A day earlier, the Grizzlies had talked a like a team that had misplaced its identity. The coach spoke of the team losing its “swagger.” The players spoke of still having everything in front of them – “we control own destiny” was mentioned more than once – and yet the prevailing feeling was one of doubt.
The two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat were coming to town and though the Grizzlies have played the Heat tough at FedExForum, the Grizzlies were just 5-5 in their previous 10 games and looking a lot like a team that was willing to step aside and just let the spunky Phoenix Suns claim the last Western Conference playoff spot.
Fortunately, that team was nowhere to be seen on Wednesday, April 9, at The Grindhouse – and yes, it was again The Grindhouse.
Part of Grizzlies guard Tony Allen’s strong night saw him chasing LeBron James around the floor. The win, in a playoff-like atmosphere, served as a return to normal of sorts for the Grizz.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
In front of a raucous and sold-out crowd, the Grizzlies overcame. They overcame 37 points from LeBron “King” James and who knows how many fans in the stands wearing his No. 6 jersey. They overcame torrid 3-point shooting as Miami finished the game 15-for-25 (60 percent) from 3-point range.
“We have been talking about it for a couple of days,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said after the Grizzlies won 107-102. “It’s a big game. A national TV game. We needed to have a heck of a game, and I thought we had a heck of a game.”
It was a game played at the intersection of motivation and desperation, given that the Heat are chasing the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and the Grizzlies are, well, playing for their lives.
“Obviously, we needed it more than they did,” guard Tony Allen said.
And that’s how the Grizzlies played. The Miami Heat might be known for their Big Three – James, guard Dwyane Wade (who was out with a hamstring injury) and center Chris Bosh – but the Grizzlies’ Big Three stole the spotlight.
Point guard Mike Conley scored a team-high 26 points with six assists, forward Zach Randolph notched his 45th double-double of the season (25 points and 11 rebounds) and center Marc Gasol scored 20 points with a season-high 14 rebounds.
The Grizzlies flexed their muscle down low, getting 41 rebounds to 27 for the Heat and outscoring Miami 60-30 in the paint.
“They have an amazing chemistry,” Bosh said of Gasol and Randolph. “They play off each other very well. They are big. They are strong and experienced. They just have a lot going for them.”
The Grizzlies also made the most of 15 Heat turnovers, microwaving them into 29 points. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra called them “pick-sixes.”
But beyond all the numbers – the victory moved Memphis to 46-32 – it was a night for lifting spirits. The Philadelphia 76ers come in on Friday, April 11, and then the Grizzlies have road games with the Lakers and Suns and a season-ending home game against Dallas.
Hope again has a pulse.
“This was huge,” Conley said. “We knew if we could beat a team like Miami, we could show that we’ve got the hunger for that playoff spot. This can do wonders for us.”
Said Randolph: “We’re playing for something. This is momentum for us.”
No question, this game had all kinds of built-in motivation: the Heat, national TV and the circumstances, which included the Grizzlies extending their home winning streak to 12 games.
All of which makes one wary about the 76ers here and playing the Lakers on the road.
“They don’t have a chance to get in the playoffs,” forward James Johnson said, “but they want to ruin the chances of other (teams).”
The Grizzlies, unfortunately, have done a pretty good job of sabotaging themselves this season. Conley believes the victory over Miami has ended that.
“When you play a game like that, it’s like a playoff atmosphere,” he said. “You don’t come down in two days.”