Here are three observations from Memphis’ 92-90 win over the Spurs on Monday.
1. Mike Conley isn’t the league’s flashiest point guard, and definitely not the loudest, but his growth is obvious and he is turning into a go-to guy in the clutch.
Memphis is obviously all about bigs Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, but Conley has developed into quite the floor leader — and scorer. He came into the game with a steal in 64 straight games and while he didn’t get a steal, he did get a game-winning shot. Memphis came from 11 down and won on his driving layup with less than a second left on the clock as Conley finished with 23 points.
San Antonio point guard Tony Parker scored a game-high 25 and is a believer in Conley, who is behind only Chris Paul for the league lead in steals.
“Mike is improving every year. He’s definitely in the top 10, very good defensively, one of the best in steals and offensively he’s always trying to get everybody involved,” Parker said. “You’ve got great guys inside with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph and at the same time he’s aggressive.”
Conley is averaging nearly 20 points in his last 10 games but he isn’t the only unexpected offensive source in Memphis. Jerryd Bayless continued his recent hot streak with 17 points off the bench. He is averaging nearly 17 per game in his last 10. Memphis is 20-3 when Conley scores 20 or more. 2. Memphis struggled against a Spurs team without three of its stars.
San Antonio played without Tim Duncan (knee), Manu Ginobili (hamstring) and Kawhi Leonard (knee). Still, the Grizzlies had trouble in the paint. They finished with 44 points there but had only 14 at the half.
Parker made his presence felt — as he usually does against Memphis — and had 12 points in the first half. The Grizzlies trailed by 11 in the third quarter before making their run, which started when Tayshaun Prince intercepted a pass and got it to Randolph for a jumper. Prince stole another pass later and his slam cut the lead to three.
Still down three in the final minute, the Grizzlies tied it on Conley’s 3-pointer, then won it with his layup. Memphis avoided overtime when Parker couldn’t get a shot off at the buzzer.
Prince and Randolph had 11 each, with Randolph adding 10 boards for his 42nd double-double.
It’s the first time San Antonio has lost back-to-back games, with the other coming to short-handed Miami at home Sunday.
3. Memphis ties its franchise record for wins and has its playoff ticket punched but the Grizzlies would like to have home court. Why? Memphis just isn’t Memphis away from FedExForum.
Now you know why Memphis (50-24) wants home-court advantage. Everybody wants home court for the playoffs, but Memphis’ list of wins inside FedExForum is impressive. The Grizzlies have won 12 straight at home, second-best mark in franchise history and are 30-8 here overall.
The Grizzlies have beaten San Antonio here twice this season to split the season series. The Grizzlies also have home wins over the Heat, Thunder, Bulls and Nuggets. The place was loud when Memphis needed it the most Monday, including on lead defender Tony Allen’s highlight block.
The West is crowded and the seeds are changing every night. Time is running out to clear the masses. With eight games to go (and tie-breaks against it) Memphis tied Denver for third place. The Los Angeles Clippers were still playing — home against Indiana — when Memphis cleared the locker room. L.A. was a game out of third place and visits the Grizzlies for what looms as a huge game on April 13.
“I think it shows the franchise is back where it was a few years ago when you get to 50 wins,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “We have loftier goals. Winning 50 is nice, but there is a lot more.”