Well, this tweet from Grizzlies stats man Ross Wooden did not start the night well.
Grizz have lost 31 of 35 all-time at Denver, incl. 28 of last 30 Last DEN trip - L, 111-108, on 1/3/14 Last road W vs DEN - 3/11/12— Ross Wooden (@RossWooden) April 1, 2014
Add to that the fact that Memphis had lost a tough one last night in Portland and there was plenty of reason to be cautious heading in to a contest against the Denver Nuggets that suddenly became quite important. Forget the fact that Denver has struggled with injury this season; the numbers suggested a tough battle despite who was on the floor. A win would help to right the ship and put the Bears of Beale Street in a spot to stay afloat in the Western Conference Playoff picture. A loss, and you risk the S.S. Grizz taking on more water. The Beale Street Bears needed this one, and bad.
The contest started with Kenneth Faried stealing the opening tip from Memphis and kicking out to Randy Foye for a 3 point basket 20 seconds in. That bad possession carried over into the first 3 minutes of the quarter as Denver got off to a 7-3 start behind Grizzly missed opportunities and poor rotating defense. Attacking the rim allowed for Memphis to find their footing, getting easy looks and to the free throw line. Mike Conley's hot start (6 points on 3-4 shooting) helped Memphis take the lead 12-11 at the 4:40 mark.
Marc Gasol made a great find for a Courtney Lee three point basket, then made a shot himself to increase the lead to 5 with 3 minutes to go. but the Nuggets came back to pull back within 1 point in under 60 seconds of play. Ed Davis made an early appearance and did some Boss things, finding good opportunities for himself and others on the pick and roll. Between Ed Davis' hustle and a Courtney Lee miracle 3 make at the buzzer, Memphis found themselves up by 9 at the end of the 1st.
The second quarter started much as the first quarter ended with a 8-1 run to start the quarter. Memphis' defensive rotations were stout and the offense was clicking thanks to great movement both on and off the ball. A Darrell Arthur made jumper and Jan Vesely bucket stopped the bleeding for Denver momentarily, but the cuts to the basket of the Memphis offense continued to create issues for the Denver defense. The effort was clearly better in all areas for Memphis, especially in rebounding where Memphis had 17 rebounds in 16 minutes of playing time.
This doesn't mean Denver was going to go down without a fight. Denver began to find their way into the paint against the Memphis defense and got the lead back down to 8. Zach Randolph returned to the game and helped the Grizzlies get it back to double digits. Denver refused to go away and hovered around a 6-8 point deficit for much of the quarter. Denver finished the quarter on a run, however, led by Timofey Mozgov's energy and aggression, and the lead was cut to 2 as the half ends about as poorly as it could have for the Grizzlies, on the wrong end of a 24-10 run.
AT THE HALF- Memphis 47, Denver 45
The start of the second half meant the issues continued for Marc Gasol, who was 4-13 until a big make led to a 6 point Memphis lead with under 10 minutes to go in the quarter. However, every time a basket was made it seemed as if the Nuggets were getting back in transition far too often, converting easy baskets and getting to the line off of fouls due to poor defensive positioning. Denver's lack of 3 point shooting was hurting the Nuggets at this point in the game; Denver was 1-10, and Randy Foye was 1-7 in particular.
Denver continued to get back up though. Ty Lawson, Quincy Miller and Faried made baskets got the Grizzlies lead down to 2 with 5 minutes left. Thankfully Zach Randolph and Kosta Koufos attacked the paint and got the Memphis advantage back to 6. The battle of pace and transition continued throughout the 2nd half of the 3rd quarter, with Zach Randolph taking over while Denver hit 3's more consistently as the quarter ended. Z-Bo had a heck of a quarter, going 6-8 with 13 points and leading the Grizzlies to a 7 point lead heading in to the 4th.
Darrell Arthur hit his 15th 3 pointer in his last 33 attempts (thanks to Pete Pranica for that gem) to start the 4th, but Nick Calathes answered on the other end with a 3 of his own. Coach Joerger's rotations continued to be perplexing; Z-Bo played the entire 3rd and started the 4th quarter, yet Ed Davis got no time after a good 1st half of play. Tony Allen brought his unique brand of chaos in to the game, getting multiple steals and disrupting the Nuggets' already struggling half court offense.
Memphis got into an offensive lull and put Denver in to the bonus with Z-Bo off the floor. The Grizzlies really had a tough time finding their bearings, as Z-Bo got doubled in the post and lost the handle of the basketball several times. Thankfully, Mike Conley picked up his production, scoring when Memphis needed it most to keep the lead around 3 points. The Grizzlies also benefited from some lucky bounces of the ball, and lack of whistles from referees at times.
The game floated back and forth, in and out of the realm of "oh my God they might lose" and back from the brink thanks to the aggression of Zach Randolph on the block until Mike Conley dropped the bomb on the Nuggets, hitting a huge 3 to put Memphis up 5 with 35 seconds left. Denver scored quickly to get it to a possession game. Z-Bo got to the free throw line and missed them both, resulting in one more chance for Denver to tie the game. Thankfully, Timofey Mozgov opted for a 2 point dunk instead of a 3 point attempt and after a questionable end-of-game missed FT that didn't hit the rim, the Grizzlies got the heck out of Denver with a win.
With this win, the Grizzlies live to fight another day and are back in to coveted playoff real estate. Survive and advance, on to the next one. Minnesota awaits.