First, I’d like to sincerely thank Dante Cunningham for so graciously affirming that A+ I gave him as his midseason grade.
Sure, Dirk went down-but the Griz are still Z-Bo-less (for the moment, anyway).
There was a problem in the arena, though: during the timeout for the cut on Rudy’s index finger, in the background were a couple of Griz fans eating waffle cones…with spoons. Uh-uh. Get your face in it, it’s ok-it’s an ice cream cone.
As for the game, an interesting hustle effort. I’d planned to watch a few things before the game, and here’s what they were and how they went…-Conley. Could he take advantage of the fact that Kidd is not as young as he once was? Oh, did he. 20 and 10 assists and only 2 TO’s. Conley and Gasol are not exactly Stockton and Malone on the pick and roll, but the options that develop (and the fact that both of them are excellent passers) off that tried and true play are options upon which the Griz can rely to score in a variety of ways. As in just about every game, Gasol screening Conley for the 17-footer from just past the elbow was one of the first plays the Griz ran in Q1, and Conley hit the jumper, the strategy being, of course, to open up the lane for later, which it did. When Conley doesn’t hit that first jumper, things don’t usually go as well for him. Beaubois did make mincemeat of the Griz defense for a stretch, but Conley was able to up his speed and start staying in front of him. Conley also had the play of the game-the steal from Beaubois, a ball-rolling-stumbling fast break-ish transition, Conley finds ball, lays it in for the and-one. Hustle.
-Would Gay show a sense of urgency? He did. 18 and 7 is, it seems, about where Rudy has settled in this season. He went 8-19, but it wasn’t because he took horrible shots-he had a couple wide-open threes that just wouldn’t fall. On one play, he got loose from Marion and Terry one time for one of those “HEY MAN I’M OPEN” moments directly under the goal, he was found, dunk, timeout Mavs. Smartly played stuff.Good defense too.
-Would Gasol miss a beat? How is that even a question? He went for the “Spanish bullcharge hook” once or twice, but the back-to-basket game is where it was at for Gasol this game. There is just not a better triple-threat center in the game right now. It’s nice to think that pretty much every game, the Grizzlies will have the upper hand at the center matchup. Gasol’s ability to hit the jumper demands that his defender stay with him, and drawing the opposing center away from the goal opens the lane for COnley, Mayo, et. al. to get to the rim. “Throw-in”, huh? Think so? Watch this space for more on that silly little phrase.
-The bench. OJ, Dante, Pondexter, etc. How focused would they be after a blissfully long (and deserved) all-star break? 28 points on 12-23, with only 3 total TO’s. Excellent work from the relief crew. Selby was jittery, I’m sure, and it showed-he once again struggled getting the team into its sets, but he gave a few key minutes for Conley to rest. Pondexter had a great game-8 and 8, with energy and focus. Players like Cunningham and Pondexter are important in every game, but especially games like this one where the opposition frequently goes small (when Brandan Wright plays center for stretches, you are officially small)-interchangeability is essential, and those two players make it easy for Hollins to swap players and positions keep matchups balanced.
Aside from yet another rough shooting night for OJ and a very down game for Speights, the Grizzlies managed to keep this game under control for most of its length, and with about 952 road games upcoming, it was a huge win coming back from the break. Toronto Friday, Detroit Saturday. Trap games, both. A three-game winning streak coming out of the break would be nice, now wouldn’t it?