Bench steps up again as Grizzlies end Pelicans hex
NEW ORLEANS — Anthony Davis went all Anthony Davis on the Grizzlies — again. But Memphis found a way, unlike the first three times the two played. That way was point guard Mike Conley, whose floater was the game-winner in a 90-88 road win.
Here are three observations from a fourth-straight win that keeps the Grizzlies (38-26) in playoff pace, albeit hanging by slim string.
1. The matchups get questioned, but they’re working, thanks to the bench
Lionel Hollins couldn’t hold a press conference without an array of matchup questions. Dave Joerger has been known to address matchups in his opening statements, maybe just to get it out of the way. Joerger is playing more than he said a couple of weeks ago he’d like to play, but with good reason, the way Memphis’ bench is playing.
"We’re getting good performances from our second unit," Joerger said. "Nick Calathes is playing well. Kosta (Koufos) is playing well. It was good to see Courtney Lee get going (Tuesday). When the ball goes in, it makes everything a lot easier."
Entering the game, Memphis’ post All-Star break .578 bench field goal percentage was first in the NBA. With a 13-for-25 showing Wednesday, the bench has shot 50-plus percent in 12 straight games. Elias says the last NBA bench to do that was the 1985-86 Celtics. That’s also the longest streak in franchise history.
"We’ve got a little rhythm together," said Calathes, who came off the bench for six points and seven assists. "We’re starting to play with each other a lot. We’re very unselfish. I think we get a lot of points off fast breaks. I think the biggest thing is the defense. If we get stops on defense, we’ve got a lot of guys on the second unit that can run."
Calathes has 31 assists and three turnovers in his last six games.
2. Pesky Pelicans just nearly made it a complete sweep
Memphis’ playoff outlook is changing by the day — right now flip-flopping back-and-forth with Dallas at seven and eight, with Phoenix breathing down its neck. What hasn’t changed is Memphis’s problem with the low-flying Pelicans, particularly Davis.
The 26-38 Pelicans were 3-0 against the Grizzlies until Conley’s make with 1.5 seconds left salvaged a split at Smoothie King.
"It was very sweet," Conley said of his second-career game-winner with less than two seconds left. "These are the games that you don’t want to look back on and say, ‘Well, what if we did this, or did that?’"
Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday and Jason Smith were all out and the Grizzlies trailed 74-67 after three. It was a seven-point game with 3:22 to play.
Davis got his, then some. He scored 29 points, had 10 rebounds and four blocks. He hit 11 of 11 at the line. New Orleans hit all 22 of its free throws.
"Anthony Davis, I think, is going to be one of the best players in the NBA for the next 10 years; he is really, really good," Joerger said. "Those guys have been out. Brian Roberts has played really well against us. They’ve got a lot of guys that can play."
Joerger was assessed a technical during a timeout after Davis drew a foul. The technical was announced to David Joerger, like he was in trouble with his mom. Austin Rivers had the Pelicans up 10 with 1:22 left. Rivers had 14 off the bench.
Memphis’ series against the Pelicans has been as ugly as Pierre.
3. Bumpy road is potential playoff prep
As cliche as it is, every game has been a playoff game for Memphis, which is fighting for its playoff life.
The ways to win those games have been varied, from various sources. In Chicago, Mike Miller was 4-for-5 from deep. Against the Trail Blazers at FedExForum Tuesday, five players finished in double figures and the defense proved stingy, holding the league’s second-highest scoring team more than eight points below its average.
It has been a balanced effort. At 60 percent shooting in the first quarter Wednesday, the Grizzlies had gone eight straight quarters of shooting at least 50 percent.
Pelicans guard Anthony Morrow said it was Memphis’ defense that did the trick, speeding up what he said needs to be a patient Pelicans offense.
"They are a very good defensive team," Morrow said. "They put their hands on us and they kind of sped us up."
James Johnson and Conley had key steals in the final three minutes. All Conley’s 14 points came in the second half. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph nearly evenly split 29 points (Gasol had 15) and 18 rebounds (9 each).
Randolph was Randolph, on the court and in the locker room, with this true, but strange exchange.
"I got a piece of it. It was a pretty win," he said.