A dribble. A dribble. A spin of the basketball in his left hand. The shot... Nothing but net.
Anthony Davis' 11th free throw attempt of the game swished through the basket. It was also his 11th free throw made, and his 29th point of the game. His career-high was 32, and the yellow L.E.D. lights above the backboard of the basket he just scored on read, '3:22'. If he looked up at the Jumbotron hanging above the court in Smoothie King Center, the same number was there with "4th Quarter" displayed above it. There were three minutes and 22 seconds left in the game for him to reach his career-high.
With 29 points in 35 minutes and 43 seconds so far, Davis was on pace to score what rounded to three points. That would tie his career-high, and with that record within his grasp, it wouldn't have been surprising to see him direct just a bit more effort into scoring enough points to set a new career-high altogether.
To the left and right of '3:22 / 4th Quarter' on the scoreboard, two team logos were displayed. One was a navy, gold and red emblem highlighted by a pelican stretching its wings across the width of the logo. The other, perhaps a bit less extravagant, featured the head of a blue bear. The two small yellow eyes were the only detail not colored blue. Under the logo of the New Orleans Pelicans, the number '88' was displayed. Under the logo of the Memphis Grizzlies, '81' was shown.
Three minutes and 22 seconds of game time later, one of those numbers was still the same: the 88 representing the Pelicans' score. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies' score read '90'.
To date, the Grizzlies haven't had such a close win all season long. There were comeback wins, but none as tight as this one which was compressed into three and a half minutes and went right down to the wire. GBB user Okitech623 commented in the GameThread that it was the first buzzer-beating/nearly buzzer-beating game-winner all season long for the Grizz that they recalled. I have a terrible memory for those kind of things, but as far as I remember, Okitech623 is right.
In order to pull off the 9-0 scoring run that ended up winning them the game against the Pelicans in its closing seconds, the Memphis Grizzlies needed more than to push themselves. They needed to push themselves and sustain it. Their play had gone through ebbs and flows all night, and when Anthony Davis sunk a free throw to push the Pelicans' lead to seven points, the Grizzlies were ebbing.
What did it take to turn the game around? You can isolate two key factors in the comeback effort, and two key plays in the go-ahead effort. (Note: Links to NBA.com videos are included for most plays. I embedded GIFs for some plays.)
Anticlimactically, the first play after Davis' free throw was neither influenced by those key factors or had any particular significance compared to the other plays in this scoring run. It didn't set the tone for the rest of the game or foreshadow the sweeping changes in the Grizzlies' approach that enabled their comeback. Maybe it's only fitting that, even as a score for the Grizzlies, it was still only a single point for the team's total. It's just a regular old basketball play that you can't really use as a statement or part of a statement for the game.
2:56 - Brian Roberts misses 3' floater (88-82)
Okay, let's get to the first key factor in the comeback: defense. This is the more important one, and obviously, you can't go on a 9-0 scoring run if you allow the other team to score. There's no predicting the butterfly effect of changing a single play in the game, but the Grizzlies only won by two points and maybe they wouldn't have won if they had allowed even a single field goal. A shot from three feet? That might as well have been the Pellies' best opportunity to score.
Brian Roberts took Tony Allen off of the dribble here, and nearly blew by him too. Credit TA for doing what he could to pressure the shot, riding Roberts' side a bit as he drove into the lane. Marc Gasol was looking to help off of Greg Stiemsma the entire possession, and eventually does come over to contest Roberts' shot. While it's not a terrible look for Roberts, it's better recovery by the Grizzlies defense to prevent the score after the initial slip-up on the perimeter.
2:48 - Marc Gasol scores 14' jump shot, assisted by James Johnson (88-84)
Here's the other factor that big in the comeback: transition scoring. With strong defense, you're going to have opportunities to get out on the break after forcing live-ball turnovers and rebounding opposing misses. Those are the easy chances, and they were crucial to the Grizzlies pulling this comeback off. Given their inconsistencies all game long, they might not have won this game had they failed to score on their fast breaks and instead been forced to run their half-court offense on a few of those possessions.
After James Johnson rebounds Roberts' missed floater, he takes it up the floor for a three-on-four opportunity. It's not a great opportunity, and stalls into a semi-transition phase where the Pelicans are back on defense but not totally settled in. This isn't a picture-perfect example of transition scoring, but it fits the bill nonetheless. Bloodsport sees a gap and takes it right into the defense, only to kick the ball to a trailing Marc Gasol for a midrange make. Boom. Four-point game.
They played good defense, but more than anything, the Grizzlies found themselves lucky in this play that Stiemsma has awful hands. Credit Zach Randolph for doing a good job guarding Anthony Morrow on the perimeter (and I have no clue why that matchup was a thing that existed) and forcing him baseline where Marc Gasol was able to help. Morrow dumped the ball off to Stiemsma, who probably wouldn't have scored it directly even if he had caught the pass, but Stiemsma fumbled it away and Johnson made a play on the loose ball.
Defense to offense again! It's a nice job to draw the foul and sink the freebies by Allen, and another nice find by Johnson in transition. You can see the Chaos Brothers making their impact felt late in this game, which is always awesome for bench players and doubly awesome considering it's these two specifically. This play makes it a one-possession game, and it took them less than four seconds after receiving possession of the ball.
At this point, you figure the Brow is more concerned with holding off the surging Grizzlies than he is about his own personal records. He tries to make a move against James Johnson on the perimeter, but nothing comes of it as Bloodsport does a nice job of staying in front and challenging the dribble. In the end, Davis attempts a spin layup but spins right into Gasol before awkwardly throwing a shot up over his head that Johnson got a hand on. Tremendous defense.
1:44 - Zach Randolph misses 5' hook shot / 1:42 - Tony Allen offensive rebound / 1:40 - Greg Stiemsma steals the ball from Tony Allen (88-86)
It sure feels like a while since we'd last seen the Grizzlies run their offense in a half-court setting. This possession is fine, a simple post-up for Z-Bo against Davis, but ultimately inconsequential. Randolph looked like a tough cover physically for Davis, but the Brow does a good job of contesting the best he could and forcing a miss. Allen picks up the offensive rebound, then quickly throws it away in a moment of post-rebound incoordination. This is one of the Grizzlies' two possessions that they didn't score on during their 9-0 run, and the only such trip that occurred while they were trailing.
1:40 - Pelicans full timeout / 1:40 - Pelicans short timeout (88-86)
After the Greg Stiemsma steal, the Pelicans call a full timeout. The GIF above is their attempt to inbound after that timeout. It's great defensive pressure by the Grizzlies, but also a really underwhelming inbound play out of the timeout from Monty Williams. Failing to inbound, Anthony Morrow is forced to call a short timeout, leaving the Pellies with just one short timeout remaining. Remember this later, it's important.
This play felt really disjointed, and there was about eight seconds of Austin Rivers dribbling around and going nowhere in particular while trying to find a gap in the defense. Conley pokes it away from behind and nabs the turnovers. This is some more good defense, so you know what's next...
1:16 - Tony Allen scores a layup (88-88)
...a fast break bucket. This one isn't smooth, mostly because Tony Allen is the only person who touches the ball here, but he does a good job of creating a layup out of what looked like a stopped fast break for a moment. He hesitates in front of Anthony Davis, looking around to see if he had any open teammates with a better opportunity than him, before catching Anthony Davis off guard and attacking the baseline for a layup that juuuuust sneaks in. Now the game is tied, and it took the Grizzlies just a shade under two minutes.
Another poor Austin Rivers decision here, though this possession was poorly executed overall. I'm not quite sure what the Pellies wanted to do here, but they run a lot of time off the clock doing nothing much while Zach Randolph aggressively pushes around with Greg Stiemsma and possibly breaks up some attempted play. At any rate, Brian Roberts drives and kicks it to Rivers, who takes a decently contested corner three with not too much time left on the clock (but probably enough to get a better shot than that). Nice close-out by Mike Conley, and it's a clank for Rivers after his turnover in the last possession.
0:36 - Marc Gasol misses a layup (88-88)
The Grizzlies take it slow again, positioning themselves for the last shot of the game. They get another miss out of a half-court set (a double pick-and-roll), but there's not too much to complain about. The Pellies did a solid job of challenging Gasol as he rolled to the rim, forcing him to double-clutch his layup, but it's still a close shot that just barely rolled out.
0:15 - Anthony Morrow misses a 26' three-pointer (88-88)
The Pelicans used their final timeout after Gasol's miss, and came out of the timeout with 29.8 seconds remaining in the game (17 seconds left on the shot clock). This one was a big possession for the Grizzlies, with the game tied. Matt Hrdlicka predicted (in a way) that it was going to be a Brian Roberts/Anthony Davis pick-and-roll, which it was. The Grizzlies defended perfectly, with Marc Gasol showing hard and the weak-side defenders, James Johnson and Zach Randolph, rotating over to cover Davis before they recovered to their original checks. Roberts was contained, a pass to Davis was denied and the Pellies weren't bold enough to try Rivers in the same corner for the same three again.
So, the pass went to Anthony Morrow spotting up from 26 feet out. Having shot 2-for-11 in the game to that point, Morrow decided to jack up the triple with Bloodsport in his grill (he had five seconds left on the clock, but that's a terrible shot any way you look at it). No dice, and the Grizzlies called timeout with the shot clock off and the game tied. Fun!
1.5 seconds - Mike Conley makes a 7' floater (90-88)
Dave Joerger decides to go with another double pick play, though nobody rolls here and it's purely a set for Conley to attack. He catches Greg Stiemsma out too wide and easily splits the defense for an open lane to the basket as Austin Rivers and Darius Miller clearly did not want to leave Mike Miller or Courtney Lee open from three. Z-Bo slyly locks his arms up with Davis' for a few moments, giving Conley just enough time and space to float the shot over Brow's considerable shot-blocking range.
Hell yeah. This one is obviously one of the two key plays.
Good stuff. I'm not insane enough to call a heave a key play, but were it not for a certain play earlier in the game, it might not have been a heave at all. 1.5 seconds is enough to get some kind of decent look out of a timeout... but the Pelicans had none left! Suddenly, that failed Anthony Morrow inbound with 1:40 left in the game looks like a much bigger deal than it was back then.
Don't worry, no over-the-top conclusion here to go with the intro. Just a few notes: this really was an incredible comeback for the Grizzlies. What they did offensively might've seemed a bit underwhelming even in that 9-0 run, but their defense was world-class.
For three minutes and 22 seconds, the Grizzlies didn't give up a single good look to the Pelicans. Not one. On top of that, they didn't get whistled for a foul and they managed to convert three of four live-ball turnovers and defensive rebounds (the ones in the final minute don't count, since clock management was a factor there) into crucial fast break buckets.
In spite of all of their ebbs and flows in tonight's game, the Grizzlies were able to hit their stride with just enough time left to make the comeback. Maybe the 48-minute game didn't pan out the Grizzlies would've liked it to, but you can't ask much more from them in the three-minute finish.
You can top 32 some other time, Anthony Davis.