Grizzlies have learned to love crunch time

Once upon a time, just before and after Lionel Hollins became the Grizzlies’ coach on Jan. 25, 2009, the Grizzlies were a bunch of young cubs stumbling around, accidentally winning every once in awhile.

But it was rare that they ever won a close game. They were almost always doomed in the closing minutes, being bullied into bad shots and getting overpowered by more experienced teams that knew how to make game-winning plays at crunch time.

Yet time after time this season for the Grizzlies (22-15), the tougher and tighter the game, the better they play. Saturday night in the FedEx Forum was a prime example of that, as Memphis scored 17 straight points and closed out the Pistons with a 24-5 run for a 100-83 victory.

In the final 8:10, the Grizzlies hit four 3-pointers, limited Detroit to two field goals and caused six turnovers, including two shot-clock violations.

“We enjoy the grinding part of the game now,” Griz guard O.J. Mayo said. “We enjoy having to get stops and having to execute well on offense. It wasn’t so long ago we weren’t good at those things. But now, we love those opportunities. A lot of us have been together three or four years now. We know each other like the backs of our hands.”

The heart and soul of the team — Mayo, Mike Conley, Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol — are in their fourth season playing together. All except Gasol have been involved in trade rumors during their careers, and Hollins is glad that he has been able to keep the group intact.

“I think maturity and the will to win is why we now have such good late-game focus,” Hollins said. “They’ve been together. They’ve had that taste of winning. Once you get that, you have the belief that when you play together you can get certain things done.”

Memphis does not play again until Wednesday at Golden State.


-The Grizzlies had seven players score in double figures, which left guard Mike Conley beaming.

“I did my job,” Conley said. “I thought this would be a game in which everybody had to get involved for us to win, and that’s all I cared about. I took what they gave me. They played us hard outside on the pick and rolls, and other guys were open to make shots.”

-For the first time this season, aside for the recent All-Star break, the Grizzlies have a chance to catch their breath. Between now and next weekend, they have just one game, on Wednesday at Golden State.

Griz coach Lionel Hollins is even giving his team Sunday off, a rarity in this lockout-shortened season.

“We’re going to try and get some rest,” Hollins said. “Once we rest, the schedule tightens back in terms of the number of games and days. Having practice time is huge for our new guys. Their defensive understanding is getting better. Their offensive understanding is better. Before, we were playing while pointing out where some of our people were supposed to be. Now, we’re just in the groove and playing.”

-The All-Star break didn’t kill any of the Grizzlies’ momentum. They’ve won four straight games and are 3-0 after the break. They’ve won 10 of their last 12 games. The last time the Griz were 10-2 over a 12-game stretch was Nov. 12 to Dec. 6, 2005. Also, the Grizzlies are 11-0 this season when scoring 100 or more points and are 5-0 against Eastern Conference teams.


“That was some of the best defense I’ve seen us play in long time.” — Griz guard Mike Conley on Memphis’ defense in its game-closing 24-5 run.