Once again, not a perfect game-but are any of them perfect? No, the Miami win was not even perfect. Wonderful, but not perfect.
This game was full of imperfections-but one thing happened perfectly, and it didn’t even happen on the court. At this time, I’m not even sure it happened at all.
But I can make a guess…
This “thing” happened, I would surmise, in the Griz’ locker room at halftime. It involved a discussion of the words “defense”, “physicality”, and “rebounding”, Lionel Hollins’ foot, and an anatomical part of the Grizzlies players.
The technical fouls garnered by the Suns (can’t remember the last time the Griz goaded a team into three techs) were a great way to celebrate NBA Tech Week, eh? HAHAHA. Whoof, that was rough.
It does say a lot, though, that the Grizzlies have been getting (almost literally) under opponents’ skin on D when it matters.
Just as important as the second-half defensive mini-transformation, though, were my patented “couple of things”:
-Quincy Pondexter and Dante Cunningham. Sorta nobody guys…former co-blogger Zack had Pondexter confused with Quincy Douby (aka “poor man’s Juan Dixon”, shudder), and Dante Cunningham showed flashes as a Blazer, but was just sorta hangin’ out…the fact that the Grizzlies have become a place for guys to resurrect a career (ZBo, duh) or find a role where they can thrive (DC/QP/Speights/maybe GA) says as much about the culture change surrounding the team as it does about the team’s actual performance from game to game. The fact that Gay/ZBo/Conley/OJ were willing to get Dante the ball repeatedly so late in such a close game was huge. The “front of the jersey is the letters that matter” cliche is front and center these days for the Grizzlies, and that’s wonderful to see for a team supposedly filled with fragile egos.
-Rudy Gay had a big game. He got burned by, uh, well, uh, Josh Childress a time or two, but he played 42 minutes with only two fouls, and, most importantly, had ZERO turnovers. Oh, also, he was the Grizzlies’ first 30-point scorer of the season with a crazy 13-20 from the field with 6-6 FT’s. See how that scoring number was last on the superlatives list? That’s ‘cuz that’s the one that matters least. Surest sign that Rudy is finally out of his own head is that he’s not rushing and panicking is that he finally had a game where he took 20 shots, and didn’t make a silly pass, commit a charge, or lose the ball out of bounds.
-Tied to the defensive issues was a rebounding issue, and the Grizzlies wound up a plus-twelve on the glass after giving up about 952 offensive rebounds to start the game. Part personnel, part positioning. Zach Randolph with a nice 9-board showing in under 27 minutes, and the starting frontcourt of Gay/Speights/Gasol all had at least 7 boards. Team effort, again.
-Conley with 7 assists and ZERO turnovers. Ho-hum. Nash did well, but Conley and the rest of the Griz’ defense hassled (a more perfect word I could not find) him into seven turnovers, including a sequence where Conley chased him around like a puppy chasing a three-year-old, finally getting the steal and frustrating the level-headed Nash into a tech.
It would almost be easy to think that the Grizzlies are peaking earlier than they should, but they’re still a reasonably young team. There is also an unheralded perfect storm-Rudy coming on form at the right time, ZBo getting a percentage point or two back every day (without having too many miles on the engine for this season), and the bench coming to life are all great things-but when one adds in that the emphasis on Rudy/ZBo/bench allows Marc Gasol and Mike Conley to enjoy a little time out of the center of the spotlight, it’s just as easy to think that the Grizzlies could be as well-positioned for playoff success as they’ve ever been.
Yes, I have allowed myself to envision a parade on Beale Street…a partial pipedream, perhaps, but one not as farfetched as it once seemed…