Last year’s Western Conference finalists are currently out of the playoff picture with a record of 18-19, but received a huge boost when NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol made a surprise return to the line-up after missing 7 weeks due to a left MCL sprain.
“I got the goose bumps for about a minute, or two minutes. I felt like I was a rookie again, even better than that. Today was a special day for me, but we move on. Right now, we’re thinking about Milwaukee.”
That was Gasol’s reaction on the ovation he received during the pre-game player introductions at the FedEx Forum. It was not just the fans who were ecstatic to have him back – Zach Randolph and Mike Conley, who have taken the load in his absence, were mighty relieved to have the big man back and it showed in their performance.
Conley, Randolph and Courtney Lee led the way as the Grizzlies with their defense beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team which is averaging 105.2 points a game, by holding to them to just 87.
Lee, acquired in a multi-team trade from the Boston Celtics in the past week, started as the 2-guard and instantly made a difference with his shooting. He scored 24 points on 9/15 shooting which included 2 of 3 from long range and a 4/4 from the charity stripe.
Randolph recorded his usual double double with 23 points and 13 rebounds. His work on the offensive glass with 5 rebounds is a huge testament to his power and strength down in the block. Despite shooting poorly (7 of 21), he made up for it by making 9 of his game high 12 attempted free throws.
Conley, who has been averaging 27.3 points and six assists during Gasol’s absence, had an easier outing against the Thunder with 19 points and 7 assists. His 2 steals coupled with an improved shooting performance have been a huge factor on offense in a team which is known for its grinding defensive style.
Marc Gasol’s performance in his return and its impact to the team
Fade away from the post-Check.
Free throw jump shot-Check.
Positive rebounding numbers-Check.
Gasol’s game Tuesday night against the Thunder showed that he had very little rust to knock off and the only challenge for him going forward would be to constantly improve his fitness and stamina to the level it was prior to his MCL sprain in late November.
Finishing with 12 points, 4 rebounds on 3/7 shooting and a +4 in his return from injury, Gasol’s performance could be rated among the best among returns this season. He played 24 minutes coming off only one full contact practice with the team.
Overall the team has had a terrible season so far compared to the previous one, primarily due to Kosta Koufus, the starting center in Gasol’s absence. He failed miserably to fill the void Gasol had left.
His inability to shoot the mid-range shot and complement Power Forward Randolph’s game in the paint was a huge reason for the Grizzlies going 10-13 without Gasol.
His impact on both ends of the floor with stats of 16 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists is what makes the game easy for every other Grizzly’s player out there.
Gasol’s return comes at the right time for the Grizzlies
After a disappointing first trimester to the season, this past week has given Grizzlies fans a reason to smile and cheer.
Courtney Lee’s huge performances as a starter in his two games for the Grizzlies has created a dilemma for the coaching staff on how to change the rotations when Tony Allen returns from an injured sprained left wrist.
The Grizzlies have won three games in a row for the first time since November and three consecutive home games for the first time this season. They ended their current four game home stand with a record of 3-1 with all three victories coming against teams with a winning record.
The team’s bench has been phenomenal averaging over 40 points in the last 15 games including five 50-point games.
The 3 game winning streak takes them closer to the cusp of making a Playoff spot. With a record of 18-19 the team is only 3 games behind Phoenix Suns in 8th spot.
Why they are they a team to fear?
Their reliable front court duo is back in action once again, they have an offensive shooting spark in Courtney Lee, a menace for opponents on the defensive end in Tony Allen and Mike Conley is a much improved point guard running the offense.
Aren’t these enough reasons to fear the Grizzlies as we approach the second half of the season?
Well here’s more-
With Gasol back, the Grizzlies will once again enforce their grit and grind defensive style as a team to restrict the opponents to scores much lower than their averages.
Last season, they came up short quite often on the offensive end.
However, this season the team has seen a change – Conley and Randolph have been huge factors on the offensive end. Add a healthy Gasol, and a sharp shooting Lee to the mix and you have a team capable of hurting you effectively on both ends of the floor.