In the absence of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol just keeps doing work. With their 88-86 victory over Dame D.O.L.L.A. and C.J. McCollum last night, coach David Fizdale’s Grit ’N’ Grind Redux climbed to a 16-8 record, good for 5th in the competitive Western Conference. They are 5-1 since Conley went down, and those five victories were consecutive — and nail-biters. On this current streak, Memphis has won by a grand total of... 13 points (and no single game among them by more than 5). Ultimately, yes, there has been some luck involved in getting key baskets and stops late with games that are these close. That said, these are the types of pseudo-lucky outcomes (you can’t call a 5-game win streak luck entirely, especially not with the heavy lifting Marc Gasol and Tony Allen are doing) that need to break Memphis’s way so they can stay afloat in the West before Conley returns some time in January.
It’s not all luck, though. A lot of it comes down to aggressive defense. These Grizzlies have leveraged their youth movement’s athleticism and their old heads’ savvy to force other teams to play at their pace, and they’re on this win streak sans Conley, Vince Carter, Chandler Parsons, James Ennis, and Brandan Wright; all five of whom would have gotten rotation minutes tonight.
Marc Gasol: A
Though Conley, when healthy, had been the best player on the floor for the Fiz Grizz, Big Spain has taken his own game to new heights as Memphis’s lone healthy All-Star. In Gasol’s six games post-Conley, he has notched 25 points or more four times, including against Mason Plumlee and Portland.
Last night, Gasol had 36 points (in just 34 minutes of game action!) on 13-of-24 shooting, went 4-of-6 from three-point range (including a clutch three with less than two minutes remaining to help Memphis recapture their lead once and for all), pulled down 9 boards, and dished out 2 dimes. He finished +9 on the night. His clutch gene was demonstrably in full effect, as Gasol poured in 9 of those 36 points during the game’s final 4:21 alone — he showed off his complete offensive arsenal, too, knocking in floaters and fade-aways with ease.
La Tanqueta is averaging 19.9 points (a career high), 4.1 assists (ditto), 3.7 three-point attempts (3.5 more attempts than he has ever averaged before), 6.1 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks a night. He is connecting on 44% on those three-pointers. Simply put, he has willed a whole new dimension into his scoring game, and he’s now the 9th best long range shooter in the NBA.
Tony Allen: B+
The Grindfather scratched and clawed his way to his second double-double in three games. The grizzled (see what I did there?) OSU alum, a five-time All-Defensive Teamer, had 15 points (on 6-of-10 shooting) and 10 rebounds, to go along with two steals and an assist. He hounded his marks on the wing with typical TA ruthlessness, even if he’s probably slower than Portland’s center, let alone Evan Turner (starting in place of an injured Mo Harkless), Allen Crabbe (who at one point he left wide open for an easy triple in the second quarter), or C.J. McCollum. Allen also has the distinction of being on the receiving end of the final inbounds of the night, as Mason Plumlee badly botched an outlet pass.
That said, Allen was a game-high +16 in plus-minus in just 28 minutes on the floor. He’s gunning for a return to that First Team All Defense!
JaMychal Green: B+
Z-Bo’s replacement in the starting lineup lacks his predecessor’s scoring touch, as he demonstrated again last night by taking just 8 shots from the field, and making just 2 of ’em (but, hey, he knocked down both his free throws!). But he’s in the game to defend and gobble up misses, and he did both those things with aplomb last night. The Pogo Stick posted an impressive 18 rebounds (15 defensive), in tandem with his 6 points, 2 assists, 1 steal and 5 useful fouls.
The Troys (Williams and Daniels): C-
Troy Daniels is gunning hard for that starting 2-guard spot, though getting the nod has to be a boon for rookie Troy Williams’s confidence. In 19 minutes, Williams made a whopping 0 points (boasting a whopping 0-of-3 shooting from the field, including a whopping 0-of-1 from behind the arc), but the young gun has made his bread on the other side of the floor anyway. To that end, he had 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block. He was -5 overall in the contest, though, and oftentimes looked like a chicken running around with his head cut off. At one point in the third quarter, in a moment indicative of Williams’s erratic night that exhibited both his promise and his rawness, Tony Allen passed a deflected rock to a streaking Williams. The undrafted IU product dribbled up-court like a crazy person for a fraction of a second, before the ball was stripped by C.J. McCollum. McCollum dashed inside a paint clogged with Grizzlies limbs — only to find Troy Williams had stayed with the play and ascended for a sweet block. had 2 turnovers and 4 fouls in just 19 minutes of game action.
Daniels, playing 12 more minutes than Williams, also didn’t fare particularly well last night, scoring 5 points total. He shot 2-for-12 from the field and making just 1 of his 4 three-point looks — of course, that 1 triple was the three-pointer that pushed the Grizzlies to an 82-81 lead with 95 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
Andrew Harrison: C
The Grizzlies’ other starting rookie guard had a wretched shooting night, going just 2-of-12 from the field and 2-of-4 from the free throw line for 6 total points. He had 1 board, 3 assists, 2 steals (including one sweet pick of an inbounds Mason Plumlee pass intended for Evan Turner that yield a dish to a wide-open Gasol, Plumlee’s man, for one of his 4 made three-pointers) and was a paltry -9 overall.
Zach Randolph: B-
Playing just 16 minutes in his second game back from a 7-game bereavement absence, Z-Bo grit and grinded his way to a decent eve overall despite having just 7 points (2-of-10 shooting from the field, only 3-of-6 from the free-throw line); more importantly, the 2017 Sixth Man Of The Year (I feel like his big competition is Lou Williams and Jamal Crawford, right?) also chipped in 9 rebounds (and 2 assists).
His -17 plus-minus isn't winning him any gold, but you’ve got to assume his games going forward will be closer to his performance against Philly (when he posted 12 points and 14 rebounds) than they will be to this contest against Portland.
Toney Douglas: B+
Playing his first big minutes as a Memphis Grizzly (26), the former Pelicans back-up point guard immediately endeared himself to the Beale Street faithful with a very solid overall night. He had 11 points, going an efficient 3-of-6 from the field (and 1-of-2 from deep). Douglas also nabbed 3 assists, including a clutch dime that led to the aforementioned Daniels three-pointer.
He iced 4 huge free throws in the game’s final 19.2 seconds (including two in the game’s final half-second clinched it for good). He may give Harrison serious run for his money as the nominal Mike Conley fill-in over the coming weeks; here’s hoping the competition improves both ballers’ play.