NEW ORLEANS – It was the kind of grimy, scramble victory that good teams in the midst of a playoff grind look back on after the season with a delayed sense of satisfaction.
The Memphis Grizzlies had every built-in excuse to lose Wednesday night to the New Orleans Pelicans, who had swept the first three games against them this season.
The Grizzlies were playing the second game of a back-to-back, and they were down by 10 points in the second half and performing almost listlessly.
But point guard Mike Conley – held scoreless in the first half – scored a team-high 16 points in the second half, including a running one-hander in the lane with 1.5 seconds left, to lift the Grizzlies to a 90-88 comeback victory.
“It’s very sweet,” Conley said. “These are the games that we don’t want to look back on and say, ‘What if we did this, what if we did that?’ This team has had our number all year, and it’s a very good win in their place.”
On the winning shot, Conley got the ball at the top of the key with about 12 seconds left. He anticipated the Pelicans trying to trap him outside to force the ball out of his hands.
Conley was guarded by Austin Rivers, who got double-team help from center Greg Steimsma. Conley used a pair of screens by forward Mike Miller and center Marc Gasol to split the defense and take the ball into the lane for his floating jumper from 7 feet.
“I ended up splitting it and having a lane, and I tried to be aggressive, get to the rim and make a play,” Conley said.
“I don’t know if I’m saying the right word, but he’s ambidextrous or something,” guard Tony Allen said of Conley. “He’s got that in his game. He can use both hands. When it went up, I knew it was good.”
In winning their fourth consecutive game to remain in the seventh playoff position for the Western Conference, the Grizzlies (38-26) held the Pelicans to 31 points in the second half on 34.3 percent shooting (11 of 32).
They allowed second-year forward Anthony Davis free rein in the first half – surrendering 22 points – but they held Davis to just seven points in the second half.
“We just couldn’t score – we couldn’t get into any offense,” New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. “AD (Davis) had a really good game going, and then they started loading the box.
“For 45 minutes, we played well. The last three minutes we just couldn’t get a bucket.”
New Orleans saw its 10-point, third-quarter lead evaporate in the wake of a 7-0 Memphis run that tied the score at 88 with 1:16 left.
The Pelicans then went two ugly offensive possessions, with guards Austin Rivers and Anthony Morrow missing 3-pointers. The Grizzlies got the ball with 14.3 seconds left and set up the clear-out for Conley, who shook past Rivers for his game-winning floater.
Grizzlies coach David Joerger said he appreciated his team’s defensive grit in the second half. He also experimented by putting smaller defenders – such as 6-9 Tayshaun Prince and 6-9 James Johnson – on Davis to give him different looks.
“The second half we give up 31, and we just hung with it,” Joerger said. “It was an effort thing. We didn’t play hard enough or with enough energy in the first half. We went small to ‘junk up’ the game.”
And then, Joerger added, “That was a heck of a shotat the end.”
Conley broke out of his dry offensive stretch by scoring 14 consecutive third-quarter points, and that led to his final-quarter heroics.
“I think I simply got more aggressive,” Conley said. “In the second half, everybody was trying to get me to go., just go to the rim and score. That’s what I did.”
NOTES: The Pelicans announced 35 minutes before tipoff that SG Eric Gordon and SF Tyreke Evans would sit out with unspecified illnesses. Coach Monty Williams did not mention their iffy status in a pregame conference an hour earlier. … New Orleans finished with 27 victories last season, and despite a rash of injuries, it has the same total this season with 18 games to play. “Obviously, we would like to be in an even better spot,” Williams said. … Memphis coach David Joerger said his team’s winning streak is a group effort. “When the ball goes in, it makes a lot of things easy,” Joerger said. The Grizzlies shot 53.2 percent from the field in back-to-back victories over the Charlotte Bobcats and Portland Trail Blazers. … Memphis lost the previous three meetings to the Pelicans. “Anthony Davis is going to be one of the best players in the NBA for the next 10 years,” Joerger said.
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