Marc Gasol dropped a career-high 33 points, Zach Randolph added 18, and the team played with some previously-missing gusto, the sum of which secured a Grizzlies win, the 5th seed in the Western Conference, and homecourt advantage over the team's first round opponent, the Portland Trail Blazers.
The season -- which saw Memphis roar to a 21-4 start and a place among the league's elite, hit some turbulence midseason with the many-opinion'd Jeff Green trade, and struggle with injuries down the stretch -- ends on about the most positive note a Memphian could ask for: that is, a resounding Grizzlies win in the finale coupled with a Spurs loss, and a first-round avoidance of San Antonio or the LA Clippers.
The Grizzlies have hopes of ending the season the way they started it -- blitzing through the league's best teams -- and they have at least one man rewinding to early-season form: Gasol's 33-point binge was a play on his season-opening output, a then-career-high 32 points against Minnesota. A healthy Gasol (his ankle caused nary a problem) is paramount to the Grizzlies' postseason survival, but a healthy, aggressive, shot-taking Gasol? That combination shatters the Grizzlies' postseason ceiling.
The flow of the game seemed stilted, either because that's how the Grizzlies like to play or because I was constantly flipping to the Spurs/Pelicans game, and the game's big-picture importance made it hard to find a narrative to this game other than "Gasol is a beast," so here are some hot-and-crispy, season-ending takeaway nuggets:
- Courtney Lee (8 pts, 2-5 FG) was plenty aggressive at the outset, though his game-opening jumpers were the only ones he'd make the rest of the night. Lee's playoff contributions are clearly important, and we learned a little more about his struggles in this interview with CBSSports.com.
- Nick Calathes was extra Calathesian last night, playing 32 minutes, and putting up this bizarrely-great line: 8 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 steals. Calathes had three there's-no-way-he-should-be-getting-that offensive rebounds, a wacky reverse finger roll that somehow went in, and several impressive assists. Most importantly, his defense on George Hill bodes well for the Grizzlies' first round matchup with Damian Lillard and the Blazers. Lillard is the very rich man's version of Hill, but Calathes has the size and the craftiness to give him trouble. If Mike Conley can't play -- and we pray to Bryant Reeves that he can -- at least Calathes can add some pluck to Memphis' defense.
- Speaking of Conley, it occurred to me -- and this is, like, an extremely obvious occurrence -- that the Grizzlies are not the same without Conley (I AM A PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL ANALYST!). I guess I've just already gotten used to the slog of the last week or two, the team struggling for flow without Conley running the point. Memphis can make it work (I'd venture that they could beat the Blazers, perhaps handily, without Conley), but still: you'd rather see him out there.
- That one time Marc Gasol performed a dizzy bat race on himself and Ian Mahinmi:
- Pull up a chair and let us talk about Jordan Adams. Jordan Adams is a good basketball player. He played 23 minutes last night, grabbed a rather impressive 5 rebounds, scored 6 points, looked aggressive, and made one pretty nifty spin-and-stepback J. Of course, Dave Joerger should have been playing Adams more all along. But maybe -- hopefully -- that won't keep Joerger from plugging Adams into the playoff rotation. Adams just seems smart, like he knows where to be, as evidenced by all the steals he racked up in college, and in one particular second quarter play last night. Jeff Green was playing help defense, while tracking his man, David West. West, unbeknownst to the spacey Green, slipped backdoor and had a wide-open lay-in -- except Adams, who was playing the far help side, saw all of this happening, slid over, and slapped the ball from West's hands out of bounds. It was a simple play, one that didn't even net the Grizzlies the ball; but it did prevent a layup, and was a small example that maybe Adams is more plugged-in than your usual rookie.
- I tweeted this last night, but there are entire basketball camps full of third graders with better shot fakes than Jeff Green. Green lifts both hands into the air like he's lifting up the hood of his car. How do players fall for this?
- No one on the Pacers could guard Zach Randolph. I'm surprised he didn't go for 33 last night.
- And finally, Vince Carter. In the third quarter, I wrote in my notes that VC looked much better tonight. Then he bricked a three so mightily it shook the foundations of FedExForum. I may be reaching here, but here is my Carter take: for much of the last couple weeks, Carter has looked off. Not just his shot, either. His gait, his dribbling, his facial expressions, his confidence. You know how, when you haven't played basketball in about eight months and you go out and try to play in a high-level pickup game, and you just feel...off? That's the way Carter looks right now. And that's not even me trying to make a joke about Vince. He just looks wildly out of rhythm. Maybe that's a thing you can get back. I hope it is. The team needs Vince Carter to hit, like, one or two threes a game. That's it.