Grizzlies hold off Hawks in typical 'grind-it-out' fashion
FEB 08, 2014 10:38p ET
1. Memphis slowed Atlanta to a Grizzlies-friendly pace
In his postgame talk with the media, Memphis coach Dave Joerger gave a reporters a little glimpse into his team's psyche at halftime of a game it trailed by just six points. For a team without its starting backourt, going against an efficient group like the Atlanta Hawks, that may seem like an acceptable margin on the road. The players, apparently, weren't so sure.
"I think (the players) thought when we came in at halftime I was going to get all over them (about our defensive effort)," the first-year head coach said. "But we had a close game in which we were playing much better defense after the first seven minutes of the game. ... I thought we really clamped down."
There was a reason Joerger didn't jump down his team's collective throat: it had swung the pace of the game. After a flurry of action and 56 points in the first quarter, the second-quarter scoring split read 14-10. The Grizzlies lost that battle, but they won the war, 79-76. Memphis, the 12th-most efficient defensive team in the NBA (allowing 102.6 points per 100 possessions), slowed the game down and wound up holding the Hawks to a season low on the scoreboard.
"It's a credit to Memphis. They want to play a slow-down game. And against teams like Memphis and Indiana, you have to value possessions," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "Every night, we value the ball, we value possessions, and 21 turnovers becomes difficult to overcome when the game becomes even slower and you lose out on possessions."
Added All-Star forward Paul Millsap: "We're a better offensive team than that ... we just didn't execute down the stretch."
That lack of execution still led to a last-second attempt to tie the game and send it to overtime, where things got a bit odd for the Hawks. Budenzoler did not call an immediate timeout with 15 seconds remaining down three points, wanting his offense to "probe" for a quick score first. He wasn't against a quick two-point basket at the time, either. But when things fell apart and the quick-strike attempt did not play out, the Hawks coach rushed to midcourt to call a timeout with four seconds remaining.
The game ended on a Lou Williams 3-pointer right after that -- the official never granted Atlanta the timeout, presumably because he could not hear Budenholzer.
"I was as loud as humanly possible, but the ref chose to ignore me," Budenholzer said. "It was frustrating. I guess it's loud in there, but that's what unfolded on the court. I wanted an early probe. I wanted a late timeout. I wasn't granted the timeout."
2. The Grizzlies attempted one free throw and made history
Before Saturday night's game, an NBA team had never attempted just one free throw and walked away with a win.
Memphis became the first.
It's an absurd "accomplishment." At any point during a 48-minute span, a shooting foul could have occurred and ruined the strange record, just as shooting fouls have for decades; throw a group of high school players onto an NBA court and the probabilities of somebody getting fouled and heading to the line for two shots are still overwhelmingly high. And yet, it happened on Saturday, putting the Grizzlies in a weird record book -- if one exists -- and making guard Courtney Lee (the lonely free throw shooter) an answer to some seriously in-depth sports trivia.
When it's broken down, though, it's a credit to the Hawks' defense. Considering that one of the four factors of winning in basketball, per basketball stats guru Dean Oliver, comes down to free throw rate, a team kept off the line almost entirely has little business winning an NBA game -- though if the game is held in the 70s then surely the chances increase.
At least journeyman guard Courtney Lee made it.
"We really competed on the defensive end of the court. I think defensive rebounding is always an emphasis against this team. Eleven (offensive rebounds) -- you can look at 11 and say, 'That's a lot.' But I think that with the shooting percentages where they were and they way we competed on that end -- they had one free throw tonight," Budenholzer said. "So I think we're doing our work early, we're beating people to spots, we're showing our hands. To hold a team to 79 points is a good thing in this league."
When asked if he'd ever played in a game where his team was held to one free throw, veteran forward Zach Randolph's response was simple:
3. Two rookie coaches finding success, two very different circumstances
There was little drama in Joerger winning the Western Conference Coach of the Month in January, as the Grizzlies posted a 12-3 record, tying a franchise record for January wins, and held opponents to just 91.5 points per game. Even as the Grizzlies battle their way back into playoff contention (9th place in the West), Joerger is working without a few of his top players, and still making it work -- as the pregame media guide somewhat oddly pointed out, complete with a Game of Thrones-related subhead: Memphis owns the best record in the league since the first day of winter (Dec. 21).
The only two Grizzlies starters to avoid missing 10 or more games this season are point guard Mike Conley and forward Zach Randolph, and Conley sat out on Saturday night. Notably, Tony Allen, the team's top perimeter defender, also missed the Hawks game.
With rookie Nick Calathes running point, Joerger & Co. made it work. Randolph and center Marc Gasol anchored the interior as usual. Lee added to his best season yet by logging 14 points and three steals. Sharpshooter Mike Miller came off the bench to knock down a few key shots (eight points). It was a group effort, especially in the backcourt.
Budenholzer knows the feeling, though. There's little pity to be found in Atlanta.
The Hawks hold a favorable spot in the Eastern Conference despite the absence of forward/center Al Horford, arguably the team's top player who suffered season-ending pectoral injury and last played on Dec. 26 -- not to mention contributors Pero Antic, John Jenkins and Lou Williams missing stretches of games at some point (Jenkins is out for the year). And though it wasn't obvious during their second half struggles against Memphis, Atlanta has played similarly well, getting it done on the defensive end and garnering Budenholzer his own mentions in a Coach of the Month race or two.
The difference in the two teams, in terms of the wide gap in the standings, is of course the wide gap in the competition level: At 27-24, the Grizzlies are fighting for the final playoff spot in the West; at 25-24, Atlanta is still sitting pretty with a top-four seed in the East.
That's the East for you.
The West won on Saturday night, though.