The Memphis Grizzlies went behind closed doors Monday night and held a players-only meeting to regain the focus that made them successful last season.
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It appears to have worked.
O.J. Mayo scored 18 points, including a go-ahead 3-pointer with 35 seconds left in overtime, as Memphis rallied from a double-digit deficit Tuesday night and snapped a four-game losing streak with a 100-97 victory over the Denver Nuggets.
"It’s the grit-and-grind, 48-minute effort from the entire team," Mayo said of the change in mentality. "We try to put havoc on the opposing team. Defensively, playing hard, scrappy, owning the paint."
Mayo’s basket, which came after the Grizzlies scrapped for two offensive rebounds to retain possession, gave Memphis a 98-97 lead. Two free throws by Mike Conley with 8 seconds left provided Memphis the final margin. Rudy Fernandez’s potential tying 3-point attempt in the closing seconds for Denver bounced off the rim, sending the Nuggets to their second straight loss.
The sequence leading up to Mayo’s basket was part of the scrap and hustle that was missing during the Grizzlies’ skid. Memphis lost to the San Antonio Spurs 83-73 on Monday night. The lackadaisical performance led to a postgame meeting among the players – something the players said contributed to Memphis overcoming a 12-point deficit with 9 minutes left in regulation against the Nuggets.
"I think what was said in the meeting came into play," Conley said. "The fact we were able to confront ourselves as a team, and person to person, allowed us to look at the game like, `Hey, it’s only 12 points. We can come back.’
"We can’t give up. We’ve got to keep pushing forward and keep giving the effort. Win or lose as long as we give the effort, we’ll be fine. That’s the kind of attitude we have."
Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol both overcame poor shooting nights to lead Memphis with 20 points apiece, each also grabbing 13 boards as the Grizzlies outrebounded the Nuggets 48-42. Tony Allen had 17 points and four blocks, and his defensive pressure in the second half keyed a Grizzlies rally. Conley finished with 11 points.
Al Harrington led Denver with 23 points, 21 after halftime, and 10 rebounds. Andre Miller had 20 points on 8 of 13 from the field. Nene scored 14 points and Ty Lawson had 12 points.
Danilo Gallinari, Denver’s leading scorer with a 17.9 average, ended the night going 1 of 10 from the field, scoring only eight points.
The teams were tied at 91 at the end of regulation after Miller’s 18-footer rimmed out as the horn sounded.
"In overtime, they outhustled us on many misses with the lead and made a big 3," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "We made them take two or three shots before they got it, but we ran out of gas."
Memphis trailed by as many as 13 in the game, and still was down 10 with just over 6 minutes left in regulation.
The Grizzlies then scored 10 of the game’s next 11 points to pull close. But Memphis never overtook Denver, tying it twice late in the fourth quarter. Allen’s dunk with 5 seconds left tied the score at 91, setting up overtime.
Memphis ended the night shooting 38 percent, but overcame that by causing 25 Denver turnovers. Among the Grizzlies rebounding stats were 17 offensive boards, including the two key ones before Mayo’s basket.
"We were just one rebound short of getting out of here with a win," Harrington said.
Added Karl: "I thought we lost the game because of second shots, missed free throws and turnovers."
Memphis’ poor shooting resulted in only four points off 14 Denver turnovers in the first half. That was because the Grizzlies were hitting at a 28 percent clip, including another inaccurate shooting half for Memphis’ leading scorers Gay and Gasol. Gay was 2 of 8 in the half, while Gasol was 2 of 6.
The result was the Nuggets holding a 13-point lead in the half and carrying a 49-37 advantage to the locker room.
"We were executing in the first half. We just couldn’t make any shots," Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. "The thing I thought kept us in the game was offensive rebounds. I’ve been saying that there are nights that you won’t shoot very well, but you still have to rebound and give yourself more possessions, and we did that."
Memphis used a 12-4 rally to whittle the Nuggets’ lead opening the second half, but Harrington kept scoring to hold off Memphis.
Memphis pulled within one at 84-83 as Allen scored two straight baskets inside. Mayo’s 8-foot floater finally pulled the Grizzlies even at 89 with 33.6 seconds left in regulation.
Harrington’s offensive rebound and stick-back gave Denver the lead at 91-89, but Allen answered with a dunk to tie it at 91 with 5 seconds remaining.
Miller’s runner at the horn spun out, sending the game to overtime.
The overtime win, overcoming a poor shooting night and scrambling to keep a possession alive for Mayo’s go-ahead bucket had players around the locker room reciting the Grizzlies’ grit-grind motto.
"Sometimes, you are going to play your heart out and have 100 percent effort and maybe still lose the game," Mayo said. "That’s very capable in this league. But you can leave the gym saying: `I gave it all I got.’"
Notes: Gay had two steals, tying him with Shane Battier as the franchise leader with 523. … The Nuggets entered with identical 7-3 records on the road and at home. … The Nuggets had won 13 of the last 15 in the series before Tuesday’s loss. … Grizzlies F Sam Young did not play because of back spasms. … Memphis was playing its first overtime game of the season, while Denver had won its two previous overtime games. … The Nuggets’ 25 turnovers were two short of the most in the league this season. Denver had 27 against Sacramento on Jan. 4. … Denver guard Ty Lawson was playing his first game after missing two with a right ankle sprain.