Missing Courtney Lee, Tony Allen, Kosta Koufos, Beno Udrih, and Jon Leuer, the Memphis Grizzlies knew it'd take a degree of resiliency to beat the Toronto Raptors. And they nearly pulled it off, too. In a 96-92 win for the bad guys, the credit should go to the Raptors for their own resiliency.
There's no questioning the effort of the guys who did play for the Grizzlies. The core stepped up to fill the production hole created by the absence of those five important rotation guys above. Mike Conley, Marc Gasol. and Zach Randolph combined for 59 points, 40 rebounds (they all finished in double digits!), and nine assists. Tayshaun Prince even stepped up for an efficient 18 points, which was one of the more bizarre elements of the night.
The Grizzlies seemed to be a step ahead of their opponents for most of the night, especially after a second quarter run that propelled them past the Raptors. Look at the Game Flow chart fromESPN.com:
The Grizzlies had their moments of domination. Randolph and Gasol were beasts down low against a Raptors team that struggled a lot to match up with them in the post. Z-Bo absolutely crushed the boards, hauling in eight offensive rebounds – more than the entire Raptors team did (seven) – and generating 12 second chance points for himself.
With the shorter bench, rookies Jordan Adams and Jarnell Stokes were able to see some extended court time, too. Neither lit the world on fire, but they looked good. Adams scored his first NBA bucket (a corner three!) while Stokes demonstrated his physique with rugged play down low. Oohs and aahs were had on Twitter.
But for all the positive play, the Grizzlies could never really break free of the Raptors. The game was ebb-and-flow – the Grizzlies would build a lead, then the Raptors would suddenly break it down. Both teams were streaky, and while the Raptors were maybe more so than the Grizzlies, they had the benefit of having a couple players make big shots and go on mini-runs to hang around.
Lou Williams had a few nice spurts off the bench. Terrence Ross absolutely exploded for 14 points, including three triples on three attempts, in the fourth quarter. Kyle Lowry made some gutsy shots, including a classic #KLOE make over Conley with eight seconds left that sealed the win.
After struggling all game long to build much of a lead over the Grizzlies, the Raptors were able to tie it up late and keep the lead when it mattered. Ross scored 11 straight Raptor points at one point in the fourth, and only a single Amir Johnson make separated those points from his other three of the quarter. Dwane Casey improbably turned to Chuck Hayes off the bench, who proved to be able to weather Gasol's backdowns.
But without meaning to knock the Raptors' commendable effort down the stretch, the biggest thing working against the Grizzlies was probably fatigue. Conley played 42 minutes, Gasol 41 minutes, and Randolph 38 minutes. Joerger even squeezed 34 minutes out of Prince. With the lower half of the rotation wiped out for the night, the core had to put the team on their back in an attempt to win.
Unsurprisingly, it proved to be a heavy workload – the Grizzlies shot 4-for-14 in the fourth (fewer makes than Terrence Ross alone!), with Conley and Gasol generating their only makes from the field.
The Grizzlies didn't play poorly. That's the bottom line, for a team that'll see a good thing end disappointingly as a four-game winning streak gets snapped in part due to a random bout of the flu. The leftovers played well as a whole, and made a valiant effort against a team that was equally resilient but was able to flex the advantage of fresher legs at the end of the game.
This loss drops the Grizzlies to 10-2 on the season – still the best record in the NBA. The Raptors creep up to 9-2, a half-game back of the Grizzlies for the best record in the league, while the Golden State Warriors remain a full game back as the second seed in the Western Conference with an 8-2 record. Next up for the Grizz: a return to the FedEx Forum for a Friday matchup against the Boston Celtics.