Even when the Grizzlies were clawing their way back into the game in the third quarter, Tuesday night’s home game against the L. A. Clippers never felt like a game the Grizz were going to win. Then, with 47.8 seconds left in the third quarter, the game was stopped to evacuate FedExForum after a water main broke, triggering a building alarm. When the game resumed 36 minutes later, with perhaps only a thousand of the announced eleven thousand fans returning, the Clippers had gone flat, and the Grizzlies finished the game with a 27-13 run to win, 104-102.
The Clippers opened the game with a 15-3 run, with point guard Baron Davis dominating the game (27 points, 12 rebounds, 12 assists). Davis scored eight points, pulled down seven rebounds, handed out four assists, and generally shredded the Grizzlies feeble attempts at defense, as the Clips ran out to a 37-26 first quarter lead. Center DeAndre Jordan, starting in place of the injured Chris Kaman, averages only three points per game, but already had 13 after the first quarter, and ended up tying his career high of 23 points. The Clippers seemingly couldn’t miss, and the Grizzlies had no answer for Davis.
Down 13 at halftime, the Grizzlies started showing some fight in the third quarter, pulling within three points at the 5:55 mark on a an alley-oop slam from O. J. Mayo to Rudy Gay. But the Clippers recovered to stretch the lead back to 12 before the delay. Per procedure, both teams spent the hiatus on L. A. team buses, so they could leave the premesis if necessary. When the game resumed, the feel was entirely different. Suddenly, the Grizzlies were energetic, and the Clippers had lost their edge. The Grizz went to what they do best, feeding Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in the post, and letting them operate. The two combined for 15 points and four assists, accounting for 23 of the Grizzlies’ 25 fourth quarter points.
Gasol and Rudy Gay led the Grizzlies with 24 points each, and Gasol pulled down a game-high 15 rebounds. Randolph added 20 points and eight rebounds. O. J. Mayo was a little below his 18 point average with 15 points, but used a lot of energy trying to slow down Baron Davis, after Davis completely torched Mike Conley early in the game. Conley mostly defended Eric Gordon, a much better matchup for him. Gordon scored just over his 17 point average, with 18.
Once again, the bench was essentially helpless offensively: only eight points total, with nobody contributing more than three. The bench remains the primary concern as this team looks to make a playoff push. Any extended absence by any of the starters will force a much weaker offensive player into extended minutes. Fans got their first look at Lester Hudson, claimed off waivers this week after Boston cut him, but he only played three minutes, missing both shots he took. If you count Hudson, the Grizzlies are looking at four rookies (the others: DeMarre Carroll, Sam Young, Hasheem Thabeet) coming off the bench, with only Jamaal Tinsley providing a veteran presence in the regular bench rotation.
Grizzlies brass are trying to find some help for the bench, floating trade possibilities to a number of teams, but the simple fact is the Grizzlies have little to offer unless they are willing to part with a starter, or a team wants draft picks. Many fans don’t understand this, and are critical of management for failing to make a deal. Power forward Darrell Arthur could play his first games of the season next month, returning from a pectoral muscle injury, but Arthur is not known for being an offensive dynamo either.
The Grizzlies inched back above .500 with Tuesday’s win (19-18), and if the starters can stay healthy, must be considered a threat to make the playoffs. Five teams seem safely assured of getting there (Lakers, Suns, Mavericks, Nuggets, & Spurs), with seven to eight teams (Grizzlies, Rockets, Hornets, Blazers, Thunder, Jazz, Clippers, and maybe Kings) fighting for the last three spots.
Game two of a four game home stand tips off Friday night at FedExForum, against the Minnesota Timberwolves. If the Grizz play reasonably well, they should win. Much tougher will be a Saturday night game against the Spurs, and Monday’s MLK Day game against the Suns. Winning one of those two would be a feather in the Grizz’ cap.