Conley leads Grizzlies past Hawks
MEMPHIS — The beat-up Memphis Grizzlies got the best of beat-up Atlanta Sunday, 108-101. Hawks guard Kyle Korver hit only one 3-pointer, all he needed to extend his NBA-record streak to 107 straight games with a long ball. It was Memphis point guard Mike Conley stealing the show with 21 points, 13 assists, four steals and three rebounds. Atlanta was riding a three-game win streak and had won 12 of 14 against Memphis and 4 of its last five here. Here are three observations from Memphis’ first back-to-back win since Dec. 23.
Memphis won’t look like Memphis until the return of center Marc Gasol, but even before the reigning Defensive Player of the Year went down, the Grizzlies were struggling under new coach Dave Joerger.
Sunday, they looked to be finding some rhythm, a tune that begins with Conley. Coming off a career-high 31 points against the Suns, he accounted for 23 of Memphis’ first 25 points in the fourth quarter, a quarter Atlanta carried a 16-0 run into and led by three on two occasions. He had eight points and six assists in the period.
"What can you say about him? He’s got to be Western Conference Player of the Week, or Month or something," Joerger said.
Conley had a hand in every make until Mike Miller’s assist to Courtney Lee with 31 seconds left. Lee took it another step.
"I think he should be an All-Star," Lee said.
Memphis had 13 steals for 25 points, flipping the script on Atlanta. The Hawks had held four straight teams under 91 points, Houston to a season-low 80 Friday, and had forced 38 turnovers during a two-game win streak.
Atlanta (20-18) had 15 turnovers to Memphis’ 11. Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph scored 18 points — one of six Grizzlies in double figures — and had 12 rebounds,
Both teams are hurting. For Atlanta, already without Al Horford for the season, there was no John Jenkins, out with nerve pain in his lower back, or center Pero Antic (back spasms).
Mike Scott was again a spark, 15 points off that productive bench.
"We just have to get better," said Hawks forward DeMarre Caroll. "We can’t keep letting Mike Scott come in and say it, but that’s what our bench is for. But as starters, we have to look at ourselves in the mirror and get better."
There is plenty of work to do for both — each allowed 60 points in the second half.
Paul Millsap scored 21 points and had six rebounds, six assists and three steals. Jeff Teague had 20 and Carroll 15, including a pair of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter that tied the game, then gave the Hawks an 80-77 lead.
Atlanta hit only 9-of-27 from behind the arc and led for only 2 minutes, 58 second total. The Hawks entered the game with a .500 mark against the Western Conference and fell to 6-12 on the road, but did have 25 assists — entering the night leading the league with 25.4 per game.
There is still no timetable for the return of Gasol, out for the 23rd straight time. Gasol is doing some conditioning, but still missing from a Grade 2 MCL sprain. Tony Allen is out for at least another week with ligament damage in his hand. He missed his fourth straight.
Memphis had a 12-2 run in the third quarter, but a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Shelvin Mack to close the third quarter cut the lead to five. Memphis, unlike it hasn’t been able to do, overcame it.
Consecutive wins come at a great time, with Oklahoma City coming to FedExForum Tuesday.
Mike Miller says the Grizzlies, who improved to 17-19, are starting to figure out the new offense.
"We’re grabbing ahold of it," Miller said. "Anytime you put something new in and you’ve got new personnel and a new system, it’s going to take time. We’re starting to play a better brand of basketball. Once Marc gets back, I think you’ll even see it improve, obviously."
Memphis has scored 100 or more in five straight games, the first such streak in nearly three years. Until this stretch, the Grizzlies had not recorded back-to-back 100-point games this season.
Memphis has had its share of bad quarters, with and without Gasol. But the Grizzlies are showing signs of one of the "little things" players continue to reference as a reason for the team’s struggles.
One of many of those things was a full, 48-minute game. That bad quarter didn’t rear its head Sunday, as Memphis had a good streak in the third, then overcame Atlanta’s punches in the fourth.
A lot of that had to do with an ever-changing roster. Lee, acquired from Boston for Jerryd Bayless last week, and James Johnson, called up from the D-League, are making good grades early.
Lee’s 3-pointer regained Memphis an 84-82 lead. Then Miller, who returned to Memphis in the offseason, hit one of his three 3s to break an 84-all tie, starting an 18-8 run. He had 15 points.
"For a new guy, it shows that Coach has faith in me and has that trust in me to be out there at the end of the game, in crucial moments," Lee said.
Lee has been in Memphis less than a week and started Sunday, finishing with 15 points in 32 minutes, more than he played all season off the bench in Boston. He had a blocked shot that got the crowd of 16,841 riled — a crowd that has grown used to not being here with 4:16 left.
Johnson, cut by Atlanta in training camp, played 26 minutes and scored seven points. He is averaging 6.8 and nearly four rebounds per game in 13 games. He had four points and all four rebounds in the fourth quarter.
Johnson said Joerger is rough on him.
"He’s yelling at me always out there," Johnson said, then smiled. "But he knows I can handle that and I can respond well to what he’s saying."