For once, the Grizzlies win a game they are supposed to win. After coming off a spectacular win in Los Angeles (the win they weren't supposed to get), fans still had doubts on whether Memphis can actually execute in times that need execution (aka in victory against sub-.500 teams). It's a relief they actually made it happen.
The offense didn't win this game. Minnesota is a team that can execute points quickly and with force; a team that can put up 10 in the blink-of-an-eye if the defense is slacking. Initially, Memphis didn't play the sneaky offense brought onto the court by Minnesota. To start the second half, Minnesota, after a 20-6 point-attack, took the biggest lead of the night at 63-55. Luckily, Memphis responded with a 13-4 run of their own (possibly influenced by Kevin Love being substituted for three minutes) to retake the lead at the end of the third quarter.
To show the offense wasn't the thing that won the game: Memphis shot 43 percent on the night and missed all 11 3-point attempts. Eleven. Play the game without the 13-4 run at the end of the third quarter, and there'd be a different victor.
If the offense didn't win the game, why are the Grizzlies the winner of last night's game? Several factors.
Rudy Gay, Dante Cunningham and Marreese Speights. The trio looked like they have been playing together for years. At the half, Gay had 12 points. To conclude the half, Mike Conley, injuring his ankle after hitting a jumper with 1:35 left, walked into the locker room with a questionable return. There was a mood in the locker room during halftime - with Marc Gasol out and Mike Conley's second half return being questionable, somebody was going to have to step up.
Dante Cunningham (love you, n8dogg) was that man.
Cunningham, who filled Gasol's spot, had his best performance of the season. He added a season-high 13 points and 14 rebounds that led the team to victory. After playing only one minute in the 102-96 victory against the Lakers, Cunningham turned around and played a little over 40 minutes and was 6 of 9 from the field.
"Dante didn't play much in the (Lakers) game and didn't know if Marc was going to play (against the Timberwolves) or not, but came prepared," said Conley. "That's the kind of focus we need from everybody, and I think we fed off that."
Marreese Speights and Tony Allen finished with 18 points and 13 points, respectively. All five Memphis starters finished in double digits.
Winning the Mental Battle. Time and time again, Minnesota somehow managed to sneak an offensive rally in on the Grizzlies. And, time and time again, the Grizzlies seemed to handle it with a mature playing style that hasn't been seen since last year's playoff performance.
At the start of the second half, Minnesota went on a 20-6 run to erase the advantage. Memphis responded with a 13-4 run of their own.
In the final period, the Wolves rallied again despite an 11-point Memphis lead. Led by Kevin Love and Ellington, the Wolves came to within 5 points with 1:34 left. Though it gave Memphis a bit of a scare, they couldn't pull any closer as the Grizzlies reserves stepped up to put up the defensive wall.
Somehow, the Grizzlies were able to reach into the bucket and put together a makeshit, gritty, dirty lineup that got past the injuries and led the team to victory. If there's any team in the league to do that and come out with a victory, it's Memphis.
What does this mean for the Grizzlies?
This was the only home game out of a two-week, eight-game stretch. The next five games:
at Oklahoma City
against Golden State
Last night's game showed the potential danger the Grizzlies contain on the bench when all cylinders are firing. Again - imagine the Cunningham and Speights' performances tonight while playing next to an on-fire Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol. That is one heck of a team - a team that has a chance to do big things.
Player of the Game: Dante Cunningham (13 points, 14 rebounds, over 40 minutes played)
Man of the Game: Rudy Gay (21 points)
Nappin' on the Court: Zach Randolph (8 points, 5 rebounds)
Alex Smith Award: Wayne Ellington (15 points)
See you Friday in Houston.