MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Based on records, the Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies came into Monday night’s game at FedExForum as the best teams in the NBA. But they built their respective 9-1 records in very different ways.
Houston had won by double-digits seven times. The Grizzlies? Just two. In fact, even now, their one-point win over Sacramento has been protested by the Kings. Nothing comes easy.
So there came a point in the Grizzlies’ 119-93 victory over the Rockets — a game Memphis led by as many as 36 points in the fourth quarter — when Grizzlies guard Courtney Lee turned to a couple of his teammates and asked a simple question.
“Have we ever had a lead like this?” Lee said.
Memphis finished with its largest margin of victory this season, and Houston, playing for the second night in a row, never pulled closer than 20 points after halftime.
“They beat the hell out of us,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “I don’t know what numbers matter. Going from option A to B to C, they beat the hell out of us. Our offense disintegrated and turned into offense for them.”
It started early, too. The Rockets held a 13-9 lead after center Dwight Howard hit a jump hook with 6:51 to play in the first quarter. However, the Grizzles then went on a 25-5 run and led 34-18 at the end of the quarter. Point guard Mike Conley ignited Memphis with nine points, three assists and two steals in the first frame.
By halftime, the Grizzlies led 65-42. On Sunday, the Rockets allowed just 65 points the entire game in a four-point win over the Thunder in Oklahoma City.
“They put a number on us tonight,” Houston guard Jason Terry said. “A lot of it was self-inflicted.”
Conley led the Grizzlies (10-1) with 19 points and six assists. Lee scored 15 points, swingman Quincy Pondexter and forward Jon Leuer each had 13 points off the bench, and reserve point guard Beno Udrih finished with 13 points and six assists.
Although the Grizzlies have made the playoffs four straight years and two years ago made a run to the Western Conference Finals, they feel like they remain on the fringes of any national NBA narrative. Even with the best start in franchise history.
“It’s going to be harder to find more excuses (not to talk about the Grizzlies) after you beat good teams,” said Conley, who had his shoulder bumped under the basket and asked out with the large lead. “It was a good statement to the rest of the league; we’re one of the teams to be reckoned with.”
Forward Trevor Ariza paced Houston (9-2) with 16 points. and Howard just missed his eighth double-double, finishing with 15 points and nine rebounds.
Memphis shot 53.5 percent (46-for-86) and scored 31 points off 21 Houston turnovers. The Grizzlies gave the ball away just 11 times, leading to 11 points.
“Turnovers got us and we gave them easy points in transition,” said Rockets guard James Harden, who scored just six points on 1-for-8 shooting.
The Rockets shot 43.6 percent (34-for-78). Memphis outscored Houston 64-50 in the paint.
To a man, the Grizzlies believed their best offensive showing of the season began with their defense and their energy from tip-off.
“Tony (Allen) started on James (Harden) and had great defensive pressure,” Lee said.
“We are showing our growth as a veteran team,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. “To come out and throw a first punch and be aggressive, we played with force and quick attacks to the paint.”
The Grizzlies won their 20th consecutive regular-season home game. Houston lost on the road for the first time this season (6-1).
With the game out of hand so early, the Rockets seemed to have little trouble moving on to the next one — at home against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.
“Take it out on the Lakers,” Terry said. “But we won’t forget this one.”
NOTES: The Kings are officially protesting the Grizzlies’ 111-110 buzzer-beater victory on Nov. 13 at FedExForum, questioning whether SG Courtney Lee got off his winning reverse layup in 0.3 seconds. The call was upheld after a long review — it completed a 26-point comeback for Memphis. The protest will be decided by Dec. 2. … Houston’s 69-65 victory at Oklahoma City on Sunday was historic on several fronts. The Rockets managed to win despite having the lowest field-goal percentage (28.8 percent) in a regular-season game in franchise history. And the 69 points were the fewest the Rockets have scored when winning a game. It also marked the first time any NBA team has won a road game scoring fewer than 70 points since San Antonio beat Miami 67-65 on Feb. 1, 2003.
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