The last week or so has been a roller coaster of emotions for Grizz fans. From the two wins that were desperately needed to the Houston Hose Job to Zbo Day. To the ascent of James Johnson and the news that Marc Gasol is off the crutches and could be back as soon as two weeks, what the fans really needed was something to steady the ship. Luckily they were home against the always choppy, feast or famine waters of the Denver Nuggets.
Apprehension abounded as Tayshaun Prince got the start again, but he did hold his own, taking one bad shot, one good shot and keeping his court vision steady for some good passing.
Struggling in the first and third quarters has really brought the team down, but the Grizzlies got 20 points in the paint in the first quarter and kept it close despite defense with enough holes in it to pass for bridge construction. Dave Joerger really pushed his unit while they were shooting well and kept the starters in there almost the entirety of the first quarter.
But once the bench unit came out, that's when things really got going. Sharing the wealth behind the line, Davis, Johnson and Leuer all hit threes early on. That front court has been so athletic and so threatening from every spot that it leaves Old Man Mike Miller open and is helping Jerryd Bayless finally get some clicks together so the front office doesn't have to trade him for a sack of potatoes.
A scary moment occurred in the second quarter when Leuer and Kenneth Faried collided in going for a rebound. And although with this years injured list starting to outnumber the list of active players, I was glad to see Leuer get into it just a little bit. Even a small amount of physical fear Jon Leuer can muster out of an opposing player will add dividends to that already scary second unit.
As the offense picked up, the defense never really did. Allowing too many inside points and coming back too late on fast break points kept the Nuggets in it with a flurry of And One's. 14 fast break points were given up by the end of the 2nd quarter.
The Grizzlies finished the third quarter, another one of their problem areas, with 30 points and held the Nuggets to 16.
Joerger has been derided for his substitutions, seemingly leaving the heads scratched of fans, and although he had those moments tonight, he did show confidence in the struggling shot of Mike Conley, the disappearing ink offense of Prince and Kosta Koufos and the equally blanking Bayless. They all stepped up and fought whatever demons were holding them back tonight. Conley had 14 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assist and 2 steals. Koufos and Prince both had 9 points and combined for 17 rebounds. Bayless had 15 points on 6-10 FG and 2-5 on 3PA.
The continuing story, of course, is James Johnson. Two weeks ago (!) Johnson was doing well in the D-League, but let's face it, a lot of guys can do well in the D-League and not have it translate so seamlessly into the NBA. Johnson is having such an inspiring season that bloggers are scrambling to write pieces about him, ball heads are dive bombing to add him to their fantasy teams (which your author did this morning while writing this piece) and fans clamoring to have a James Johnson jersey for sale. So much that the Memphis Grizzlies admitted to it on Twitter last night.
But what I enjoyed watching was Johnson in smaller moments. He is one of the first guys off the bench to greet a player sitting down. He is talking and listening with Zbo and Conley before plays and really is expressing, physically and verbally his advanced court vision. During his post-game interview with Rob Fischer, his enthusiasm is contagious, his desire to be there is palpable. He even called Fischer "Sir"!
Not a small win for MEM last night, though DEN has been awful of late. MEM hanging around No. 8, waiting for Big Spain.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) December 29, 2013
The Grizzlies strength of schedule at the beginning of the season was one of the hardest and they were going to have a rough time even without the injuries prevailed by the Guild of Calamitous Intent that has arch-enemied the league this year. Letting injuries heal, getting some exciting new blood in there while playing some bad teams while hopefully get the confidence back, get the rhythms returning and go into a good stretch into the All-Star break.
Monday, Dec 30, 2013, 7:00 PM CST
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