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VOL. 131 | NO. 226 | Friday, November 11, 2016
Don Wade

Don Wade

Grizzlies, Fizdale Learning More Than One Way to Win

By Don Wade

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Denver Nuggets guard Emmanuel Mudiay and teammate Gary Harris had trapped the Grizzlies’ Mike Conley as he received an inbounds pass with less than 11 seconds left in the game. Harris stripped the ball from Conley – perhaps fouling him, though there was no foul call – and passed the ball ahead.

Mudiay made a running dunk with 7.9 seconds left and Denver led 107-106. Ballgame? Not quite.

After the teams traded turnovers the Grizzlies had one last chance with 0.7 seconds left. Vince Carter, standing on the base line, lobbed the ball up to 7-foot-1 Marc Gasol in the lane and Gasol made the game-winning basket as time expired: 108-107 Grizzlies; cue a dogpile of players on the FedExForum court.

Afterward in the Nuggets’ locker room Mudiay, who is all of 20 years old, turned philosopher.

“You can think about it tonight,” he said, “but then you’ve got to let it go. That’s why God made different days.”

That, by the way, is a pretty good motto for making it through the 82-game NBA season. Especially after a tough loss in November.

The Grizzlies, of course, were close to desperate for the victory. They had just lost back-to-back home games to the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers. Good teams. Playoff teams. This win got them back to .500 at 4-4 before setting off on a four-game road trip.

The four Memphis victories have come against two very young teams in Denver and Minnesota and two pretty bad teams in Washington and New Orleans.

But if you look a little deeper into the Grizzlies’ win there were reasons for optimism.

First, let’s consider what happened before Carter found Gasol for the winning shot. The Nuggets were setting up their defense and Memphis coach David Fizdale could see they were going to leave forward JaMychal Green alone at the top of the key.

So Fizdale frantically subbed in Chandler Parsons. You know the guy. Signed as a free agent for more than $94 million to hit threes and for situations just like this.

True, Parsons hadn’t made any 3-pointers for the Grizzlies yet. He was, in fact, 0 of 6 on the season. But his reputation still gave Fizdale a card to play.

“I knew they would at least honor him at the 3-point line,” Fizdale said. “Chandler ran into the game with his shoes untied and his kneepads down around his ankles. That was the big distraction I planned all along.”

His presence helped spread the floor. Carter patiently went through his progressions – “a stressful situation,” he admitted later – and the player guarding the inbounds pass jumped a little early and Carter lobbed the ball up to Gasol, who shot over two smaller defenders late to realize Gasol was the target of the play.

And so the Grizzlies won the game, a game in which Conley – the team’s leading scorer so far – finished with just 10 points and missed 11 of 15 shots.

“To still win is a big sign for us,” Fizdale said.

Another reason they won? Carter, at 39 years and 287 days old, became the oldest NBA player to post a 20-point game since Michael Jordan scored 25 for the Wizards at 40 years and 53 days old in 2003.

Also crucial: 58 points were scored in the paint. The Grizzlies entered the game ranked 28th in paint points at 35.4 per game.

“Reminds me a lot of last year,” said forward Jarell Martin.

And many years. Zach Randolph, though playing off the bench now, has been a consistent offensive force down low. Although Fizdale is committed to the idea that the team must play faster and shoot more threes just to be competitive, he is discovering that Gasol and Z-Bo together does not have to be a “disaster,” as he called it in one preseason interview.

In fact, they can still be a potent combo on offense, even if Z-Bo is increasingly vulnerable to pick-and-rolls on defense.

Truthfully, this edition of the Grizzlies will be many things. Some nights, Parsons, Conley and perhaps Carter or someone will else will be hitting from long range. Other nights, they are going to need 50 paint points to have a chance.

“I embrace the challenge,” Fizdale said. “It’s just going to make me a better coach. I have to juggle.”

Day by day, and then letting it go.

Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.

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