Injuries to three key Memphis Grizzles--Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, and Quincy Pondexter--didn't help the Orlando Magic's cause, as the Magic dropped their sixth straight game, 94-85, on the road Monday. Orlando shot just 40 percent from the field, but cut a 23-point first half deficit to seven late in the fourth quarter to keep things interesting.
Memphis has thrived over the last few seasons by turning basketball into a muddy mess by clogging the paint, relentlessly attacking the backboard, and forcing turnovers. On Monday night, it had its way playing exactly that way and the Magic, without Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris, were not up to the challenge.
Memphis, however, is not known for three-point shooting, but that wasn't the case against Orlando: the Grizzlies shot 10-of-17 (58.8 percent) from behind the arc. Jon Leuer notched 16 points and collected 12 rebounds off the bench and Zach Randolph led the Grizzlies with 19 and 12. Andrew Nicholson was Orlando's most efficient player, registering 19 points, 11 rebounds, and tying a career-high with four blocks. Jameer Nelson scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half, and Glen Davis contributed 16 points and nine boards.
If the rebuilding process is full of growing pains, then the first half of Monday night was the young Magic's terrifying middle school experience, where they were beaten to a depressing low, humiliated by a cheering crowd of cold-hearted preteens. Jerryd Bayless and Mike Conley surrounded the hormonal Victor Oladipo in the hallway, shoved him up against his locker, and gave him wet willies; Nicholson valiantly, but hopelessly, fought off vicious noogies from the older bullies, Randolph and Kosta Koufos, at the neighborhood bus stop.
The Grizzlies jumped out to a 11-4 lead after Randolph collected a Koufos miss and hooked the ball through the net. Magic coach Jacque Vaughn called a timeout as his team started off 2-of-9 from the floor in the game's first six minutes. Orlando went on a 12-7 run before back-to-back triples from Leuer and Conley gave Memphis a seven-point lead, 23-16, to end the quarter. Nicholson, who has taken strides to improve his defense in his sophomore season, blocked three shots in the first, just one off his career-high.
The Grizzlies opened up the second quarter on a 14-0 run before Nicholson scored on a right-handed running hook with just over six-and-a-half minutes left. Memphis outrebounded Orlando, 15-5, in the second quarter and scored 28 points, seven off second chances. The Magic, dying by the way of flailing jump shots, had no answer. They shot just 12-of-36 (33 percent) in the first 24 minutes and went into halftime down by 51-30 score.
They showed signs of life in the third quarter: they shot 55 percent from the floor and 4-of-8 from downtown, winning the quarter 30-22. They began running in transition and started creating havoc, cutting the lead to 10 on a late Nelson corner-three. That's when Grizzlies rookie Jamaal Frankin, who shot 27 percent from long range in his senior season at San Diego State University and came into Monday night with exactly zero long-range makes as a professional, hit his second triple of the game as time expired.
A fastbreak, left-handed layup from Nelson cut the deficit back to 10 with just under nine minutes remaining. Both teams seesawed back-and-forth through the next few minutes until a pair of Afflalo free throws brought the Magic within seven. A few possessions later, Nelson scored a floater and was rewarded a foul. He sank the shot from the stripe to bring the Magic within six and a Davis put back condensed the deficit to four. It was never closer than that as Memphis ran away with the nine point victory.
Through that pain comes growth. For humans, growing out of the goofy, hormonal preteen stage can take years but the growing process for basketball teams is much quicker. It happens in practice; it happens in games. Orlando grew up a little bit in the second half. They stormed back from a 21-point halftime deficit and cut the lead to four with a few minutes remaining. They didn't win, and this isn't an advocacy for moral victories, but it was nice to see the Magic fight its way out of a humiliating first half.