MEMPHIS — Memphis split back-to-back nights against the best of the Eastern Conference, losing by five at Miami on Friday, then dominating the East’s top team Indiana, 82-71 on Saturday back at the Grindhouse. By the end of the third quarter, Paul George had six of Indiana’s 49 points and everyone in Section 106 had the same amount of rebounds as Roy Hibbert.
1. West’s top defense bests NBA’s top D.
Indiana allows the fewest points per game in the NBA with 92. Memphis only scored 82. The Grizzlies’ defense, though, dominated the Pacers, who shot only 36.5 percent and scored a season-low 71.
Indiana had 49 points after the third quarter and couldn’t cut into a double-digit lead that peaked at on Tony Allen’s opening bucket of the fourth quarter. The lead went to double figures with 2:45 left in the first half and never dipped below 11 after that.
It was a forgettable night for Paul George. The Indiana forward scored eight points and went only 2 of 10 from the field.
"Tayshaun (Prince) did a great job on, on um, uh, who’s their best player?" asked Memphis coach Dave Joerger. "Yeah, Paul George. He’s really good, too, by the way. I love him."
The jovial moment came as Joerger was complimenting his team’s individual efforts.
Indiana found nothing funny.
The Pacers (51-19) made only 27 of 74 shots, the fewest allowed by Memphis all season. The Pacers’ 30 first-half points are the fewest allowed in a half by Memphis this season. Indiana had been 26-1 when holding opponents to less than 90 points.
After the loss, Hibbert still didn’t know how many points his team scored. He only scored four of them.
"We just didn’t get it done," said Hibbert. "I’m not sure how many points we scored, but we didn’t play at a high level. I didn’t play at a high level."
Despite the impressive win, there’s still plenty of room for improvement for Memphis.
"Four turnovers, one steal," Tony Allen said as he looked over the stat sheet. "That ain’t good, bro."
On the record, he agreed with Joerger.
"We were in attack mode most of the night on offense and defense," Joerger said. "That is as complete a win as we’ve had all season. I think that is the best performance we’ve had all season from start to finish of 48 minutes. That’s a huge resiliency test of coming off a game (Friday) where we felt like we had a good chance to win."
2. East of the Mississippi, Grizzlies hanging by a thread in the West.
Geographically not that much farther west than Indiana, the Grizzlies’ playoff outlook would look much better if they were in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. With 41 wins, they would have a firm grip on home court.
In the East, Indiana and Miami have won 51 and 47 games, respectively. Both have clinched playoff spots. On back-to-back nights, the Grizzlies split with the Heat and Pacers.
A regular back-to-back in the Western conference with trips to Los Angeles and Portland, then Dallas and Houston, are the norm.
"We need wins," Joerger said. "It doesn’t really matter who we play and where we play. But these are two really, really good teams. For us to end up 0-2 in the weekend would have hurt a little bit."
Memphis would probably enjoy a random back-to-back to Philadelphia and Milwaukee. Atop the Western Conference standings, San Antonio sports the best record in the league. The Pacers fell to 7-8 on the road against the West.
Memphis improved to 41-28 and has won nine straight home games. Memphis hosts Minnesota on Monday, and while FedExForum hosts media darling Dayton and the NCAA’s Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds Thursday and Saturday, the Grizzlies go to Utah, Golden State, Portland, Denver and Minnesota. Miami comes to Memphis on April 9.
3. It was Memphis’ night when Zach Randolph won a jump ball AND dunked.
That’s generally not what Z-Bo does, but he did it Saturday.. Memphis’ win came behind a full effort.
Marc Gasol, who was questionable after rolling his ankle in Miami, scored 10 points and had nine rebounds. He played a game-high 39 minutes. Mike Conley had a game-high 21 points. Randolph had the 399th double-double of his career with 18 points and 13 boards.
"I think everybody was on a string tonight," Conley said. "The bigs were helping the guards. The guards were helping the bigs.
Memphis had its way down low, winning 46-24 in the paint. That’s 11 more points than the Pacers allow on average. Memphis’ 18 fast-break points were seven more than the Pacers usually allow.
The Grizzlies won the rebounding battle 47-35. Only eight of the Pacers’ boards came on the offensive end, despite missing 47 shots.
The lead held so steady that much of the media remained unfearful anything would happen while they missed the first five minutes of the second half to watch the end of the Dayton-Syracuse thriller.
Memphis is one game ahead of Phoenix for the final playoff spot. That will give Grizzlies fans heart problems. Gasol is willing to hand over the rest of the pills he didn’t take trying to get his sprain ready for the game.
"I took quite a few pills," he said, then laughed. "I couldn’t really feel my hands or my face. It was a unique feeling. I don’t want to feel like that again. But it definitely helped the purpose."