As the Grizzlies check off the last few days of the NBA’s regular-season calendar, the records continue to pile up.
With four games left, starting with the Friday, April 12, game at Houston, the Grizzlies already have won a franchise-record 53 games, are a franchise-best 28 games over .500 (53-25), have set a new record for wins at FedExForum (31), and clinched their first winning road record in team history.
And yet after the Grizzlies disposed of the hapless Charlotte Bobcats for their 13th straight home victory (another record within a single season), the whole thing felt a bit surreal. Like the Grizzlies are trapped in some strange basketball purgatory, waiting for the real games – the playoffs – to start.
Memphis reserve Jon Leuer scored 11 points – all in the fourth quarter – during the Grizzlies’ 94-75 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on April 9. Memphis appears ready to end the regular season and begin the playoffs.
(Photo: AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
“This game wasn’t about the Charlotte Bobcats and Memphis Grizzlies,” said point guard Mike Conley, who led the way in the 94-75 win with a game-high 20 points and 7 assists. “This was about us preparing for who we’re going to play in the playoffs and us developing good habits. We just gotta understand that going into these last couple of games.”
What seems most clear is that no game is ever easy for the Grizzlies. Not even a 19-point victory over the league’s worst team. Coach Lionel Hollins was searching for some energy in the fourth quarter when the Grizzlies led by 7 with 10:42 to play.
The game changed on an Ed Davis block and Austin Daye’s rebound to start a fastbreak and his pass to little-used forward Jon Leuer, who finished with a reverse layup that awakened the crowd and the team. Quincy Pondexter was also part of the super-sub group that turned the game, plus Conley.
“We weren’t playing with the pizzazz we needed,” Hollins said of his decision to not go back to the other starters.
It worked as the Grizzlies got 11 fourth-quarter points from Leuer, 7 from Daye, 5 from Pondexter and 27 of their 31 points from the bench. Not to mention holding the Bobcats without a point for four minutes – from 11:23 when the lead shrunk to 3 points, to 7:20 when it was 15 points.
“It’s important because we have to have everybody to win games,” said Zach Randolph. “Some nights we might not be going and they have to step in and help us.”
The Grizzlies especially seemed to enjoy Leuer’s success. A second-year player out of Wisconsin with a career scoring average of 1.7 points, his 11 points and 5 rebounds represented season highs.
“When playoff time comes and coach throws you out there, you have to be ready for it,” said veteran Tayshaun Prince. “And if you’re in that situation throughout the season and he puts you in for a few minutes, and if you treat it like it is something else, you’re not gonna be able to help the team out. One thing about Jon, he’s always ready when his number is called.”
As were others.
“Anytime you play well, it builds confidence,” Leuer said. “That group, we had some good chemistry going on out there. If we’re out there again, we can build off what we did.”
Center Marc Gasol agreed, saying the bench “won the game for us.” But, as always, Gasol was equally focused on the situation that created the opportunity for the bench to ride to the rescue: the starters’ poor play.
Looking to the playoffs, Gasol said: “Definitely if we play like we did tonight, as far as the starters, we’re getting our behind kicked.”
Conley wasn’t quite as harsh, but added, “I just think we need to be a little bit better starting off and have a sense of urgency. We understand we do not have that go-to scorer. And we gotta understand if we’re not hitting offensively, we gotta lock down defensively. That’s gonna be our backbone.”
And true enough, the Grizzlies have now held 67 opponents under 100 points, the highest number in the NBA this season and the second-highest number in Grizzlies history.
But then that’s just another record from the regular season, same as the Grizzlies allowing a league-low 89.7 points per game. Good to know, yet won’t mean a thing once the playoffs begin if the Grizzlies don’t live up to their grit-and-grind reputation or the bench can’t restore it on nights when the starters just don’t have it.