The Memphis Grizzlies came into tonight's game with nearly as many players on the injury report as there were wearing uniforms. The lack of depth prevented them from overcoming the Denver Nuggets who got big contributions from Emmanuel Mudiay and Will Barton on the way to a 109-105 victory. After falling behind early, Memphis was never able to regain the lead as their late comeback fell short. Denver ends up going wire to wire and handed the Grizzlies their eighth loss in the past ten games
The Nuggets opened quickly with Jakarr Sampson doing his best Kobe Bryant post fade away impression after a Gary Harris three. All of Denver's starters shared the scoring load early in the game whereas the Grizzlies were getting most of their points through either Tony Allen or Zach Randolph. The Nuggets continued to shoot well as the quarter progressed to gain an early advantage as Memphis' decimated lineup was unable to keep pace. Nikola Jokic in particular was feasting on the Grizzlies down low. The Nuggets bench + Sampson was able to hold off a late quarter run by Memphis to close with a six point advantage.
The bench opened the second quarter strong, with D.J. Augustin and Joffrey Lauvergne getting easy looks close to the basket. The disjointed play and poor shooting from Memphis overshadowed any of Denver's mistakes and by mid second quarter the lead was up to sixteen points when Kenneth Faried, Mudiay and Sampson checked back in. Randolph also checked in for the Grizzlies and he immediately got a bucket followed by an assist. Will Barton wouldn't let Memphis close the gap however, and he led Denver to a strong close out of the half, highlighted by an alley oop pass that was finished off by Sampson.
Coach Michael Malone opened the second half with Jokic defending Randolph which limited Z-Bo's effectiveness somewhat but Memphis was still running their offense through him. The Nuggets opened the quarter sloppily which allowed the Grizzlies to get the lead down to single digits. Turnovers and poor shooting plagued both teams early which kept the Nuggets hovering around a ten point advantage. Mudiay got red hot from downtown (even knocking down the heat check) around the five minute mark which finally pushed Denver's lead back into the seemingly insurmountable range. The Nugget's bench was able to keep pace with Randolph and company to close out the quarter an maintained a sixteen point lead.
The Grizzlies opened the fourth quarter tying to make up what they lacked in talent in grit. They were able to force the Nuggets into some early turnovers but were unable to convert on the other end. Still, slowly they chipped away at Denver's lead, mainly by securing offensive rebounds, and at one point had it down to eleven. However, Barton and Augustin, like so many times before this season, hit big shots to give the Nuggets some breathing room as the fourth quarter approached six minutes remaining. Memphis would respond, with Jamychal Green continuing to get offensive rebounds and easy putbacks but the Nuggets bench, specifically Darrell Arthur, wasn't having it. Some poor officiating and poor Denver shooting breathed a life into the Grizzlies near the end of the fourth as they made a game of it with a big run but ultimately they would be dealt the loss after some timely Arthur blocks.
Boxscore via ESPN.com
Best match up: Jordan Farmar vs Emmanuel Mudiay
One would expect Mudiay to dominate this match up but Farmar held his own, on the offensive end at least. When there were flashes of doubt that Denver would win it was usually because Farmar went on a mini scoring run to get the Grizzlies within striking distance. However, the Nuggets truly took control in this game when Mudiay in the third quarter when he hit three straight three pointers. At that point Memphis coach Dave Joerger realized Farmar was too small to cover the Nuggets 6'5" point guard and was forced to switch a bigger defender on Mudiay which opened things up for Barton.
Main thing I noticed: The Grizzlies injuries are killing them
I'm not sure this Grizzlies team could beat the 76ers with their current line up. Randolph did everything he could but when you have to depend on Matt Barnes, Lance Stephenson and Allen for big chunks of scoring you're going to have a bad time. Additionally, Grizzzilla Andersen, excellent weak side defender that he is, isn't much of a rebounder and only foul trouble could keep Jokic from dominating the glass. The Grizzlies will get a lot of their players back for the playoffs but I don't see how this teams gets out of the first round without Marc Gasol.
Closing thought: Kudos for fighting until the end
Many a media member in Denver (including some...well mostly all...here at Stiffs) have opined that the Nuggets would benefit the most from losing the final games of the season. However, we can't have our cake and eat it too. This whole season has been about culture change and development and now that you've had a successful season in accomplishing those goals you can't decide to throw it out for the benefit of making long odds slightly shorter. Yes, it would be nice to land a Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram but regardless of how Denver finishes that isn't likely to happen so there's no point in throwing away a season's worth of message for it.