seems to be returning to his career averages in fits and starts after regressing far below them and through the floor into some kind of negative PER basement. Last night, Lee had 15 points on 10 shots (including 2 of 3 from beyond the arc), but more impressively, he did it all while defending Gordon Hayward, a bigger player and a dangerous shooting threat. Lee's two-way game last night was a reminder of how important he is to this team's hopes to accomplish something this postseason.
The Grizzlies' win last night, coupled with the Spurs' consecutive victories over the Rockets, means that the magic number of wins for the Grizzlies to secure the 2 seed and the Southwest division title is 2. 2 wins in the next three games (at Clippers tonight, at Warriors Monday, and home against the Pacers on Wednesday) would lock up both of those for the Grizzlies, while only winning one of the three could send them all the way to the 6 seed and the Spurs to the 2 seed.
The tiebreaker situation is such that the Grizzlies have tiebreakers against Houston and against San Antonio, but if all three teams finish with the same record, San Antonio gets the edge due to their 3-1 season series record against the Rockets.
Things are still very much up in the air in the 2-6 spots in the West. If the Grizzlies can somehow avoid having to play the Spurs in the second round (which would require either the Spurs or Grizzlies to somehow finish in the 5th seed spot at this point) they could have a fairly straightforward path to the Western Conference Finals. What's looking more likely, though, is that they'll end up on the same side of the bracket as San Antonio and potentially have to go through the Spurs to get to the Conference Finals, which is... less than ideal. But obviously getting out of the first round is task #1 before it's time to worry about that, and it's looking likely that we won't even know who they're playing or where until the end of the regular season on Wednesday night.
Tweet of the Night
These three tweets all happened within 1 second of basketball time as the crazy ending of the game played out. I couldn't pick just one.
Watching the end of this game like pic.twitter.com/NSpHepxMi8— MattyP (@grizzlam) April 11, 2015
Z-Bo's shocked face https://t.co/bGU5GzbDMK— AP (@Ananth_Pandian) April 11, 2015
GORDON WAYWARD— Chase Lucas (@deepfriedcouch) April 11, 2015
Tonight the Grizzlies play the Clippers in Los Angeles, in the first of three games remaining. If the Grizzlies can get a win tonight, they'll only need to win one more game out of two left against Golden State and Indiana to lock up the 2 seed. So, probably the most important game of the regular season so far. No big deal.