Grizzlies getting defensive groove back, blast Nuggets for fifth straight
The Memphis Grizzlies are winning by bigger margins lately because they have returned to locking down on defense.
"I just think we’ve got our rhythm back, and we’re going back to our true identity, which is on the defensive end," guard Courtney Lee said after Memphis’ 99-69 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night.
"We’re playing through our bigs, and they are making the right reads."
Zach Randolph, one of those bigs, had 15 points and 17 rebounds. Jeff Green finished with 13 points as Memphis built an early lead and won its fifth straight, holding the Nuggets to 11 points in the first quarter and never getting threatened the rest of the way.
Lee, Nick Calathes and Beno Udrih, starting in place of the injured Mike Conley, scored 11 apiece, while Marc Gasol had 10 points.
Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried each scored 10 points for Denver, which lost for the eighth time in the last nine.
"I didn’t feel like we came and competed from the very beginning of the game," Denver coach Brian Shaw said. "In these kinds of situations, I’d have more respect if guys just told me that they didn’t feel like playing from the start. I’m just sick and tired."
With Memphis comfortably ahead at the end of the third quarter, both teams relied on their reserves to finish out the fourth.
The game was a bit of a revenge for Memphis, which lost at Denver 114-85 on Jan. 3. Although the players didn’t acknowledge the loss before the game, they were less bashful afterwards.
"It was big for us to come out here and get some redemption against a team that kind of smacked us in the face in Denver," guard Tony Allen said.
The Nuggets managed to shoot only 33 percent for the night and were 2 of 26 from outside the arc — less than 8 percent.
"Defensively, I thought we have taken another notch, and that is our strength," Gasol said, later adding: "That’s always been our strength, and that’s always going to be our strength."
After leading by as many as 19, Memphis held a 50-35 advantage at the break.
Nothing Denver did in the third made any difference as Memphis continued to pour it on behind Randolph, who controlled the boards with eight rebounds in the frame.
Memphis continued to stretch the lead in the period, eventually reaching 27 before the Grizzlies took a 74-49 lead into the final period.
The fourth-quarter lead swelled to 33 points.
"There are days like that," Denver forward Darrell Arthur said. "Unfortunately, that day was today."
Nuggets: The Nuggets’ 11 first-quarter points matched a season low in a quarter for a Memphis opponent. . Denver, which had a season-low eight turnovers in Tuesday’s victory over New Orleans, had 17 against Memphis.
Grizzlies: Gasol celebrated his 30th birthday Thursday. . Conley did not dress, missing his second game with a sprained left wrist. Allen, who missed the two previous games with left ankle sprain, returned. . Green missed a free throw in the first quarter, ending a streak of 45 straight makes dating to his days in Boston before the Jan. 12 trade. . Reserve G/F Vince Carter left the game in the second quarter with a left foot injury and did not return. The injury will be re-evaluated Friday.
JaVale McGee, who missed 23 games due to a lower left leg strain, played in only the second game since Nov. 23. He finished with two points and five rebounds. "It was cool," he said. "It felt fine. Just trying to get back in tip-top shape."
Nuggets: Host Charlotte on Saturday.
Grizzlies: Host Oklahoma City on Saturday.