Missing four starters -- Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, Chris Andersen and Matt Barnes were all out due to injury; five counting Marc Gasol, who's out for the season with a broken foot -- the Memphis Grizzlies were depleted. And they didn't really stand a chance against the Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers.
But Tony Allen, Lance Stephenson, Vince Carter and a team of misfits did the impossible -- they dominated the Cavaliers through three quarters and withstood a furious fourth-quarter rally to hold on in the final minute for a 106-103 win.
Allen had 26 points to lead the way as the Grizzlies only used eight players en route to the improbable win. LeBron James had 28 points, nine rebounds and five assists and Kyrie Irving added 27 points, but the Cavaliers had 25 turnovers in one of their worst performances of the season.
It was a coup for the Grizzlies, who moved to 38-25 to strengthen their hold on the fifth seed in the West, and another disaster for the Cavaliers, who are struggling to find an identity even after bringing on new coach Tyronn Lue.
Last season, the Cavaliers started the season 19-20 before going on a 44-9 stretch to end the season. They rolled into the playoffs on an upswing and coasted through the Eastern Conference. They're only 14-7 under Lue and are 4-4 in their last eight. There are still 20 games for the Cavaliers to kick it into high gear this season, but their play of late is far from the look of a team ready to bring home an NBA Championship.
Against the Grizzlies, they played sloppily on both sides of the ball. The biggest problem for the Cavaliers was taking care of the ball. As mentioned above, they turned it over a whopping 25 times, and many of the turnovers were due to lazy passes that should have been avoided.
The defense wasn't much better against an offensively challenged Grizzlies roster. Allen hadn't scored more than 17 points all season, but lit the Cavaliers up on 11-of-17 shooting.
While the offense has been better under Lue -- they're scoring 110 points per 100 possessions in the 21 games with Lue compared to 105.6 under David Blatt -- the defense has faltered. Under Blatt, the Cavaliers gave up 99.7 points per 100 possessions, but that number balloons to 104.1 under Lue.
The Cavaliers aren't the attacking, swarming defense that James excels so much in. They made a run in the fourth quarter against the Grizzlies because they started forcing turnovers and running off missed shots. When James or Irving get in the open court, the Cavaliers are essentially unstoppable.
The Cavaliers do have an incredibly high ceiling. Irving was fantastic in the fourth quarter, going off for 14 points to nearly lead the Cavaliers to a comeback victory, but he played carelessly for the first three frames. His seven turnovers were a big reason the Grizzlies built up a 14-point lead at one point.
Every team has their setbacks -- see the Los Angeles Lakers' shellacking of the Golden State Warriors on Sunday -- but the Cavaliers are far from peaking.
Fortunately for Cleveland, they have the final 20 games of the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs to figure it out. If they can't, a Western Conference team like the Warriors or San Antonio Spurs is going to run all over that suspect defense.
3 other things we learned
The Warriors prefer NBA records to losing streaks
At least, they haven't had to face one yet. They almost gave up a double-digit fourth-quarter lead but took care of business as expected against the Orlando Magic on Monday with a 119-113 win. A night after going 1-of-10 from three, Curry was 7-of-13 on his way to 41 points to go along with 13 rebounds and Klay Thompson, 0-for-8 against the Lakers, rebounded with 27 points on 5-of-11 shooting from deep. Sunday's loss to the Lakers was just a blip on the Warriors' way to history. The win over the Magic was the Warriors' 45th straight home win, which set a new NBA record. They haven't lost at home in the regular season for over a year. For a team that's almost certainly going to have home-court advantage in the playoffs, it's a scary thought for the rest of the league. Then again, pretty much everything the Warriors do sends shivers through the NBA. Especially when Curry is doing this to make his 300th three-point shot of the season.
The Spurs are mortal, too
It's not only the Warriors and Cavaliers throwing up duds, the Indiana Pacers handed the Spurs their 10th loss of the season on Monday by getting out early and keeping their lead down the stretch for a 99-91 win. Monta Ellis' 26 points led the Pacers, who showed resilience in ending the eight-game winning streak of one of the NBA's best teams. The Spurs crawled to within three late in the fourth quarter and appeared ready to jump over the hump, but the Pacers always had an answer -- the final response coming from a three-point play by Paul George, who had 23 points.
The Spurs certainly weren't themselves without Gregg Popovich on the sideline -- the team announced a family emergency would keep him off the bench until Thursday -- but it was a bad loss for a team chasing the Warriors for home-court advantage. Unlike the Cavaliers, this loss was to a good team and didn't show any serious weaknesses. The Spurs will be fine.
Chris Paul made DeAndre Jordan know he made the right decision to stay with the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Dallas Mavericks crowd booed Jordan on Monday, but Jordan and the Clippers had the last laugh in a 109-90 win that wasn't even that close -- the Clippers led by 32 at one point. Jordan had a monster night with 23 points and 20 rebounds and Paul was running circles around the Mavericks. He had 27 points and seven assists while completely outplaying Deron Williams and the Mavericks. The Clippers have done a wonderful job flying below the radar of the West's top three teams, but they are slowly building up a résumé and preparing for a playoff run. The Clippers are already ready to challenge in the West, and Blake Griffin is still set to come back.
Play of the night
Zach LaVine threw down a 360 dunk in a game and he made it too easy for anyone to be super impressed by it. Think about that.
4 fun things
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Better Than a Video Game: NBA 2K16 can't keep up with Stephen Curry
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