After a tough stretch coming out of the All-Star break, Memphis finally had gotten back to its winning ways this week after beating the Bucks, Bulls, and Hawks. Now, the Grizzlies were facing a rival in the San Antonio Spurs, and everyone was watching to see how the Grizzlies stacked up against a quality opponent. While the other teams that Memphis had beaten this week weren’t shabby, they still weren’t on the same level as the Spurs, who are ranked #2 in the West currently at 52-15.
Oh yeah, and there was extra hype coming into this one since it was Memphis’ annual wrestling night, and it was a sellout crowd. So would Memphis rise to the challenge before them?
Coming out the gate it sure looked like they would. After both teams got off to a slow start, Memphis picked up the pace offensively after being down 10-14. The Grizzlies went on a 12-0 run, in part thanks to a Zach Randolph explosion with 9 points and 4 rebounds in the quarter. Mike Conley also got off to a great start as well, with two early three pointers. Memphis started clicking on all cylinders and led the Spurs 29-18 going into the second quarter.
However, at the beginning of the second quarter, the Grizzlies started to go off the rails, and San Antonio took advantage of it. The Spurs went on a 9-0 run to start the period, and the Grizzlies’ offense went completely stagnant. In addition, the Grizzlies struggled on the boards and allowed the Spurs way too many offensive rebounds. After the Spurs’ big run, the Grizzlies finally regained their footing but were unable to take a substantial lead. As a result, Memphis held a one point lead at halftime. For the Grizzlies, Vince Carter had 10 points at the half, and Mike Conley had 9.
In the third quarter, neither team took hold of the game. The Grizzlies continued to do well from beyond the arc, leading in that category (10-4) going into the fourth. However, Memphis still struggled from the boards and points in the paint. The Spurs kept threatening to take a solid lead, but Memphis responded every time effectively to San Antonio’s punches, in part thanks to a third quarter surge by JaMychal Green. The Grizzlies were up 75-73 going into the fourth, and this was feeling like the most exciting Grizz home game in a while in front of a sellout crowd on wrestling night.
In the fourth quarter, the Grizzlies started out with a quick 5-0 run. The Grizzlies gained a 9 point lead several times, but the Spurs stuck around. Down the stretch, key players like Mike Conley came up clutch (he had 3 threes on the night), and the Grizzlies came up with enough defensive stops to down the Spurs in the Forum, 104-96.
On wrestling night, it was definitely a showcase fight between these division rivals, but Memphis came up on top as they’ve now won 4 straight.
For the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard put on a show last night with 22 points. Also, LaMarcus Aldridge had 21 on the night. In the Gasol brothers matchup, Marc had 16, while Pau had 8. For Memphis, the scoring was pretty evenly spread, but Zach Randolph had an extremely impressive performance off the bench with 18 points and 7 rebounds.
Vince Carter Thriving In Starting Role
Since the Chandler Parsons injury, Vince Carter has had to step up and take his place in a starting role. While Carter had been having the best season the Grizzlies could hope for coming off the bench, there was speculation as to whether Vince would fit well in a starting role like this. Carter has had no trouble adjusting and playing more minutes. In last night’s game he had 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals.
In three of the last four games, his play has been solid. Undoubtedly, Carter is one of those guys you want to have in the crunch time of a game. He’s shooting 56.5% in this stretch of games. He’s averaging almost 30 minutes per game, though, and that could become a concern. Let’s face it, Vince can’t continue these kind of performances while averaging around 30 minutes per game and then continue this in the playoffs. It’ll be interesting to see if Fizdale puts any kind of minutes restriction on Carter as the playoffs loom near.
For now, it’s nice to see him fitting well into his new role and adding more veteran leadership to the starting lineup.
Memphis’ Fast Start Was Key
Memphis finished last night’s game well, but it wasn’t just the way that they finished the game that determined the outcome. Rather, the Grizzlies’ fast start in the first quarter gave them momentum and confidence, as well as a cushion in the second quarter when the Spurs went on a 9-0 run and outscored Memphis by 10 in the period.
On their losing streak, Memphis had particularly struggled with their first quarters, and that ultimately cost them some games. Well, as Memphis has been getting back on track, they’ve been coming out the gate aggressive on both ends of the floor.
This could be due to lineup change. Tony Allen and Vince Carter have been reinserted into the starting lineup, and they’ve definitely had success. Chandler Parsons is now likely shut down for the season, and the Grizzlies have gone on a four game winning streak since then. But blaming this all on Parsons isn’t necessarily the solution. According to Vince Carter, the difference maker the past handful of games has been more of a mental shift:
"I think our focus and our approach," -Vince Carter on what's been the difference the last few games.— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) March 19, 2017
Mike Conley also concurred and added that Memphis now has some urgency, particularly on the defensive end:
"Our mentality has changed defensively. We're playing with a sense of urgency defensively..Offensively we're being unselfish.." -Mike Conley— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) March 19, 2017
Teamwork Makes The Dream Work
While the Spurs were more top heavy scoring-wise, the Grizzlies had positive contributions from most of their players. Vince Carter, JaMychal Green, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Troy Daniels, and Zach Randolph all scored double digit points, and all starters had a positive plus-minus rating besides JaMychal Green, who had a rating of -3. Zach Randolph had the highest rating of +15 off the bench.
For the Spurs, Leonard and Aldridge had negative plus-minus ratings. Also, Leonard and Aldridge, along with Jonathon Simmons, were the only players to score double-digits for San Antonio.
Tony Allen for Memphis didn’t score double digits, but he had 8 points and 7 rebounds. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley played at a high-caliber level, just like Aldridge and Leonard, but their supporting cast in players like Randolph and Daniels was the X factor. Also, the Grizzlies had 13 threes as a team to San Antonio’s 9.
"Just taking one game at a time, playing free...Just getting back to playing Grizzlies style of basketball," -Tony Allen— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) March 19, 2017
Now, Memphis will go on the road to face the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday and will look to grab their fifth win in a row.
"You have to...You just don't get to trade twos for threes..." -Fizdale on Memphis embracing the three ball.— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) March 19, 2017
"I wanted to stop the bleeding, so I went back to Vince and Marc sooner than I would've liked..." -Fizdale on second quarter lineup— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) March 19, 2017
"Our crowd was big time today...I think both teams wanted to send a message that 'it's on,'" -Coach Fizdale on playoff atmosphere— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) March 19, 2017