Coming into tonight, the odds were stacked against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Due to a toe injury, Mike Conley sat out last night’s game, which made beating the Thunder, led by Russell Westbrook, an even taller task. In Conley’s place, Andrew Harrison got the start. In the first quarter, Marc Gasol made an immediate impact. At halftime, Big Spain already had 14 points. On the other side, Russell Westbrook racked up 19 points at the half, but he had 0 assists.
After leading 55-39 going into the third, the Grizzlies held onto their lead, and Russell Westbrook got himself ejected from the contest midway through the period. So, on the night he had 21 points, 5 rebounds, and 0 assists in 23 minutes of play. From there, the Grizzlies jumped out to a 20 point lead in the third, and they didn’t look back.
Without Westbrook, the Thunder continued to unravel. At the end of the third quarter, Memphis held a commanding lead, 78-61. With Westbrook out the rest of the game, players like Enes Kanter and Steven Adams were the main contributors for OKC. Kanter ended up with 19 points and 5 rebounds in the game, while Adams had 6 points and 15 rebounds.
The fourth quarter was all Memphis, and they extended their already solid lead. Toward the end of the game, Troy Daniels exploded from beyond the arc to solidify the victory, and the Grizzlies pulled out the unexpected win against the OKC Thunder in front of a sellout crowd, 114-80.
Once again, the Grizzlies showed up big against a high-quality opponent on their home floor. Not many would’ve expected the Grizzlies to pull out a win coming into this one, especially with the absence of Mike Conley. However, this team that played last night looked more like the team we witnessed during Conley’s previous injury...A team that showed grit, heart, and tenacity on both ends of the floor. Hopefully this victory gave Memphis their mojo back, for good.
Because one thing that Memphis has struggled with this season is consistency. One night, we see a Grizzlies team that can beat the Thunder, Warriors, and other top-level teams. The next game, we’ll see them struggle against weaker teams. In 2017, the Grizzlies must find consistency in order to have sustained success.
On new year's resolution for this Grizzlies team, "Consistency." -Coach Fizdale— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) December 30, 2016
Teamwork Makes The Dream Work
Last night, it wasn’t just Marc Gasol who showed up big for Memphis. Memphis’ bench and role plsuers came up huge for the Grizzlies, as Zach Randolph had an impressive stat line of 21 points and 8 rebounds in 25 minutes. In addition, Tony Allen contributed 8 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 steals. Andrew Harrison had one of his best games of the season with 10 points, including 2 threes. To top it all off, Troy Daniels put on an epic display from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter as he was 6-8 from three and had 22 points total in 18 minutes.
As a team, the Grizzlies had 24 assists to the Thunder’s 9. In general, the Grizzlies played better as a unit than the Thunder did. Memphis had 12 turnovers, while OKC had 18. The Grizzlies finally looked like a defensive force again, and that created a better flow on the offensive end. The Thunder appeared like a one-man show, and that backfired on them when Westbrook got himself ejected. From there, the Thunder fell apart without their leader, while the Grizzlies were clicking on all cylinders.
Memphis held the Thunder to 33.8% from the field, as well as 4/22 from three (18.2%). The Grizzlies themselves shot 52.4% from the field and 59.1% from three. JaMychal Green, Andrew Harrison, James Ennis, Vince Carter, Zach Randolph, and Troy Daniels contributed at least one three pointer each in last night’s match.
"...It just makes me happy to see him play well," -Marc Gasol on Zach Randolph's performance tonight.— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) December 30, 2016
The @memgrizz held the Thunder to just 9 assists tonight, which ties the franchise single-game opponent record (done twice before).— Grizzlies PR (@GrizzliesPR) December 30, 2016
Marc Gasol Steps Up In Conley’s Absence
Marc Gasol has been playing at an All-Star level, particularly when Captain Conley isn’t by his side. Whether this is a coincidence or not remains to be seen, but it does appear that Marc plays better when he doesn’t have to share the ball with Conley. That isn’t to say the Grizzlies don’t need Mike Conley for success. They definitely do. But Coach Fizdale said it himself:
"I think Marc is too unselfish when Mike comes back," Coach Fizdale.— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) December 30, 2016
It isn’t that the Grizzlies don’t need Conley, or that Gasol doesn’t need Conley by his side. It’s just that it seems Marc Gasol’s mentality changes with Conley on the court. He becomes more passive and shares the ball too much. Marc is boasting a career high in PPG (19.9) as well as in assists per game (4.3). It’d be shocking if he doesn’t make the All-Star team with this type of production.
Maybe Mike Conley needs to tell Marc Gasol to be more selfish. After all, Marc scoring 20+ points a night oftentimes results in a Grizz win.
But no matter who is on the court, Big Spain needs to be playing at an All-Star level. Last night, he had 25 points and 8 rebounds. The game before that, he had 26 points and 9 assists. Both games, Mike Conley was on the bench. It’ll be interesting to see if this trend continues with Marc, and if he becomes more or less selfish when Conley returns. Hopefully for Memphis, he’ll continue his impressive performances regardless of who’s by his side on the court. If Mike could return to his level of play he displayed at the beginning of this season alongside an aggressive Marc Gasol, Memphis could reach a whole new level and raise their ceiling this season and postseason.
Next up, the Memphis Grizzlies travel to Sacramento to battle the Kings, who are 14-18 on the season. The Grizzlies had better be ready to play at the level they did last night as they start their West Coast road trip in order for them to have success.