MEMPHIS -- Considering the Memphis Grizzlies came back to beat Dallas a week ago after trailing by 27 points, did you think a 17-point deficit against Portland on Wednesday night would be impossible to overcome?
The Grizzlies, even without two of their top six players and another one under the weather, didn't think that way. Playing to their strength, the Grizzlies got down and dirty in the fourth quarter, playing lockdown defense to rally for a 91-85 victory at FedExForum.
Point guard Mike Conley led the Grizzlies (40-19) with 20 points, hitting two free throws with 16.1 seconds left for an 89-85 lead and then forcing Portland rookie Damian Lillard to miss an outside jumper.
Marc Gasol added 23 points and 12 rebounds for the Grizzlies, and Jerryd Bayless scored 10 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter.
Memphis played without starting power forward Zach Randolph (sprained ankle) and his backup Darrell Arthur (back and neck spasms). Swingman Quincy Pondexter played 22 minutes, despite getting food poisoning earlier in the day.
Portland (28-32) was led by Lillard, who scored 20 points.
The Grizzlies, with a total lack of ball movement, wasn't a first quarter match for Portland, which led 26-18. Memphis shot 30.8 percent from the field (8-of-26), and the problem was the wrong people were taking shots. Defensive specialist Tony Allen jacked up almost a third of the Grizzlies' shots (3 for 8). Portland made 45 percent of its shots, with snappy passing for open jumpers.
Portland's bench stretched the lead to 36-24 with 7:50 left before the half. The Trail Blazers maintained that lead at the half, 50-38. Lillard, the favorite to win NBA Rookie of the Year, had 14 points in the opening half, basically blowing past Conley anytime he wanted.
Memphis tried hard to dent the lead in the third quarter, and finally got into Portland in the last three minutes. The Grizzlies, with no Randolph or Arthur playing, found it difficult to run any high-low post. Finally, Tayshun Prince played a high-low post game with Gasol, and the Memphis offense suddenly became more than Mike Conley dribbling looking for an opening. Bayless nailed a three with 0.6 left to cut Portland lead to 67-65 at the end of the third.
The Grizzlies took the lead briefly early in the fourth quarter, and then last few minutes became a grab and shove festival with each possession mattering.
NOTES: Portland is perennially a bad matchup for Memphis. Entering play Wednesday, the Trail Blazers had won nine of their past 11 games in Memphis, four of the past five games regardless of site and 14 of the past 18 meetings. Memphis scored just 12 fourth-quarter points in an 86-84 Portland victory on Jan. 4 in Memphis. ... The Grizzlies play at Portland next Monday to start a four-game, five-day road trip. Memphis starts a three-game, five-day swing on April 3 at Portland. ... Memphis started Ed Davis at power forward. ... , as Randolph and backup Arthur are day-to-day. Randolph got hurt in last Friday's loss at Miami, and Arthur took a nasty fall in Sunday's win at Orlando. Arthur was fouled in mid-air and landed on his back first before his head hit the floor. Team medical personnel ruled that Arthur didn't sustain a concussion, though he had one earlier this season. "I knew I was going to fall and I tried to brace myself, but I couldn't get control of my body," Arthur said. "I knew it was going to hurt. I just have a lot of soreness in my back, which I get can get rid of."