HOUSTON -- The Memphis Grizzlies fear no team, no matter how many points they get down.
Spotting the red-hot Houston Rockets 16 points in their house? Hardly ideal, but the Grizzlies have scaled a much higher mountain this month.
“We don’t cave in, that’s for sure,” coach David Fizdale said after the Grizzlies rallied Friday night for a 110-105 win over the Rockets. “We keep fighting all the way to the end.”
After all, Memphis pulled off arguably the most impressive regular-season comeback of the modern era a week ago, rallying from 24 down and erasing a 19-point deficit at the beginning of the fourth quarter to post an overtime win over the Golden State Warriors. You’ve got to go back to Wilt Chamberlain’s days with the Philadelphia Warriors to find a team that fought back from 19 down in the fourth quarter to beat an opponent with the outright best record in the NBA.
By comparison, the Grizzlies’ comeback over the Rockets was no big deal. And it certainly can’t be considered too surprising.
“We can compete with anybody,” said Zach Randolph, the sixth man who once again played a major role in the Grizzlies’ rally, scoring 14 of his 16 points in the second half.
The proof: Memphis hasn’t lost to the West’s best this season. The Grizzlies are 2-0 against the Warriors, 2-0 against the Rockets and have yet to see the San Antonio Spurs.
And Memphis hardly ever loses a close game. This was the Grizzlies’ 13th straight win in games decided by five points or fewer or that went to overtime. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the longest such streak in the league in more than a decade.
Scoff at that as a statistical fluke if you wish, but the Grizzlies are 159-88 over the past six seasons in games in which the score was within five points in the final five minutes.
“Honestly, if we look up there and it’s a one- or two-point game down the stretch, we feel like we’re going to win no matter what,” said point guard Mike Conley, who had 17 points, six rebounds and nine assists in the win. “There’s no other thought. That’s come from the experiences that we’ve had.”
Suffice to say, the physical, grinding Grizzlies are a team no one will want to see come playoff time.
The Grizzlies firmly believe that they can dictate the style of a game with their defense, forcing skilled, finesse teams such as the Warriors and Grizzlies to be uncomfortable. Not that the tape from Friday night’s first half would help that case.
The Rockets roared to 64 points in the first 24 minutes by shooting 58.3 percent from the floor. Fizdale was disgusted with how easy Houston had it, with all due respect to the Rockets, who had rolled to 20 wins in their previous 22 games with James Harden and his perimeter-shooting pals consistently lighting it up.
“Coach wasn’t too pleased with that,” said Tony Allen, the Grizzlies’ longtime defensive stopper whose season-high 22 points on 9-of-10 shooting Friday were a pleasant surprise. “He came in [at halftime] and got on us. He told guys, ‘We need to stop lying to ourselves. We’re not playing hard, and we’re not holding our hats on the defensive end,’ like we always say. Guys took it to heart in the second half.”
The Grizzlies’ response was to hold Houston to 26.1 percent shooting from the floor in the second half. Due in part to outstanding on-the-ball defense by Allen and James Ennis III along with help from their Grizzlies’ teammates, MVP front-runner Harden got a grand total of one bucket after halftime.
An adjustment by Fizdale, a rotation tweak planned in advance, also paid dividends down the stretch for the Grizzlies. He used Allen as the backup point guard, benching Andrew Harrison, because Fizdale figured he had to find a way to get 3-point specialist Troy Daniels minutes with Chandler Parsons’ role increasing as he works his way back from knee problems.
As he’s done consistently since the start of December, Daniels delivered, scoring 13 points on six shots in 22 minutes. All but two of his points came in the second half, including a dagger 3 in the final minute that sent Rockets fans fleeing for the Toyota Center exits.
Fizdale will gladly take the win over a Western power, but he still was grumbling a bit after the game about how the Grizzlies got in a hole.
“I’m going to enjoy the fact that we battled back, and I do enjoy that ingredient that’s in our character,” Fizdale said. “But we’ve got to figure out how to play a more consistent game day in and day out.”
That’s a fair point, but the West’s best can’t figure out a way to finish off the Grizzlies.