Going inside the Grizzlies’ 102-91 win over the Suns on Wednesday night in Phoenix.
Through the first four games, Memphis’ trademark defense got progressively more dominant. They held the Timberwolves (45.3 percent) and Pacers (45.9) in check, but turned it up against the Hornets (36.1) and Pelicans (33.7). But the Grizzlies had yet to face an offense like the Suns, which came in eighth in the league, scoring 104 points per game. They set the pace early on, scoring 52 first-half points (just 17 more than Memphis allowed Charlotte in four quarters), shooting 56 percent from the field. Point guard Eric Bledsoe and power forward Markieff Morris were doing the brunt of that damage, combining to shoot 11 of 11, including 6 of 6 via Bledsoe. The Grizzlies regained their defensive mojo in the second half, forcing 10 third-quarter Phoenix turnovers and it shot just 35 percent (6 of 17) as Memphis outscored the Suns 30-19. Despite giving up its highest shooting percentage of the young season at 46.4, this may have been the most impressive performance yet out of the league’s best defense as it forced 21 turnovers in all, turning them into 26 points.
Mike Conley was dealing with a sprained right ankle he aggravated in Monday’s win over the Pelicans; Courtney Lee missed the previous game while going through concussion protocol. No matter. Memphis’ backcourt loomed large, combining to go 7 of 9 from behind the arc, with Conley scoring 24 points to go along with 11 assists, while Lee had 22 points. They were key in that second-half turnaround, scoring 12 points — eight by Conley — as the Grizzlies went on a 16-7 run to open the third quarter. In all, Conley and Lee hit 11 of their 16 shots after the break and went 5 of 6 from three. "Spacing was good and we played hard and we executed," Lee said. "Once you do that, it opens up everything," This was the most well rounded game of the young season for Conley, who had season highs in points and assists and also had two steals. Meanwhile, Lee had his second highest plus-minus in six seasons at plus-23, trailing only the plus-23 he had on Feb. 14, 2011 against the Nuggets when he was with the Rockets. On a night when Marc Gasol (18 points and five rebounds) and Zach Randolph (10 points and six boards) weren’t as dominant as they’ve been of late, it was the guard play that keyed the Grizzlies fifth straight win over the Suns.
They Grizzlies have already surpassed their best opening stretch by three games and the schedule sets up nicely for that run to continue. Back when the 2014-15 slate was released in August, Friday’s trip to Oklahoma City looked like an early proving ground for both teams. Not any more. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both out and the Thunder are floundering at 1-4, including a 31-point loss to the Nets. It’s part of a fortuitous stretch for Memphis as it faces just one team with a winning record — the 3-1 Kings — over the next four games, drawing the Bucks (2-3), Lakers (0-5) and Pistons (1-3). Should the Grizzlies remain unscathed it will set up a massive Southwest Division clash with the Rockets — who also won their first five games. A win there would tie Memphis for the 13th-best start in NBA history. We’re getting carried away here, but the Grizzlies, as one of only three unbeatens — along with aforementioned Houston and the 3-0 Warriors — are solidifying their contender status early with that grit-and-grind defense and plenty of Gasol.
1 — While Randolph one again hit double figures in scoring, his rebounding total (six) marked the first time this season he hasn’t had a double-double.
5 — Each of the Suns’ starting five finished with a negative plus-minus in double digits, including minus-20 by Bledsoe.