So that was a basketball game. Last night, the Forum was loud, the basketball was physical and sloppy and intense, and the Grizzlies came out on top 101–98 in a game that shouldn’t have gone into overtime, but did, and somehow because even more amazing because of it.
You hear the term "playoff basketball" get thrown around a lot. What do people mean when they say a game "felt like playoff basketball"? They mean it felt like this. Two teams who would both have home court advantage if the playoffs started tomorrow facing off in a tight game that saw San Antonio lead by 7 and Memphis lead by 12. Pounding the ball inside. Guys banging in the paint, hard fouls left and right (especially that one where Jerryd Bayless "accidentally" sent Parker into the first or second row, or the one where Tim Duncan tackled Marc Gasol under the basket).
The Grizzlies won. You already knew that. So let’s talk about why:
- Setting a physical tone early. The Pounding the Rock recap called this cheating, but I call it "setting the tone." The Grizzlies came out and played physical, tough basketball, the offense into the paint. Tony Parker proved early on he was going to be tough to handle, but the Grizzlies did everything they could to contain the damage to just Parker. Splitter fouled out. Marc Gasol played beautiful, ferocious defense against Tim "Tim Duncan Incredulous Face" Duncan. Z-Bo did his Z-Bo thang and came out with 18 points and 10 rebounds.The Grizzlies played Grizzlies basketball, and it worked in their favor, just like it usually does.
- Good Rudy, Bad Rudy. We saw everything Rudy Gay brings to the team last night. Rudy scored 23 points on 20 shots — which isn’t exactly the pinnacle of efficiency — but in the 4th quarter he was 2–3 for 5 points. (And two missed free throws that would’ve iced the game, but who’s keeping track?) Rudy also did this: So there’s that.
- Darrell Arthur, Killer of P&R’s. It was a huge deal to have Darrell Arthur back. Oh, how the Grizzlies have missed him. Lionel Hollins said in his postgame presser that Arthur creates so many problems for the Spurs defensively because he’s a big guy who can shoot, and he certainly did that last night, scoring 14, mostly from the left wing and from right above the foul line. But the other thing that Darrell Arthur is consistently good at is defending the pick and roll. Watching the way Arthur gets himself in the middle of other teams’ P&R sets is a thing of beauty. He puts himself in exactly the right place at exactly the right time, and it has to be maddening for other teams.
In fact, the Gothic Ginobili player capsule on Darrell Arthur said pretty much the same thing:
Most teams have one or two good pick and roll defenders. Some teams have zero. The Grizzlies? They had 3 or 4 available in the frontcourt, depending on your view on Zach Randolph’s pick and roll defense (I think it’s fine, especially next to someone like Gasol or Arthur).
When you have a team who can effectively take away the pick and roll and control the game’s tempo, it doesn’t really matter what adjustments the offensive team makes – it’s going to be impossible to consistently hit 100–110 points against that kind of a defensive unit.
That’s absolutely what we saw last night.
Overall, it was a big win for the Grizzlies. The overtime loss they suffered in San Antonio at the beginning of December was a huge momentum-killer, and they muddled on a .500 pace for the next solid month before finally starting to get back into a groove here as of late.
It also pulled the Grizzlies to within a game and a half of the 3rd place spot in the West, in a year where the Western Conference playoffs are going to be a bloodbath the likes of which haven’t been seen for a while. Home court and seeding are maybe more important this year than they were last year or the year before (when the Grizzlies basically tanked to the 8th spot to match up with the Spurs).
The NBA scheduling gods have not been kind to the Grizzlies this year, because tonight the Grizzlies have to go to Dallas and play another division game, marking the second time this year that both games of a Grizzlies back-to-back have been against divisional rivals (the first being the Mavericks and the Rockets before Christmas).
Whether or not the Grizzlies’ playmakers will have the energy to close out Dirk Nowitski and O.J. Mayo remains to be seen, but Tony Allen played like a man possessed last night, so surely he can do it again, right? Right? For now, let’s just celebrate this Spurs victory for what it was: a tense, close-fought battle between two of the best teams in the NBA. Exhilarating to watch.
Apparently the PtR recap is intended to be tongue-in-cheek. A disclaimer stating as much was added after I started writing this recap. ↩