The Kings played without All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, who was "resting" (i.e., generally unenthused about spending two-plus hours in a meaningless late-March game clobbering bodies with Zach Randolph), and at times these new springtime Grizzlies (just 9-8 for the month) displayed some classic symptoms of March madness:
But for the most part, this game was about something more hopeful: the blooming that comes after the weeks of sniffly-nosed eye-rubbing that characterizes springtime allergies and, for Grizzlies fans, the experience of watching hoops for the last month.
A few of the beautiful little Grizzly flowers that bloomed last night:
- Courtney Lee's offensive game. Over the last several weeks, many hands have been wrung about Courtney Lee's injured hand and his apparent disinterest in shooting jumpers. Last night was an encouraging sign for the stretch run, as CLee got up ten shots, regaining his usual acumen for the midrange J (5-6 inside the arc). While Lee was still off the mark from downtown (0-4), he was at least willing, which is a start. (Also, something I've noticed: Lee, who already has one of the jumpier jump shots I've seen, was somehow even more springy last night? Maybe he's anxious, or overcompensating, or trying to get more legs in his shot--or maybe I am confused. Either way, Courtney Lee shoots a jump shot.)
- Kosta Koufos. Koufos blossomed into some sort of gorgeous, rebound-snatching Venus flytrap last evening, as he absorbed a big chunk of the front court minutes and all the boards that come with them. In 24 minutes, Koufos reaped 12 rebounds (five of them offensive), and performed his unusually smooth offensive heave-work around the basket to the tune of 8 points. That he also tossed in three blocks (including a nasty one on Derrick Williams in the 4th) made for a superb night to be Kosta Koufos.
- Vince Carter, three-point specialist. Carter was 3-6 from deep last night. This is great and perfect and all that we could ever ask for or imagine. Thank you, Vince. Please continue this. Goodbye.
- The bench. Halfway through the second quarter, the lead flowered to sixteen, as a mix-and-match group of starters and reserves became really active on the offensive end. From the start of the second quarter until the 5:43 mark (when a full timeout left Memphis with a 43-29 lead), the Grizzlies shot 9-13--with eight of those nine makes coming off assists. Two plays in a row (a Jeff Green corner three, and a Beno Udrih layup) were hockey-assisted by Nick Calathes, who began the action with his typically nifty passing. This kind of spunky bench play from Udrih and Calathes is necessary for Memphis--and of course the contributions of Koufos and Carter were indispensable last evening.
- Pep in the Grizzlies' step. It's a long season. October feels like 500 years ago, and I'm just watching the games. The players are no doubt unbelievably exhausted. A couple weeks ago, it looked like Mike Conley might just die on the court. Zach Randolph might have been hibernating for the last month. Marc Gasol's game of late has resembled the papers I wrote at 4 in the morning in college. If the team is coasting until the playoffs, I get it. But last night showed some really encouraging signs for the not-dead-ness of the Grizzlies' explosiveness. More than once, Conley beep-beep'd his way into the lane with that extra level he has. Randolph showed some spunk, even lifting off to dunk on a third quarter possession. Lee was aggressive, Carter's body looked able, and Jeff Green once again proved springy.
It is, of course, problematic to draw too much from a late-March game against the dwindling Kings, toiling without their best player. Perhaps, too, what's ailed this Memphis bunch is just a case of seasonal allergies and fatigue. But a wire-to-wire victory for the Grizzlies -- plus a Houston loss and the re-acquisition of the two-seed -- is just what the doctor ordered.