Although O.J. Mayo may have gotten a warm welcome from the fans during the opening announcement, the Grizzlies made sure he did not have a confortable return. Tony Allen keep Mayo off balance and out of rhythm the entire game, and was rewarded by a 3 for 11 night with only 10 points in 35 minutes. Apart from the return of Mayo and an unusual technical foul for Coach Hollins (more on that later), the Grizz made this division win seem routine.
Per usual, the Grizzlies dominated the paint. Without Dirk Nowitzki patrolling inside, the Mavs had to rely on Chris Kaman and Shawn Marion inside, with Vince Carter playing on Gasol for long periods. As a result, the Grizz looked to push the ball into the paint constantly. When Gay and Conley weren’t driving to the lane, they were sending the ball in to Gasol and Randolph. Also a massive congrats to Conley, who surpassed Jason Williams for the most assists in Grizzlies history in the first quater, fittingly on an alley-oop to Gay. Conley now has 2,079 carrer assists, all with the Grizzlies.
While the starters had a terrific game tonight, the bench disappointed. Speights came up big with a dunk that invigorated the team and crowd in the third quarter, and he and Arthur led the bench with 6 apiece. Vince Carter and Dominique Jones led off the bench Mavs, and helped keep Dallas close throughout the game.
The part that excited me most about this victory was how normal it seemed. Sure, the Mavs aren’t half the team they were even a year ago without Nowitzki, Jason Terry, and Jason Kidd, but a division win is a division win. The Grizz pounded the paint, Zach recorded his NBA best 20th double-double, and Rudy Gay did exactly what a volume shooter is supposed to do, score points. Marc consistently overpowered smaller players inside and rebounded terrifically. With about 3 minutes left in the 4th, Gasol pulled in two offensive boards before nailing a long jumper; the perfect cap to an all around great performance for him. Tony Allen continued his stellar defensive season while shutting down Mayo. Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayless both played extremely good on-ball defense, limiting the Dallas starting guards to 6 points between them.
Although it was good to see Mayo in action again, I think tonight’s game justified the Front Office’s decision to cut ties with O.J. We have a great shooting guard in Bayless (who is also much less expensive), and the addition of Wayne Ellington has helped the Grizzlies from missing Mayo’s touch from the outside. Mayo is doing well in Dallas and is getting the minutes and money he always wanted, so good for him. He just wasn’t matching up with the plan the Grizzlies management and Coach Hollins had in mind, and the Grizz are better off without him.
The Grizzlies are finally consistently beating teams with less talent, and the record shows it. I was worried about chemistry over the summer, as Gay and Randolph never seemed to be able to be have good games at the same time last season, but those issues have disappeared. The guys are talking more on the court and Gay is handling the ball and shooting from outside the paint with confidence. This makes it easier for Marc and Zach to be forceful inside.
Tonight’s game saw some questionable officiating, and Lionel Hollins received a rare, and seemingly unwarranted, technical foul. Marc had some foul trouble, but Speights, Arthur, and Randolph made sure to keep the paint secure. The Grizz play the Rockets tomorrow in Houston, ands won’t face a team more than 3 games over .500 until a January 9th visit to Golden State.