Grizzlies turn it up in second half again - this time Rockets go down

For second time in a week Grizzlies rally from large deficit to top another elite Western Conference foe

Fran Blinebury

HOUSTON — It’s getting to be a like clockwork. Once a week the Grizzlies wake up to chop one of the big dogs in the Western Conference down to size. But not until after they’ve rolled over and hit the snooze button.

Friday night the Grizzlies spotted the Rockets a 16-point lead and reeled them in 110-105. Just seven nights earlier, they came from 24 points down to stun the Warriors in overtime.

“It tells you we can compete with anybody,” said forward Zach Randolph.

But it also tells the Grizzlies they’ve still got plenty of work to do gluing all of the pieces in the right places as the second half of the regular season begins.

Memphis is now 4-0 against the Warriors and Rockets, the No. 1 and No. 3 teams in the West. But the Grizzlies have also lost to the bottom feeding Lakers, Kings, Heat, Timberwolves and Knicks. That’s why they’re stuck in the mix in the difficult middle of the conference standings rather than competing for home-court advantage in the playoffs.

“We just gotta start treating everybody like they’re those teams,” said point guard Mike Conley. “I think we get up for the good teams somehow and seem to lay eggs when we feel like we should win games. Just got to come with a better mindset for all the games we play. We know we can play with anybody. We’ve proven that. For us to get to that next level we’ve got to be consistent no matter who we’re playing.”

Just like at Golden State, it took a halftime jolt from coach David Fizdale to get the Grizzlies’ motor running. They had spent the first half letting the Rockets shoot 58.3 percent from the field and James Harden score 16 points. But in the second half Houston made just 12 of 46 shots and Harden had only a single field on a dunk in the final seconds.

“Coach wasn’t too pleased with that (first half),” said Tony Allen, who along with James Ennis III harassed Harden all night. “He came in at halftime and he got on us. He told guys we need to stop lying to ourselves. We were not playing. We were not holding our hats on the defensive end like we should do.”

It’s been a recurring theme of the Grizzlies through the first half of the season as they’ve dealt with a series of injuries and an inability to get everyone on the same page as Fizdale has tried 14 different starting lineups searching for the solution to getting a consistent effort.

“It wasn’t a rant at halftime,” Fizdale said. “I just laid it all out there for them and told them it’s up to them. If they need me to do that every night, I will. But really what we need is for them to take control of this thing.

“Compete, focus…do your job. Hold each other to a higher standard. I thought we answered the bell after the half. We don’t cave in, that’s for sure. We keep fighting all the way to the end. I’m going to keep fighting our team to be more consistent. To be in the (playoff) conversation you have to be consistent and not just a team that shows up against good teams.”

The Grizzlies are like kryptonite to the Rockets, able to use the big man 1-2 punch of Randolph and Marc Gasol to work away on the inside and have Allen and Ennis to keep Harden from exploding. As an added bonus, Allen also attacked the basket relentlessly for a team-high 22 points.

Houston lost back-to-back games for the first time all season because the Grizzlies were able to limit the Rockets to just 3-for-24 shooting from behind the arc, dominated the backboard and made most of the hustle plays in the second half.

When Trevor Ariza tried a crosscourt pass to Harden with 5 1/2 minutes left in the game, Conley first tipped it away, then chased it over the sidelines and — just before going out of bounds — heaved the ball back over his head to a sprinting Allen, who finished with a dunk.

It was one play that showed the night-and-day difference in the Grizzlies in the second half. It was also the kind of play that the Grizzles have made down the stretch in clutch situations since October.

“Honestly, I think if we look up there and it’s a one or two-point game down the stretch, we feel like we’re gonna win no matter what,” Conley said. “There’s no other thought. I think that’s come from the experiences that we’ve had. We’ve made a play with .4 seconds to win or .7, fouled a guy that missed two free throws and came down and made the right decision and made the play to win. We know what’s capable of happening.”

Fizdale says he’s going to keep juggling his lineup to see what might fall into place. For now, he’ll use Allen at times as the backup point. He says he’ll find a way to get shooter Troy Daniels (3-for-5 on 3-balls in the second half) more minutes. They’d get a bigger boost if $94 million free agent Chander Parsons could eventually overcome his knee problems and become a regular factor.

Until then, the Grizzlies will keep grinding even when the scoreboard looks daunting.

“There’s no panic,” Conley said. “Especially with the way the game is played nowadays. Games can get out of hand. They can get 16- to 20-point leads because of the style. But they miss a few shots, the long ball stops falling, the game slows down a little bit and we’re able to get it back to our type of game and capitalize on it. We know that’s capable of happening, especially with teams that shoot a lot of 3s and take quick shots. We don’t feel like we’re ever out of these games.”

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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