The Sacramento Kings had a 28-23 advantage at the end of the first quarter and you started to get that feeling that the Grizzlies weren't going to establish their dominance and were going to let a very, very important game slip away. But the Grizzlies turned it around in the second period, outscoring the Kings by 12 to take a seven point halftime lead before increasing that lead to 23 at the end of the third quarter.
Using a steady dose of post feeds and basket cuts, the Grizzlies ripped apart a lackluster Kings defense to score an incredible 78 points in the paint. This was a thorough and utter domination of the Kings, who got not effort from their frontline in this contest. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol exploited their skills to pull off what we know they are capable of doing. Their numbers - 23 and 12 for Randolph and 21 and 6 for Gasol, both on 10-of-15 shooting - were not all that out of the ordinary. Randolph essentially met his averages while Gasol scored double his scoring average but on 15 shots.
What was really telling about this game - and more specifically Sacramento's defense - was the production for Memphis' back-up big men.
Darrell Arthur made seven of his eight field goal attempts en route to dropping 17 points. Arthur has been excellent this season as a back-up but anytime you see that someone has scored 17 points while only missing one shot from the field, you know there was a problem with the defense.
And on a shocking note, Hamed Haddadi, who did see playing time when this game was actually a contest, scored 10 points while grabbing 10 rebounds in 21 minutes of playing time. Haddadi has always been a personal favorite of mine and if he were the third overall pick in the draft two season ago, you can be sure he would have been the one playing the back-up center minutes instead of Thabeet. With Hasheem now in Houston, Haddadi will get his chance to play spot minutes for the Grizzlies at the center spot and if he can be half as productive as he was tonight, perhaps another NBA team will give him a shot this summer to stop Hamed from heading back overseas.
The Grizzlies only got double digit scoring out of two wing players in this game. Sam Young had 10 points on five-of-nine shooting and O.J. Mayo added 13 points on four-of-12 shooting off the bench. Obviously, that's not much from your perimeter players, but you can live with this kind of output from the backcourt when the they are instead giving their touches to the big men. The Kings had no answer in the paint for Randolph, Gasol, Arthur and even Haddadi so there was little reason for the guards to try to make their impact on the game when it wasn't needed.
Shane Battier made his Grizzlies season debut in this game, delivering a pre-game speech to the fans for some reason unknown to me. Battier played 25 minutes and had a Battier-like line of two points, three assists, two rebounds and three blocks. Battier is going to be a very helpful asset to the Grizzlies as a wing defender and three-point specialist, the latter element being something Memphis has been looking for for a long while. We didn't see much of it in this game, but a crunch time line-up of Tony Allen, Battier, Gay, Randolph and Gasol intrigues me because of the scoring options (Gay, Randolph, Gasol and Battier as a spot-up shooter) and especially because of the defensive impact it could have (Battier, Allen and Gasol).
There's not much to take away from this game other than that the Grizzlies appear ready to make a serious run at the playoffs. It's easy to compete with the best teams in the league by giving it your all but good teams always seem to end up losing games to teams like the Kings (sort of like Memphis did earlier in the year and Orlando did the other night). But the Grizzlies didn't lose this one and they deserve credit for showing up and securing an easy and must-have win to take back sole possession of the eighth seed in the Western Conference.