Wallace View – Grizzlies 112, Wizards 103 (OT)
By Michael Wallace
Grind City Media
After playing nearly 31 minutes the previous night in New York, Marc Gasol was supposed to be limited to around 20 minutes on Sunday as part of the Grizzlies’ plan to proactively manage the franchise anchor’s workload in his first season back from foot surgery.
There was one problem: Gasol had other plans. Especially when his second three-pointer of the night with 15.7 seconds left in the fourth quarter forced overtime against Washington. Good luck at that point finding anyone at FedExForum with the guts to force the 7-foot-1, 255-pound giant to leave the game.
“When we started to go into overtime, I knew then I was going to pass my quota,” Gasol said. “And I was not going to – I wouldn’t have taken it very well sitting out of that overtime.”
Gasol blew through several previous restrictions on his way to rallying the Grizzlies to Sunday’s 112-103 overtime win against the Wizards. His barrage of late three-pointers, which included two more during a dominant overtime period, left Gasol with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
That clutch performance, along with other big contributions from Mike Conley, Vince Carter and Zach Randolph, also left the Grizzlies (2-1) with their second comeback victory in three games. The Grizzlies refuse to allow their young season to be overshadowed by narratives about the players they still don’t have back from injuries or storylines about others whose playing time is being limited to avoid them.
Among the mantras that first-year coach David Fizdale has driven home to his team is a challenge for them to embrace discomfort. For some, that has meant a change in roles or playing time. For Gasol, it has meant stepping out of a comfort zone and extending his shooting range out to the three-point line. The early results continue to be encouraging. Gasol made four threes on Sunday after never having connected on more than three in any of his previous nine seasons.
In training camp, Fizdale challenged Gasol to attempt at least four three-pointers a game in order to help space the floor and become the type threat that would ultimately create more space for Conley to operate in the paint. The quota was four. Gasol attempted six. The minutes’ restriction was intended to limit Gasol to 20 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back set. He played 29.
This was one of those instances when the competitive adrenaline pumping through the temperamental big man would not allow him to be denied. There’s no other way to put it. Fizdale suggested to reporters before the game that the playing time restrictions on Gasol and Conley were heavily influenced by the team’s medical staff and sports science consultants. Fizdale has input, but he defers to their data and trusts their analysis and recommendations.
But in the heat of the moment, trainers and scientists aren’t the ones standing between Gasol and the court with the game on the line. That’s Fizdale. And his call was to ride with Gasol until the finish and then deal with the consequences. A night earlier in New York, it was Conley who was limited by the minutes’ restriction in what turned out to be a 111-104 loss to the Knicks.
Adjustments were made Sunday to ensure that Gasol could maintain a rhythm Conley never developed after he sat out for most of the first half before playing majority of the second half in New York.
“There was actually a time during the game when I said, ‘There’s no damn way I’m sitting him down,’” Fizdale said of Gasol with a laugh Sunday night. “I kept managing and managing. And we got to the end of that thing and it was going into overtime. I dropkicked that minutes’ restriction right out the door. Our trainers are probably going to kill me. They’re going to fine me. But I’ll take the fine. It’s hard to take a competitor out of those circumstances.”
After forcing overtime, the Grizzlies scored the first 12 points of the extra period to pull away before Washington scored in the final seconds. Gasol made two free throws and two three-pointers during the decisive spurt, but the Grizzlies defense was just as dominant. They forced the Wizards to miss eight of nine shots in overtime. After trailing 96-88, Memphis outscored Washington 24-4 to secure the win.
Over the past eight years in Grind City, Conley and Gasol have developed one of the more lethal pick-and-roll chemistries in the league. Now that both are capable three-point shooters, it’s even more dangerous. Their symmetry produced the most clutch moment of the game, when Conley drove and flipped it back to Gasol on the left wing for a three-pointer from 27 feet out that tied it at 100-100 with 15.7 seconds remaining in the fourth and ultimately forced overtime.
Vince Carter. OK, this will clearly be known as the Gasol Game because of his heroics down the stretch. Big Spain was clearly acknowledged above. But he focused a significant part of his postgame message on all the things Carter does to help the Grizzlies go. In the first two games of the season, it was Carter’s defense that stood out. But against Washington, it was his hot stroke. Carter essentially lit the torch for Memphis from deep and made his first five threes. He had 18 points off the bench with two rebounds, a block, a steal, an assist and the key screen that freed Gasol for one of his crucial late three-pointers.
“My job is to do everything or anything this team needs me to do to help win games,” said Carter, who joined Hall of Famer Reggie Miller as the only players in NBA history to make five three-pointers in a game at age 39. “In different games, it’ll be different things. And I’m OK with that. It’s just be ready.”
There were stretches when Wizards guard John Wall barged his way into and through the lane at will against Memphis. He’s one of the elite, scoring point guards in the league, so that’s understandable. He’s a force of nature. But this was the third time in as many games in which the Grizzlies were outscored by double figures in paint points. This time, it was a 54-34 deficit on Sunday. On the other hand, the Grizzlies’ new commitment to three-point shooting proved more than enough to offset the difference. Their 15-for-31 clip from beyond the arc marked just the sixth time in franchise history the Grizzlies made at least that many threes in a game. Memphis outscored Washington 45-15 on threes.
After sluggish starts that included giving up 32 points in the first quarter over consecutive games, Fizdale tweaked his starting lineup in an attempt “to shake things up a bit,” from the outset. On Sunday, that meant shifting James Ennis from starting small forward to shooting guard and elevating Jarell Martin from the bench to a starting forward role. Rookie Andrew Harrison was moved to the bench. Although none of those players had a dramatic impact on the game, the Grizzlies outscored Washington 29-22 in the first quarter and held the Wizards to 33.3 percent shooting from the field.
Grizzlies at Timberwolves, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Target Center (TV: FOX Sports Southeast, 6:30 p.m./Radio: 92.9 FM ESPN, 6:30 p.m.)
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