Call it a slump. Or maybe a funk. Definitely, it was a three-game losing streak – the Grizzlies’ first of the season.
Ever since the calendar flipped to December just about every game – win or lose – has been a struggle. After a 1-2 road trip out West – the Grizzlies stopping their three-game slide in Utah, of all places – Memphis began a three-game homestand on Monday, Dec. 17, against the Chicago Bulls.
The Grizzlies won, 80-71, despite all of the following being true:
• They shot 37.5 percent from the floor.
• They had more turnovers (18) than assists (16).
• Rudy Gay scored just 12 points on 5-of-13 shooting and had more turnovers (3) than assists or rebounds (2 each).
Whether at home in FedExForum or on the road, the Memphis Grizzlies are finding that a suffocating defense and outrebounding opponents are important keys to their winning ways. Zach Randolph, left, and Marc Gasol have been an imposing duo in the post against opponents, including the recent win at the Utah Jazz.
(Photo: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports)
• Marc Gasol scored just 4 points on 1-for-7 shooting.
But the following also was true:
• They held the Bulls to 37.3 percent shooting.
• They out-rebounded them, 51-39.
• By forcing 16 turnovers, they stretched their streak of forcing 10 or more turnovers in a game to 126 straight – the longest active streak in the NBA and third-longest since the 1992-1993 season.
• They hit 6-of-11 3-point shots (54.5 percent) and reserve guard Wayne Ellington was 3-for-4, showing his best aim since he was 7-for-11 in the Nov. 11 victory over Miami at FedExForum.
• Zach Randolph notched his league-best 18th double-double with 10 points and 15 rebounds.
• The Grizzlies’ bench outscored the Bulls’ bench, 31-16.
What does it mean? That depends on whom you ask. Aesthetically, this game was a defensive training manual/sleep aide. Naturally, Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins found it a thing of beauty.
“I don’t know how it looks to the fans, but to me as a coach it’s a good basketball game,” he said. “A hard-fought basketball game by two good teams.”
And there is actually truth in that. If the playoffs started today, both teams would have a line in the bracket. In the big picture, that’s all that matters. And in the snapshot of one game …
“We got the W. We’ll take it. It wasn’t pretty,” Randolph said.
“No matter how we did it, we got it,” Gay said.
They got it through possession-by-possession defense.
“That was our only chance to win the game,” Gasol said. “We weren’t going to do it offensively, the way we were playing, so thank (goodness) for D.”
What little offense there was came from the bench – those 31 points – and Mike Conley, who finished with 17. For about two weeks, the Grizzlies have not played with the ease they did in jumping out to the best start in franchise history.
But more important, they have weathered this season’s first storm. Nothing dramatic, mind you, just a little thunder and lightning and several days of rain.
“It’s actually good for us to have some adversity,” Conley said after the victory over the Bulls gave them a little two-game winning streak heading into the Wednesday, Dec. 19, game here against the Milwaukee Bucks.
And, as Randolph noted, it was also good to see Conley again firmly in charge. During the three-game skid, he had just 13 assists with 15 turnovers and went 12-for-32 from the floor.
“Mike is a big component of this,” Randolph said. “He ignites everything.”
For his part, Conley liked the fact the Grizzlies beat the Bulls despite all those things they didn’t do. It looked and felt like a playoff game – not a high-flying, never-forget-it playoff game, but that one game in any seven-game series that is more like hand-to-hand combat with rocks – or, given the shooting, bricks. Thing is, somebody has to win that game.
“Exactly,” Conley said. “That’s why I say this team is built for playoff basketball.”