Over the last few days, much has been made about the amount of aesthetically pleasing wins the Grizzlies had been accumulating, and rightfully so. Memphis is 9-1 over their last 10 games, with their wins coming by an average of 13.1 points. Tonight, however, they showed that they could still grit and grind when they needed it. And boy, did they need it.
Memphis led throughout the game, entering the fourth quarter with a five-point lead and quickly pushing it to nine, but everything began to break down. Isaiah Thomas scored 16 of his game high 24 in the quarter, getting to the basket at will, and knocking down two 3-pointers for good measure. The Grizzlies couldn't stop him, nor could they keep pace on the offensive side of the ball, committing four turnovers in the final 4:41 of the game. All of the turnovers came from ill-advised, lazy passes that were swatted away and stolen by the Suns' chaotic, amoeba-like defense. The combination of poor defense and worse offense led to Memphis being down seven with 1:49 to play, and it looked as if their winning streak would come to an end. Then they flipped the switch.
Zach Randolph, finally having a pedestrian game after two weeks of vintage performances, scored a quick jumper, came up with a steal on defense, then made two free throws after being fouled by Eric Bledsoe to pull the Grizzlies within three points. After a defensive stop on a Markieff Morris miss, Marc Gasol split a pair of free throws, cutting the lead to two points, but gave the Suns the ball with 47 seconds to play, and two possessions to put the Grizzlies away. Most teams aren't talented enough to win games under those circumstances, but Memphis used those final few moments to shine.
The Grizzlies clamped down on defense, keeping everyone outside of the paint, and Courtney Lee blocked an Isaiah Thomas jumper. Eric Bledsoe recovered the rebound, but with a short shot clock, and the Grizzlies defense standing tall, the Suns were only able to manage a late 3-point attempt that would carom of the rim and into the hands of Mike Conley. Conley pushed the ball up the court before slowing it down and allowing the offense to spread out. He hoisted up a 3-point attempt that missed, but Jeff Green came up with the rebound and put it back up and in, drawing the foul and cashing in the and-1 opportunity to give the Grizzlies a 102-101 lead. Phoenix had a chance to win it with four seconds left, but they were denied by the mighty hand of Marc Gasol, who emphatically blocked a Marcus Morris jumper to end the game and send the Grizzlies home with their seventh straight win.
Game Notes from the Legend-wait for it-Diary
- Jeff Green, the redeemer. Jeff Green saved this game, in every sense of that phrase. He redeemed it for himself, as he had arguably his worst game in a Memphis uniform tonight, going 4-12 from the field, including a couple of pretty ugly jump shots. But plays toward the end of the game are magnified, and when you are credited with the game winner, all mistakes are easier to forgive. He redeemed it for the Grizzlies, who would no doubt have been kicking themselves for blowing a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter. Most importantly, he redeemed it for Dave Joerger, who opted to pull Mike Conley with 3:50 to play after picking up his fifth foul. The Suns pushed their lead to seven with Mike on the bench, and that decision would have been dissected and criticized had Memphis lost that game. It's now nothing more than a footnote and an afterthought. Keep doing you, Jeff Green, and we'll all just keep enjoying it.
- Count me amongst those who are not in favor of the all bench lineup. They got the job done in the second quarter tonight (kind of?) but the majority of their run in the second quarter was difficult to watch.
- Kosta Koufos had a monster game, grabbing 11 rebounds in 15 minutes of play. He's such a luxury to bring off the bench, and he showed exactly why that is tonight. Memphis won the boards 46-38, and Koufos' performance was a big reason why.
- Mike Conley had 23 points in 28 minutes, the only Grizzly to do really well on offense tonight. It was a great sign, and his highest point total since scoring 22 on January 19. I'm disappointed that Mike isn't an All-Star again this year, but I'm glad he'll get the added rest, because this Mike Conley - the efficient, dagger throwing, ambidextrous floater-maker - is one that I want to see consistently down the stretch, and the only way to ensure that happens is for him to get healthy, which he still doesn't appear to be.
- Overall, this game was officiated pretty well. There weren't really any calls that were too egregious, but it felt like Ed Malloy was blowing his whistle all night long. It was frustrating, because it appeared to keep both teams from really establishing a rhythm in the game, until I checked the box score to see Memphis shot 34 free throws on the night.
- A part of me wants Vince Carter to get healthy and return for the Grizzlies, but another part of me simply adores his performance on the mic. Is there anyway he can do both?
- Courtney Lee played 32 minutes tonight, didn't attempt a single 3, and only had four shots in total on the night. This shouldn't happen. Ever. After the rough outing against Toronto, he had averaged 10 ppg, as he and the Grizzlies continue to adjust to having Jeff Green in the starting lineup, but Courtney's play, particularly on offense, is such a barometer of how Memphis' offense is performing. The Grizzlies have to find a way to keep him involved and get him good looks from the mid-range and behind the 3-point line.
- Two players had eight assists tonight. One was the Suns' point guard, and the other is the starting center for the Western Conference All-Star team.
It wasn't a pretty win, but it was a gritty win, and those are the ones Memphis is famous for. Nights like tonight, where you didn't play your best basketball and probably shouldn't have won, are what help forge good teams into great ones, instill the confidence into players who learn that they can win under any circumstance. The win moves Memphis to 36-12 on the year, and they are now only 2.5 games out of first place in the Western Conference. (I literally just typed out that sentence and then stared at it for several moments. So incredible.) Their next game is Wednesday in Utah. This is the first meeting between the two teams since the Jazz stole a win on the Grindhouse floor, and I imagine that the Grizzlies will be looking to enact a little bit of revenge. Let us all hope they come out and play with a little more efficiency, and deliver another one of those stress-free, fun to watch victories.