The Memphis Grizzlies, despite a poor first half, played some of the most spirited basketball as we've seen all season in their 116-108 comeback victory over the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets were exerting themselves well offensively in the first half, scoring at will on jumper, dives and post-ups. But in the second half, the Grizzlies clamped down on defense and they kicked into another gear when it came diving on the floor for the loose balls and fighting extremely hard to gain extra possessions.
This may not be the biggest win of the season but it was a big one and one that took a lot of hard work to achieve, and it's those contests, the ones where everyone on their team gives it their all and are rewarded with the win, that seem to feel like the best wins. And that's what happened tonight. Everybody was into the game and the crowd got hyped when the Grizzlies made their push in the fourth quarter, creating the best home game atmosphere for the Grizzlies all season excluding the Miami game.
What the Grizzlies got tonight was that kind of performance that you need to be a playoff team. Remember in the Finals last year when Nate Robinson and Glen Davis won the Celtics a game with their play off the bench? The Grizzlies have always had a very talented starting line-up that can match-up well with almost any team in the league, but their bench was never armed with players capable of flat out changing a game upon entering.
Darrel Arthur and Tony Allen gave Memphis' fans a glimpse of what it's like to have two bench players play huge roles while their starters took care of business.
Arthur was dominant from the minute he got onto the floor, finishing at the basket, setting good screens and playing solid defense overall. In crunch time, Arthur got the nod over Marc Gasol at the center spot because of his play in the previous quarters and he finished with 24 points on eight-of-11 shooting while getting the Denver bigs in foul trouble (10 trips to the line). Allen was dominant on both ends, disrupting all kinds of passing lanes on defense, grabbing some key boards in the fourth and even scoring the ball well again. Allen had 17 points on six-of-eight shooting while playing some darn good D and collecting three steals.
Zach Randolph didn't play his best game and Arthur outplayed him over the course of the entire game but boy oh boy was he the hero in the fourth quarter. In the final four minutes of play, Randolph had two offensive rebounds and putbacks to keep Denver from tying Memphis after the Grizzlies had taken the lead and after asking for the ball vehemently, Mike Conley gave him the ball in the pinch post with 1:10 to go and Randolph hit the dagger to put Memphis up eight.
Rudy Gay was brilliant as well and it wasn't just because of his beautiful turn around shot in the fourth quarter that tied the game. Gay was all kinds of amazing on defense in the fourth period. He wasn't cheating passing lanes or blocking shots as the help defender - he was going mano-a-mano with Carmelo Anthony, who many believe is the game's best scorer, and he succeeded. He denied him the ball, he made him work for every inch and he beat him to his favorite spots on the floor. Rudy has been dogged for his defense more often than he has been criticized for any other aspect of his game in his career but today it was his greatest strength as Denver could not get a good look from their star late in the game.
Anthony was one-of-five in the fourth quarter and when he tried to drive down the heart of the lane, Gay slide his feat, beat him to the spot and drew the offensive charge. Gay also had 23 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals in this game on nine-of-15 shooting. With efficient scoring, a big fourth quarter bucket and that stellar defense, Gay played like a superstar today.
The Nuggets shot 50% form the field and Melo had 28 points, but the Grizzlies had the superior effort in the second half and their inspired play resulted in their third straight win. The "W" puts Memphis just one game back of the Portland Trail Blazers for the eighth spot in the West. Their next game comes Tuesday at home against the Philadelphia 76ers.