When the Memphis Grizzlies traded Rudy Gay back in late January, the deal's critics were quick to point out that the team had given up its primary late-game scoring option with no clear alternatives. By the conventional wisdom, the Grizzlies had therefore hurt their ability to compete in the postseason, where games are more closely contested and individual talent can make a bigger difference. Even if the Grizzlies were to perform well without Gay, they'd have to answer this question at some point.
On Monday night against the West-leading San Antonio Spurs, Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley made an argument that the team might have enough solid late-game options to render the debate moot. With approximately 30 seconds on the clock and the Grizzlies down 90-87, backcourt mate Jerryd Bayless found Conley wide open on the perimeter for a shot he canned with ease. Then, after a miss by Tony Parker on the ensuing possession, Conley did all the work himself on the game-winner.
With the considerably bigger Danny Green playing quality defense, Conley used a crossover to create a bit of separation, sought out contact, and created enough of an angle to finish a tough layup inside. With only 0.6 seconds left, the Spurs couldn't get a shot off in response, and the Grizzlies came away with the 92-90 win at home.
Conley didn't dominate these possessions like a superstar, but that isn't always a sign of weakness. The 3-pointer was created largely by Bayless and excellent spacing, not a superhuman effort. Conley might not be quite so open in the future, but that's a reproducible play. And while Conley had to fight very hard to get that final layup, his perseverance against very good defense suggests he can do the same in a playoff atmosphere. It's not a dependable play, but it's not an impossible one.
Simply put, the Grizzlies have a variety of options at the end: Conley or Bayless can work off the dribble, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol can create from inside, and a secondary player like Tayshaun Prince can play the unlikely hero. On Monday, Conley was the main option — his 23 points on 11 of 16 shooting paced the club. It could be someone else in the next game. There's no main option, but that lack of predictability can work to their benefit.
In more specific news, this win brings the Grizzlies into a virtual tie with the Denver Nuggets for the third seed in the West at 50-24 (although the Nuggets hold the tiebreaker). The Los Angeles Clippers' home loss to the Indiana Pacers also gives the Grizzlies a 1 1/2-game lead for home-court advantage in a prospective first-round series (although the Clippers would technically have the higher seed by winning the Pacific Division — this rule is as silly as it sounds). The Grizzlies are from a sure thing, but in a crowded conference playoff picture, they're looking much better than the naysayers predicted two months ago.