The Memphis Grizzlies struggled down the stretch of the regular season. After starting the season 37-12, they went 17-15 in their next 32 games, only to seize home-court advantage on the final day of the season, beating the Pacers, 95-83.
Now that the postseason has arrived, the Grizzlies don’t show any signs of letting up. They beat Portland, 100-86, on Sunday to take a 1-0 lead in their first-round playoff series.
“It’s funny you mention (their struggles down the stretch),” Grizzlies voice Eric Hasseltine said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “They did have a struggle after the All-Star Break. They had a tough schedule, and let’s be honest: This team isn’t a bunch of young guys running up and down the floor and jumping out of the gym. They’re veterans. They’ve put some miles on the tires, and so 22 games in 37 days really kind of caught up to them.
“What I saw tonight (against Portland) was kind of what I felt like I saw in the final four games of the year,” Hasseltine continued. “We looked more like the team that started the season. I shouldn’t say we. They looked like the team that started the season. They got back to playing Grizzlies basketball, spreading the floor, getting it to the bigs, letting them go to work.”
Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol both finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds, while Mike Conley and Jeff Green had 16 and 11 points, respectively. Beno Udrih added a team-high 20 points off the bench, as Memphis led 58-39 at halftime and 86-62 entering the fourth quarter.
Hasseltine said he knew the Grizzlies had turned the corner in their third-last game of the season. Without Conley and Tony Allen – and with Gasol playing just 10 minutes – Memphis played the Clippers tough in Los Angeles. Although the Grizzlies lost, 94-86, Hasseltine saw a lot of positives.
“The Clippers pulled ahead and won that game, but the simple fact was, it looked like Grizzlies basketball,” Hasseltine said. “So tonight they came out and did the very same thing.”
LaMarcus Aldridge finished with a game-high 32 points and 14 rebounds, but Portland had just two other players – Nicolas Batum (15) and Damian Lillard (14) finish with more than seven points.
“Portland’s beat up and you feel a little bit for them,” Hasseltine said. “Because they’re in a situation where they’re missing a guy that really killed the Grizzlies in Wes Matthews. He had a game with seven threes, a game with six threes, and he really helped them. Dave Joerger’s crew came out tonight and really just established what they wanted to do, which was be tough and physical on the inside, take away one of LaMarcus Aldridge or Damian Lillard and then attack with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, who, after the game said he was a step slow. (He) certainly looked like he was pretty good to me. If he’s going to get a step faster, I think that bodes pretty well for the Grizz.”
Game 2 is Wednesday in Memphis at 8 p.m. ET.