The first game post All Star break already had Grizzlies fans hungry. Top that with the return of Mike Conley for the first time in seven games and the return of Marc Gasol after his nasty knee bump in the game versus Orlando and people was chomping at the bit. Did I mention that it was a nationally televised game against the Knicks? Do we all remember that shellacking the Grizz gave them on that Saturday afternoon game?
Right out of the tip, the Grizzlies were there to get some work done. Mike Conley treated his matchup against Raymond Felton basically as a televised practice, running over him, including a nice fast break that tested the sprain, even though he didn't make the shot, he made contact up in the air and landed fine. That boosted his confidence, but he still struggled to find his shot in the first quarter.
Tayshaun Prince, with rumors of trades dancing in his head, had a game that showed he is either ready to be traded, or a giant middle finger to the Grizzlies front office to prove his worth. Nick Calathes continued to show his worth to the team, and ended the first quarter with a buzzer beater.
The Grizzlies bench came out in the 2nd Knicks bench. Mike Miller must have had some good east coast memories against the Knicks, because he was back in old form, finishing with 5 of 7 from three pointers and 19 points overall.
Mike Conley finally hit his first FG with 6:44 left in the 2nd, but really, game speed and reps for Conley who had been out for so long and had to sit through All Star weekend. He will get his shot back and betray the 6 for 15 shooting night he had in New York.
The defense continued its domination the way they did against the previous outing with the Knicks, holding them 0-for-9 in three pointers and 34% from the field. Melo was 3 of 10 and the Knicks only managed 37 points by halftime. Although the Grizzlies were running good offensive sets, Courtney Lee couldn't get it together on the floor and went 1 for 5 at halftime. James Johnson also got into foul trouble early and had to spend long stretches on the bench. With their two big recent offensive weapons having such a rough night, I was happy that the national media got to see how deep this team is. And hey, you didn't really hear a lot of Lionel Hollins talk during the broadcast either, so that was nice for once.
In the third quarter, Conley started to pick up his shooting, but the rest of the team went through the sluggish pace they have been known for in the third, making Grizz fans reach for a drink or blood pressure medication (or in some of the older fans, both). The defense also seemed to fall apart, as the Knicks opened up a 13-4 run that closed the halftime gap to 2 points by the start of the 4th.
In the 4th, the Grizzlies returned to the small ball, keeping reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol on the bench for a long stretch and moving Zbo and Koufos to the 5. Having Gasol, going against previous DPOY Tyson Chandler, sit was a smart choice, mostly because the Knicks just don't go inside. Chandler is there for rebounds, there is not much offense running through him in the isolation heavy Knicks schemes,plus Koufos was doing a pretty good job locking Chandler up. That unit played well, but Tim Hardaway Jr went on a tear, finishing with 4-of-9 from three and ending with 23 points (and also a -13, so, what?). Mike Miller answered with his own three to pull it away.
This is now three wins in a row and putting the Grizzlies seven games above .500. Couple that with the Mavericks loss last night and a big game against the Clippers on Friday. The poise of the Grizzlies must feel pretty good; however the cold night from Courtney Lee needs to be fixed, as does the continual foul troubles of James Johnson.
Calathes finished with 11 points and 5 assists, many to Miller for those threes. Conley's return game had him finish with 22 points and that was after a shaky opening quarter and a half, but finishing strong is what matters, especially with 29 games to go until the playoffs.