Monday's playoff-clinching win against the Phoenix Suns was a whirlwind to experience, but all it meant was death by Spurs if the Grizzlies couldn't pull through tonight against the Dallas Mavericks. For some (myself included), the stakes were higher. It's almost fitting that this game was even wilder. It was the last game of the regular season, the FedExForum was booming, and it came against both a division AND playoff-seeding rival. Maybe it was fated to be decided in the closing seconds of an overtime period.
Things looked great in the first quarter. While the ever-uncontainable Dirk Nowitzki got rolling quickly, the lights-out offense the Mavericks were known for looked a bit subdued in comparison to what they allowed to the Grizzlies. To match that crazy offense of theirs, the Mavs have an infamous defense that was crazy in the other way and it showed. They were beat up in the paint, forced to foul incessantly, and struggled to stay on stationary spot-up shooters through the damage being done in the post. Samuel Dalembert somehow racked up two turnovers and two personal fouls in six minutes, which was fun. I don't think there was a single particular Grizzly that struggled on offense in that quarter.
The Mavericks aren't a bad team however, and it showed as they fought their way back into the game in a jiffy. Devin Harris and (of course) Nowitzki powered the team right back into it, and they got nice contributions from the entire team Meanwhile, the Grizzlies fell into a bit of a slump. Zach Randolph really struggled in the second quarter despite playing it all the way through (DeJuan Blair had stretches of great defense against him), and Mike Miller's shot wasn't quite right.
The worst part of it is was that the Grizzlies really couldn't find a defensive match for Nowitzki. They tried Ed Davis, who is gifted with size, length and mobility, but little errors in his defensive technique (following each dribble move from the outside, sometimes allowing just a bit too much space) to stop Dirk's impeccable shot-making ability. Tayshaun Prince and Marc Gasol had more success later on, but the ripple effect of putting Big Spain on Dirk was that it took him away from protecting the paint, something we've seen happen before against such players as Kevin Love. Once again, no James Johnson. Do I sound like a broken record?
The rest of regulation was really tight, and I don't think either team built a lead greater than six points. What looked most successful for the Grizzlies was the Conley/Gasol pick-and-roll, which really opened the floodgates on the Mavs' weakest defenders. Conley was decisive and aggressive coming around the screen, and Gasol did a good job of finishing plays as the roll man. Z-Bo fared much better in the second half, grinding for an insane nine offensive rebounds in the game (out of 14 total boards) and continuing to mix it up in the post as he always does.
In what was a crazy fourth quarter, we were treated to the good Tony Allen. He made some key plays on defense and the boards that led to wild fast-break rushes, which turned out about as well as could've been expected for the Grindfather (there was still one charge!).
Up three with a minute left in regulation, it looked like the Grizz were beginning to claim their win. They generated defensive stop after defensive stop, but a key rebound-into-fast break sequence led into Conley turning around and smacking right into a set Devin Harris for an offensive foul. This was where the Grizzlies' missed free throws (15-of-25 for the game) hurt them most, as Monta Ellis was able to get an open three and make it to tie the game with 13 seconds remaining. Cue a really dumb call to post up Z-Bo that somehow led to a really dumb deep-baseline stepback jumper for Randolph, and we were off to overtime with the San Antonio Spurs looming.
It felt like the Mavs controlled overtime thoroughly, and to his credit, Monta Ellis played extremely well in that period after struggling earlier in the game. He had seven points on five shots in overtime, and the Grizzlies struggled to shift over help defense when he attacked out of the pick-and-roll. That was the Dirk aspect, of course.
Things looked grim after Dirk nailed a too-open three-pointer with 46 seconds remaining, naturally out of his check Gasol sinking too far into the paint in anticipation of an Ellis drive. However, Allen made a layup, and then with seven seconds remaining and the Grizzlies down one, Conley snagged a defensive rebound. There was a split second of confusion as he looked to Dave Joerger for instructions, but Joerger didn't call timeout and instead shouted at him to go. It took balls for a coach to do that, and I have so much respect for Joerger because it worked out and Conley ran down court and flattened Vince Carter for free throws. It might've easily been an offensive foul had it unfolded a little differently, but the defense had no time to get set and the pressure was on the refs to make an instant call through all the mania. I liked it.
Conley sunk his free throws with a single second remaining, and solid defense on two out of three inbounds prevailed. On the last one, Ellis finally slipped free of Allen who had previously trailed him through two failed inbound attempts, but a Brandan Wright screen allowed Ellis an open catch and jumper. Simple luck would have it that he missed to push the Grizzlies on for a playoff matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
This game wraps up the regular season, and it was a great one. I'm sure the playoffs will be great
since the Grizzlies aren't playing the Spurs! The fight this team showed to fight from 11th in the nightmarish Western Conference after that terrible December to the seventh seed in the playoffs is effin' incredible. The Grizzlies are slated to play their first game against the Thunder this Saturday, April 19th. Let's give them some fight too!