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Ready for Prime Time? Memphis Grizzlies top Oklahoma City Thunder in Return of Marc Gasol

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It's been a long, a long time coming, but Tuesday night, the Grizzlies saw the return of Marc Gasol, and picked up a huge win 90-87 over the Thunder in the process.

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Final - 1.14.2014 1 2 3 4 Total
Oklahoma City Thunder 16 31 20 20 87
Memphis Grizzlies 24 19 29 18 90

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I feel like Marc Gasol probably walked off the court tonight the same way Robert Downey Jr. first arrives on screen in Iron Man 2. "OH! It is good to be back!" In the reigning defensive player of the year's return to the lineup, the Memphis Grizzlies beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 90-87 Tuesday night, despite the best efforts of Kevin Durant. Durant had 37 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and a steal on the night, and even when Tayshaun Prince or James Johnson played him perfectly on defense, it simply didn't matter. The problem for Durant, much like the problem he had in the playoffs when these two teams met last year, is that no other teammate scored even 20 points to help him out, and with the Grizzlies balanced scoring attack and hounding defense (welcome back, Big Fella!) the Thunder simply could not get over the hump.

The first quarter was the Courtney Lee Show. Trying to conserve their point guard's energy for offense and use the extremely talented defender Thabo Sefoloshia to try and slow Mike Conley, Lee found himself matched with the smaller, defensively inferior Reggie Jackson guarding him, and he feasted. My God, did he feast! He scored 10 of the Grizzlies first 12 points, and had 16 total in the quarter, including going 2/3 from beyond the arc. The Grizzlies rode Lee's hot hand to a 24-12 advantage with under a minute to play, and would lead by 8 heading into the second quarter.

Things in the second quarter, quite frankly, were not pretty. You know how you can be at a really great party, and everyone's having a great time, then out of no where this one girl gets really, really drunk and starts bumping into everything, telling everyone how "stupid" it would be if they made out, and claiming every song that comes on is "about her," and temporarily throws off the whole groove of the party? That's what the second quarter was tonight.

The thunder, led by Reggie Jackson and Bill Kennedy, opened the quarter on an 11-1 run, as Memphis failed to score a basket until a Marc Gasol jumper with 7:33 remaining in the game. The officiating was pretty even throughout the night, but the Thunder were the heavy favorites in this quarter, getting to the line 9 times, and the Grizzlies got into the penalty after just 3:19 of game play. Despite all of this, the Grizzlies still managed to lead by 1 with 5:01 left in the game, before a flurry of Kevin Durant play making. The Thunder All-Star and former Scoring Champ scored 10 points in the final 4:54 of the quarter, carrying his team to a 47-43 halftime advantage.

Memphis would come out strong in the second half, opening up on a 7-3 run behind Mike Conley to tie the game up at 50. Kevin Durant would score 3 quick points following a Grizzlies timeout, but the big man combo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol scored 8 in a row to put the Grizzlies back on top. ZBo had 10 of his 23 points and 2 of his assists in the quarter, and definitely looked happy to have his big, Spanish brother back in the lineup. As The Thunder continued to hang around, Memphis cashed in 6 late points from Courtney Lee, including a buzzer beater to end the period, and would lead 72-67 heading into the final frame.

It looked as if the Grizzlies would allow the Thunder to overtake them by performing as miserably on offense to start the fourth as they did to start the second quarter, as Oklahoma City opened up on a 6-2 run to close the gap to a single point. Memphis' only bucket in the first three and half minutes came on a James Johnson bucket on their second possession. The entire quarter would be a defensive struggle, as both teams combined for only 38 points. Of the 18 points the Grizzlies would score in this quarter, 12 would be from their big three of Gasol, Randolph, and Conley. Ahead by 3 with under a minute left, the Grizzlies caught a break (after giving the Thunder one when Gasol missed a wide-open 7-footer to ice it) as Serge Ibaka missed a clean look at a 3-pointer that would have tied the game.

Zach Randolph would split a pair of free throws to put the Grizzlies up 4, and on the ensuing Thunder possession, Serge Ibaka cashed in on his second opportunity and pulled the Thunder to within one. But with mere seconds to play, the Grizzlies new prized scoring guard, Courtney Lee, sunk a pair of free throws to end the game and secure a Grizzlies victory.

Game notes from the Legend-wait for it-Diary

  1. One of the biggest pluses to having Gasol back in the lineup is the pressure it takes off of ZBo on the offensive end, as teams can't commit 2-3 players to him when he gets the ball. Tonight was probably the second worst example of that (with the worst obviously being San Antonio) as the Thunder are well coached, and have excellent personnel to slow Randolph down. The 7-21 was definitely inefficient, but he was 9-12 from the line and +8 on the night, and I look for his numbers and efficiency to improve greatly as Gasol reacquaints himself to the lineup.
  2. Does anyone in the league or world fill up the stat sheet better than James Johnson? In 20 minutes of play, he had 4 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks, and 2 fouls. The guy is just a high-energy ball hawk that hates zeros, and I love it and him.
  3. Speaking of James Johnson, Nick Calathes entered the game for Mike Conley with 6:31 to play in the third, and he received a healthy chorus of boos from the crowd. Johnson stood up on the bench, and repeatedly gave the quiet down sign to the entire arena. Amazingly classy, and again, I love it and him.
  4. Kevin Durant is ridiculous, in a good way. I counted 5 times where the Grizzlies played perfect defense on Durant, and he made the shot anyways, and with ease. He can beat you from literally anywhere on the court, and his ability to consistently knock down long range shots as well as attack the rim, he had four and-1 plays tonight, make him so incredibly dangerous and so fun to watch, when he isn't playing your team. (And sometimes even when he is.)
  5. A grown man verbally assaulted his wife tonight after she failed to get one of their kids shoes autographed by Durant after the game. (Security would not allow her to, and Durant rushed back to the locker room with great swiftness) I am not married, nor do I have any desire of plans to ever be, but I have to believe this is what constitutes as a foolish reason to fight. Take note guys. Don't ever verbally assault your wives, and especially don't do it in public, and especially don't do it in public when she was told not to do something by a security guard. (The man had surprisingly little to say to the security guard).
  6. Six combined minutes for Kosta Kofous and Jon Leuer in this one. We knew it would happen once Gasol returned, and the Grizzlies have an embarrassment of riches in the big men category, something to keep an eye on as the trade deadline approaches.
  7. How many teams could Reggie Jackson start for? At least 8?

The win moves the Grizzlies to within a game of the .500 mark, for the first time in what feels like ages. There are definitely questions that still need answering, and we all must hope that Admiral Ackbar is on speed dial for tomorrows game, (IT'S A TRAP!) but for tonight, if only for the brief moment, it's time to celebrate and be excited. After surviving an early plague of injuries and nonchalant play, the Grizzlies are almost back to full strength, and with a few roster tweaks, appear once again to be ready for prime time. GrizzNation, you may now rise.