For about eight weeks, the Memphis Grizzlies will be without Zach Randolph, one of the architects of the Grit and Grind movement the team established a season ago, the one they are still trying to fully reestablish -- with some, justifiably, wondering if they'll ever get it back this year -- six games into this rushed new campaign. Whatever way you're leaning at this juncture, the first game since the bad news broke wasn't going to be the time to start making hasty proclamations. Especially on the second night of a back-to-back, on the road facing a Minnesota Timberwolves team breaking into relevance as we speak.
That said, last night's 90-86 Grizzlies win brought the team up to 3-3 and showed a way that Memphis, though it won't have Z-Bo for awhile, can still keep its gritty identity intact while keeping pace for the postseason.
If it's going to happen, performances like last night's from O.J. Mayo absolutely need to become more commonplace. About midway through the fourth quarter, with the T'Wolves up five and looking to be gaining strength while Memphis losing steam, Mayo drilled a three to bring the game back to one possession. He, along with Rudy Gay's aggressive shot-creating, and a couple of crucial forced turnovers -- many of which were finished on the other end by Tony Allen (who did not miss a shot from anywhere on the floor last night, ahem) -- ignited the big run in the fourth that the Grizz held on to late thanks to clutch free-throw shooting.
It's going to be up to the Grizzlies perimeter guys to steer this team going forward. Without Randolph, the inside-outside dynamic changes. Marc Gasol shot poorly last night, but he will be the opposition's sole concern in the paint, at least until the Grizz can figure out how Marreese Speights will best fit on the frontline. And, all told, the Grizzlies didn't shoot spectacularly from outside -- many times, actually, they fell in love with the jumper a bit too much -- but the encouraging sign going forward was the realization of the responsibility. It seemed that Gay and Mayo especially understood that this game was on them to take.
The team defense, save for some rebounding issues (but hey, that's mostly a Kevin Love issue), was active and opportunistic all night. They forced turnovers, got out running, went to the line, and made their freebies; eight more than Minnesota, who only attempted one less. Free throws, fast break points (the Grizz had 25 to Minny's nine), any points the Grizzlies can get as easily as possible, really, only become more important now, which of course means the defense remains as vital as ever. That doesn't change.
For the Grizzlies, it's going to come down to shifting the offensive focus once again to stay afloat. When Gay went down last season, the team turned to the brute inside combo of Gasol and Randolph to run the show. Now that the script has essentially flipped, Gay, Mayo, Mike Conley and the rest of the Grizzlies' perimeter have a slimmer margin for error, for off-nights. The fact that this looked apparent to them isn't shocking by any means, but it doesn't make that change any less important.