The Memphis Grizzlies grinded their way to an 86-81 victory over the Orlando Magic on Wednesday in a game that was at once ugly and tense: the fourth quarter alone featured seven lead changes and two ties, and Memphis only took the lead for good with less than a minute to play.
Grizzlies big man Zach Randolph gave Orlando trouble the whole night, scoring a game-best 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the floor.
Here's a look at the stories that developed in Orlando's last game before the All-Star Break.
Memphis dictates flow
The Grizzlies play at the league's slowest pace and forced Orlando to adopt that half-court style. The Magic didn't respond well, with Memphis winning the fast-break points battle by a 14-4 margin. According to Magic swingman Arron Afflalo, Memphis' rebounding strategy played a role in that dynamic.
"They kind of don't send too many guys to the boards," he said, "so they kind of limit transition a little bit."
Orlando rebounded 77.1 percent of the Grizzlies' misses, a strong number, but wasn't able to get into its offensive sets quickly enough to exploit that rebounding edge.
Much of Orlando's offense relies upon creating dribble penetration, but the Grizzlies cut off that action, turning the Magic into jump-shooters. Coach Jacque Vaughn praised the Grizzlies "for having a good scheme tonight." Magic rookie Victor Oladipo said the way the Grizzlies defended Orlando's pick-and-roll action kept the magic's ballhandlers away from the rim.
"We just couldn't get in the paint because they kept showing today," Oladipo said, referring to a defensive action wherein the man defending the point guard goes under the screen, while the man defending the screener attacks the ballhandler to prevent him from making forward progress and to allow the initial defender to recover. "They just did a great job of pick-and-roll coverages."
Regardless of the Grizzlies' defense, Orlando might have been able to do more to play at its preferred pace, center Nik Vučević said: "We should have tried, even when they were scoring, just to kind of get the ball out and run, try to get some easy buckets."
Clear-path foul a turning point
With 35.7 seconds to play and Orlando trailing by one, Afflalo fouled Memphis guard Courtney Lee on a fast-break attempt. After video review, the officiating crew of David Guthrie, Jason Phillips, and Eli Roe determined the Afflalo committed a clear-path foul, giving Lee two free throws and allowing Memphis to retain possession. Randolph scored on the ensuing play to put the visitors up five points, effectively sealing the win.
"I know I'm not supposed to comment on it. It was part of the game," Afflalo said of the play. "Probably there are some other things that we need to do throughout the game [so] that no one call can determine the outcome of the game."
Tobias Harris agreed. "It was a tough call but sometimes that's how it goes," said the third-year forward, who contributed 13 points and seven boards in Orlando's loss.
The play took Vaughn by surprise. "We thought it would be side out-of-bounds, we get a stop, and off we go, but that didn't happen."
Lee ignited the play by securing a long rebound off a Jameer Nelson three-point miss. Afflalo tried to get ahead of Lee before raking him across the arm as Lee gathered to shoot, but the referees ruled that Lee had the step on the Magic defender.
Focus on focus
Before the game, Vaughn praised his team for showing good "focus" and "concentration" in recent days and expressed hope that they would carry over to Wednesday's game. In their first year under Vaughn, the Magic withered in their final game before the All-Star Break, losing by 32 points to the Atlanta Hawks. Wednesday's game was clearly much more competitive, and Orlando's approach pleased Vaughn, for the most part.
"The turnovers early I think caused us to kind of fight uphill a little bt, but I think overall throughout the course of the game we were in positions to help each other," he said. "It was a close game down to the wire against a good team so overall our focus was pretty good tonight."
To Vaughn's point about turnovers: Memphis scored 14 points off turnovers in the first half. In the second, the visitors scored only five more points off turnovers.
Game recognizes game
Though he didn't play well Wednesday--he finished with seven points on 2-of-12 shooting--Oladipo has shown some improvement from earlier in the season, and Grizzlies coach David Joerger has noticed. Before tipoff, the first-year head coach addressed the differences he's seen on film since Oladipo first played his club on December 9th.
"He's still explosive, but he has curbed a little bit of his wildness, but still has the bounce and he explosion," Joerger said. "He's still picking and choosing his spots a little bit better on when he can go into a pull-up jumper and when he can go all the way and try to finish at the rim. That's just a level of experience that you gain and just working through the league. I absolutely love him. I love him. He's gonna be big-time in this league."
It bears noting that Joerger played point guard for Concordia College and Moorhead State before embarking on his coaching career. He described himself as playing a "game manager" style due to his struggles to create his own shot.