Grizzlies 100 - Nuggets 92
Not long after the nationally televised game against the Nuggets tipped off, it looked as if the Grizzlies would run away with it. The Grizzlies frontcourt physically dominated the Nuggets early on, scoring every one of the team's 24 points in the first quarter.
But things are never that easy for the Grizzlies. Frequent lack of movement on both ends of the floor stymied the Grizzlies own offense while allowing the Nuggets offense to flourish. Denver forced their way into the paint in the second quarter via the pick-and-roll and drives by the lightning quick Ty Lawson.
Memphis got caught resting after a strong start to the game, and the tempo swayed in Denver's favor as a result. The running game discombobulated the Grizzlies, and all they could do to slow the Nuggets down for a time was foul. An abundance of free throws were shot by the visitors in the second quarter, most of those by Lawson.
Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw deserves a fair amount of credit for his squad's strong, rebound performance in the second quarter. Denver made smart post defense adjustments, forcing Memphis' frontcourt players to catch the ball further away from the basket. Things became increasingly difficult when Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol did get a touch near the paint, too. Denver's defense dug down and crowded the middle of the floor, eliminating space for the big men to work. By now, the previous sentence is like a broken record for this team.
Randolph struggled mightily despite finishing with 20 points and 15 rebounds. He shot just 7-22 from the field, and he forced bad shots galore. Denver's length caused problems for him, and he never really adjusted. On the defensive end, he continued his struggles in transition defense and the pick-and-roll. At what point does Joerger start to give more of Randolph's minutes to somebody with more lateral quickness like James Johnson or Ed Davis? ZBo can fill up the basket, but his defensive lapses kill the Grizzlies far too often to be acceptable.
The tide turned back in the Grizzlies favor in the third quarter, where they forced their way to the charity stripe. Memphis shot 11 free throws in the quarter compared to 0 for the Nuggets, and that helped the cause of the good guys tremendously. Another thing that helped the Grizzlies but that you hate to see is an injury to Lawson, the Nuggets' main offensive catalyst. He landed awkwardly on his ankle after attempting a layup that he was fouled on by Mike Conley, and he left the game not to return after shooting his free throws.
More of the same occurred in the fourth quarter, as the Grizzlies continued to find themselves at the free throw line. Memphis shoots less free throws per game than any other NBA team, but you wouldn't know it by looking at the box score from this game. The Grizzlies shot 38 free throws and made an impressive 34 of those.
Head coach Dave Joerger continues to make head-scratching lineup moves, the latest of which was playing Randolph a whopping 41:39 in this game. There is no way Randolph should play that much, and it is certainly not sustainable. It's difficult to see the reasoning for that decision. Most of Joerger's crazy lineup decisions are not really anything to be concerned about, but that doesn't make them any less odd. However, you would like him to find the right balance and limit his lineup variances to add stability before heading into a playoff series, assuming the Grizzlies make the postseason.
Conley was big late in the game, scoring 9 points in the fourth quarter and sinking a three late in the shot clock off of a jump ball with 4:43 left in the game to essentially put the Nuggets out of their misery.
It would have been nice to see the Grizzlies play a great game from start to finish, something that looked like a distinct possibility after a quarter of play. However, that has been a rare occurrence for this team this season, which is a real concern for a team in a playoff race with the season winding down. But, you know how the cliché goes. A win is a win. Winning is certainly all that matters to this team, and there is still time to work out a few of the kinks and holes before the playoffs roll around. After up and down performances against team after team all season, the Grizzlies sure better hope so.