Memphis did what Golden State couldn’t, a big road win for Portland and the rest of the action Sunday in the NBA.
The Memphis Grizzlies may be behind the Golden State Warriors in the standings, but Sunday night they did what Stephen Curry and company couldn’t by beating the Atlanta Hawks, 94-88. Just two days after Atlanta torched the Warriors’ league-best defense for 124 points in a hyped contest, Memphis found some answers for one of its biggest wins of the year.
The Hawks have been overwhelming opponents over the past couple months with their balance and flow, moving the ball around in a way reminiscent to the San Antonio Spurs. That’s no surprise given Atlanta is coached by Gregg Popovich disciple Mike Budenholzer, but the way the Hawks’ coach has managed to fit the pieces together in his second season goes a long way to explaining the team’s rise to greatness.
However, that brilliance took a backseat Sunday as the Grizzlies delivered their latest defensive masterpiece. This isn’t the most suffocating Memphis team in recent years, but it looked the part with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph clogging the paint, and Tony Allen flying around on the perimeter.
Other than Jeff Teague, who put up 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting and six assists, this wasn’t the usual Hawks offense we’ve seen in recent months. The team shot 41 percent from the field, drew just 11 free throw attempts and grabbed three offensive rebounds.
That last number is particularly notable — it’s the Hawks’ worst night on the offensive boards since Nov. 14 against Miami. When you’re not hitting a ton of shots or getting second chances, it’s hard to score much, and the Grizzlies deserve credit for making things so tough.
Memphis got the win largely based on those efforts defensively and on the boards. The Grizzlies shot 39 percent and hit only three from beyond the arc, but their efforts were boosted by 17 offensive rebounds and just 11 turnovers. Those second chances proved huge considering they were only going one way.
Point guard Mike Conley was especially good, making up for the less-than-perfect defense on Teague by returning the favor with 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting and six assists. Marc Gasol (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Zach Randolph (11 points, 15 rebounds) both added double-doubles, and Kosta Koufos came off the bench for an efficient 10 points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes.
It was a classic Grizzlies victory: slow-paced, low-scoring and defined by the team’s overwhelming size and physicality. The Hawks have been a buzz saw through the league over the past couple months, but Memphis’ tried and true formula came through for the huge win.
The Grizzlies haven’t gotten a ton of hype yet this season, but they’re comfortably second in the Western Conference with a 38-13 record and only trail the Warriors by three games. The same distance separates the team from third-place Houston (35-16), and Dave Joerger deserves praise for how he’s positioned the team. If the Jeff Green trade starts paying off more soon, Memphis could be even more dangerous than it already is.
3 other things we learned
The Raptors can beat good teams. Toronto followed up its blowout win over the Los Angeles Clippers two nights ago by getting another big victory Sunday against the defending champions. The Spurs had no answers on the offensive end, shooting just 33 percent from the field, and got to their 82 points largely off 20 offensive rebounds. Tim Duncan and Marco Belinelli led the team with just 12 points apiece. Toronto, meanwhile, got 20 points from James Johnson and 18 points from DeMar DeRozan. The Raptors are now 13-12 against teams that are .500 or better, and 35-17 overall.
The Blazers get a much-needed road win. Portland has run into some troubles since its 30-8 start, but the team got arguably its biggest win in over a month Sunday by beating the Houston Rockets, 109-98, in Houston. It’s just the Trail Blazers‘ fifth win in 14 games, and their first road win since Jan. 11 against the Los Angeles Lakers. After falling apart in overtime in Dallas on Saturday night, it’s impressive that Portland was able to travel to Houston the next night and put together this kind of effort. James Harden might’ve put together 45 points, nine rebounds and eight assists — all game highs — but the Trail Blazers came away with a win they badly needed.
OKC’s young guys make a big difference. If the Thunder’s 131-108 win over the Clippers on Sunday showed anything, it’s how the team benefits when young guys off the bench are contributing. You can’t expect Mitch McGary and Reggie Jackson to shoot a combined 14-of-15 from the field every night, but OKC reached its season high for points in regulation largely with a balanced effort that resulted in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combining for just 48 points. That was perfectly fine, too, and a stark contrast to the previous two games, when Westbrook alone combined for 94 points. As impressive as those performances are, I’m guessing the team is happier coming away with wins like this one.
Play of the Night
DeMarcus Cousins got a friendly home bounce or two to sink the Suns at the buzzer. The game was yet another brutal close loss for Phoenix as it tries to stave off challengers for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
5 fun things