It was a matchup with the Atlanta Hawks in Atlanta for the Memphis Grizzlies tonight, and they'd be seeing just one of the four teams over .500 in the woeful Eastern Conference. The Hawks had lost their last two coming in to tonight's game, but so too had the Grizzlies. It was a matchup in which both teams were looking to gain some momentum.
The first quarter started off looking like it'd be one of those games for the Grizzlies. The Hawks were able to get the shots they wanted against a passive-looking Grizzlies defense, and they made them pay for it. At one point, the Hawks were shooting 11-of-13 (84.6%) from the field. Streaky shooter DeMarre Carroll made a number of open jumpshots that the Grizzlies allowed to him, and first-time All-Star Paul Millsap made his open jumpers as well.
In the last four minutes of the first, the Grizzlies settled in defensively and went on a run of their own. Darius Morris checking in for Nick Calathes with the Grizz down 26-12 seemed to spur a turnaround as the Grizzlies went on a 15-3 run to end the first. Morris had a few nice scores, but the key was defensively pressuring the Hawks and also seeing some lucky misses on the open shots they gave up. James Johnson came in and was a shot of energy on both ends, while Zach Randolph put in some points from the post. He looked great, scoring 10 of his team-leading 20 points in the first quarter and generally proving difficult to contain for the smaller Paul Millsap. By the end of the first, the Grizzlies had effectively turned their slow start around and they only trailed the Hawks by a score of 29-27.
The second quarter was... ugly. There were a lot of missed open jumpers and layups on both sides, and neither team really put much together on offense. Kosta Koufos and Nick Calathes struggled immensely on offense, both missing numerous shots at the rim. Credit the Hawks for some good interior defense, but it was more of a cold spell for both offenses than anything else. With about two minutes left in the half, the score was still just 37-35. The Hawks were finally able to string a few made baskets together, with Paul Millsap and Elton Brand looking very active at the end of the half. At the midway point of the game, the Hawks led the Grizzlies 43-37.
It was more ugly basketball to start the third quarter, but this time it was a bit more slanted in the Grizzlies' favor. They outscored their second quarter total within the first 5:38 of the third quarter, and while it wasn't pretty, the Grizzlies got enough out of their offense to tie up the game and keep it close for much of the third quarter. Again, it wasn't pretty. Calathes looked unengaged in this one, throwing three turnovers and generally not playing very well. The equalizer was Paul Millsap's five turnovers and the Hawks turned it over ten times as a team in the third. A bunch of late threes, including one from Mike Miller with one second left in the quarter, gave the Grizzlies a 61-54 advantage heading into the fourth.
The Grizzlies started out the fourth looking strong on both ends, especially on defense where they continued to hold down the Hawks' offense. They got a few baskets their own way, and maintained their lead for much of the quarter. It wasn't until very late in the game that the Hawks started to put things together for a serious comeback push. They cut a 10-point lead down to five with two minutes left, and Millsap made a three-pointer with 39 seconds remaining. A Marc Gasol miss on the other end gave the Hawks a chance to tie as the game ended. No dice on the Lou Williams three from 26 feet out, however.
So, it was a very weird win for the Grizzlies in what was a very gross game of basketball. They shot just 41.1%, threw the ball away 15 times, and I'm pretty sure every player that played fell over in this game once. Most oddly of all, the Grizzlies attempted just one free throw all game long off of a defensive three seconds call on Gustavo Ayon. According to Basketball-Reference, no other team in NBA history has attempted fewer than two free throws a game. So... the Grizzlies claim that dubious record.
On a more positive note, Darius Morris had a quietly good game in 21 minutes off of the bench. I commented on Calathes' struggles a few times already, so it was good for Morris to be able to check in and keep the boat afloat. His stat line isn't anything special (5 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals) but he did a much better job than Calathes of allowing the offense to execute and get the shots they wanted.
Another bit of good news: Mike Conley appears to be targeting a Tuesday return for the game against the Washington Wizards. Regardless of Morris' nice play tonight, we'll rejoice to get Conley back. Before that, however, the Grizzlies will take on the Cleveland Cavaliers tomorrow in Cleveland.
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