The Memphis Grizzlies needed a win Tuesday night. Riding a four-game losing streak, the Grizzlies would drop below .500 with another loss. Unfortunately, they were playing the Denver Nuggets, owners of the second best record in the Western Conference. Through grit and determination, mostly on the defensive end, Memphis managed to get the all-important win in overtime, 100-97.
It didn't start out well for the Grizzlies, as they shot just 28 percent in a brutally ugly first half. Still, somehow they trailed by only a dozen, despite the frigid shooting. The Grizzlies continued to struggle putting the ball in the basket and were shooting just 31 percent through three quarters, but had managed to cut the lead to seven.
However, every time Memphis made a run, the Nuggets seemed to have an answer. Denver is one of the deepest teams in the league, and they somehow find a different player or two to step up every game. The team's leading scorers on the season are youngsters Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson, but although Lawson returned from a two-game absence Tuesday night, it was the crafty old veterans Al Harrington and Andre Miller that carried the Nuggets down the stretch of this one. With Gallinari ice cold (1 for 10) and Lawson a relative non-factor (12 points), Harrington (23 points, 21 of them after halftime) and Miller (20 points, 8 in the fourth quarter) were the offense for the Nuggets in the second half.
The Nuggets built the lead back up to 12 on a Harrington three-pointer three minutes into the final period, and three minutes later with just six minutes left in the game the lead was still 10. But suddenly the Grizzlies starting making shots. Memphis went on a 10-1 run to cut the lead to a single point, the closest the game had been since the first quarter. The Grizzlies finally got back to even on an O.J. Mayo floater with 33 seconds left, and after the teams exchanged one more basket each, the game went to overtime.
Denver again took control of the game in the extra period. They still held a four-point lead at 97-93 with under two minutes to go when everything changed. After a Denver steal, Lawson, one of the quickest players in the league with the ball in has hands, raced ahead of the pack for what looked like an easy layup that would give the Nuggets a six-point lead and ice the game. But Rudy Gay got the chase down block and ignited the break in the other direction. Given that baskets had not been coming easy for Memphis, Mayo's fast break layup was manna from heaven, and instead of being down six they were down only a bucket. On the next Denver possession, Tony Allen blocked Harrington's shot, and the Grizzlies had the ball down two in the final minute. After a miss and an offensive rebound, Mayo got a clean look at a three and gave the Grizzlies their first lead of the game since 19-18 and, eventually, the victory.
Memphis got balanced scoring from Gay (20), Marc Gasol (20), Mayo (18) and Allen (17). Allen, not a noted scorer, came up huge both with his points as well as with eight rebounds and four blocked shots. For Gay it was a bounce back game after scoring just a single point in 35 minutes in a loss to the Spurs Monday.
It's not easy to win a game while shooting just 38 percent, but Memphis is just the team to do it. The Grizzlies lead the league in forcing turnovers, and by generating 25 Denver miscues and grabbing 17 offensive rebounds, the Grizzlies manufactured just enough extra possessions to steal a crucial win. This was a typical, ugly Memphis game -- terrible shooting, but dominant in all the hustle stats. With 13 steals, 9 blocked shots, 25 forced turnovers and 17 offensive rebounds, the Grizz just outworked the Nuggets.
For Denver, it is the second straight heartbreaking loss and drops their record to 14-7. The Grizzlies end that nasty four-game slide and improve to 11-10.