Shoot to Score: Lee and Grizzlies Find Touch and Go Up 2-0 on Portland

By Don Wade

Plenty of NBA players need to shoot less. But pretty much everyone on the Grizzlies roster is in agreement that guard Courtney Lee needs to shoot more.

And they told Lee so on a night when he would finish with 18 points, hitting on 8-of-11 shots from the floor, 2-of-3 from 3-point range.

Courtney Lee scored 18 points in the Wednesday, April 22, playoff game, hitting on 8-of-11 shots from the floor, 2-of-3 from 3-point range. (Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Sporting alternating ‘Grit’ and ‘Grind’ growl towels, Memphis Grizzlies fans packed FedExForum Wednesday, April 22, to see Game 2 of the Grizz/Trail Blazers Western Conference Finals playoff series. (Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

“He passed up one in front of our bench in the first half,” coach Dave Joerger said after the Grizzlies’ 97-82 victory over Portland Wednesday night at FedExForum. “We said, `This is what you’re here for, baby,’ and he didn’t pass on another shot the rest of the night.”

Said Lee: “The whole team was yelling at me, telling me I gotta take that shot. Even if I miss it, I gotta take that shot.”

Wednesday’s win gives the home team its first-ever 2-0 lead in a playoff series. The Grizzlies had won Game 1, 100-86, and Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol had posted double-doubles and combined for 31 points and 22 rebounds. In Game 2, those numbers came down as the big boys struggled to make shots. Gasol scored 15 points with seven rebounds and Randolph had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

But the Trail Blazers were not about to count on the “Bruise Brothers,” as Tony Allen calls them, continuing to miss. The Grizzlies average about five made 3-pointers a game. There would have been no reason to suspect they would go 8-for-16 in Game 2, or that Vince Carter would make 3-of-5 from behind the arc, except for the fact that in sweeping the regular-season series 4-0 the Grizzlies shot over 50 percent from long distance.

“Tell me about it,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “The last regular season game they made 11 threes against us. I think the thing for us is, if they make some tough ones they make some tough ones. We can’t just dare them to shoot threes.

“(Mike) Conley made a couple behind screens, Courtney Lee got open in the first half in the corner. Vince Carter got open. They’re good shooters. They don’t look for (threes) a lot, but we can’t leave them open either.”

Lee said the Grizzlies ran a couple of plays early to see just how dedicated the Blazers’ defense was going to be to stopping Gasol and “they were sitting in his lap. The big fellas are gonna draw attention,” Lee said. “So you just have to get to your spots.”

Still, what the Grizzlies have done with their outside shooting against Portland does not fit into a convenient, analytic, box.

“I have no explanation for it, honestly,” said Conley, who also scored 18 points in Game 2 and made two of his three 3-point attempts. “We play well when we move the ball and when we play Portland we tend to move the ball because they show so much attention to our big guys. It allows our guards to have some space and as long as we make the extra pass and the extra play, and we get our feet set, we can knock down some shots. And when we do, we’re pretty good.”

Gasol often speaks of the importance of ball movement to the Grizzlies’ offense. Joerger graded it as “good” in this series, but added, “It can get better. We’ve got to continue to get better as teams do different things to you, and they make adjustments throughout the course of the playoffs.”

His phrasing almost sounded like he was thinking ahead to the next round. And if he was, it’s hard to blame him. To this point, the Blazers have offered minimal resistance and the Grizzlies look much more like the team that soared before the All-Star break than the one that sputtered after it.

The Grizzlies’ defense has been locked and loaded in both games, something that had tended to come and go over the season’s last 30 games.

“They took care of their business,” said Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who finished with 24 points and 14 rebounds in Game 2.

“You know what? Hats off to them, honestly,” said backup center Meyers Leonard, who chipped in 10 points and seven rebounds in Game 2. “They played two really good games.”

And the rules being what they are – first team to win four games – the Grizzlies need two more. They may enjoy another night of hot outside shooting, or they may not. But it’s not the point of emphasis and wasn’t even amid the sweet shooting in Game 2.

“We were scoring,” Lee said, “and there were a couple of times where Marc and Mike pulled us in and said, ‘Listen, our bread and butter is on the defensive end. We got to get stops.’ So we just focused on that.”