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Grizzlies use defense to hold off Rockets

The SportsXchange

HOUSTON - While the glamour teams of the Western Conference continue to run and gun their way to deserved attention, the Memphis Grizzlies keep on grinding, and, more importantly, they keep winning.

Despite an offense that stalled down the stretch and some faulty shooting from the charity stripe, the Grizzlies slipped by the Houston Rockets 82-78 Friday night to snap a 13-game skid at Toyota Center.

The Grizzlies (54-25) improved to 5-1 this month and are allowing just 82 points per game in April. They blew all of a 49-30 second-quarter lead by struggling to contain Rockets guard James Harden in the third quarter, but when they needed their defense to buckle down, it did.

"We were trying to do that the whole game, but sometimes offense beats defense, and sometimes it's the other way around," said Memphis center Marc Gasol, who amassed 15 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, three steals and three blocks. "Luckily we did a good job at the end. He had an open look and he missed. He had the look he wanted at the end."

Gasol was referring to a shot by Harden. He missed a 21-foot jumper with 2.7 seconds to play, a shot that would have tied the game had it been true. That errant attempt was the fourth in succession for Harden after Houston (44-35) pulled even at 78 when Jeremy Lin took a Harden pass and hit a 3-pointer with 1:33 left.

Harden finished with a game-high 30 points, but he missed 17 of 24 shots. The Rockets matched their season-low point total and shot a season-worst 31.3 percent. Houston also matched its season low for points in the paint with 22 as Memphis controlled the pace throughout.

With the Denver Nuggets' loss to the Mavericks, the Grizzlies pulled into a tie for third place in the Western Conference standings.

"We had our chances," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "We didn't get out and run as much as we wanted. We missed just a ton of shots. We didn't have a whole lot of flow to the game offensively."

After clawing to a stalemate early in the fourth quarter, Houston surrendered ground with another flurry of turnovers -- seven by the midpoint of the period. Memphis pushed ahead 76-68 before Lin drilled two treys, including the one off the Harden assist that evened the score.

But Memphis took the lead for good when Gasol hit one of two free throws with 1:18 remaining. The Grizzlies' Mike Conley split two free throws with 33.5 seconds left and Tony Allen missed a pair with 6.5 seconds remaining. The Rockets failed to take advantage of those multiple opportunities, however.

"I just like how coach (Lionel Hollins) did it down the stretch," Allen said. "He definitely had his tools working (substituting) offense-defense. Just putting the right guys in at the right time, all the guys were on the same page. When you've got five guys out there with the same goal and fighting hard and playing together, this is the outcome. You get the win."

Zach Randolph added 15 points and eight rebounds while Conley had 12 points, seven boards and five assists for Memphis. Allen had 10 points.

With the Rockets on the brink of an embarrassing home defeat in their penultimate regular-season game at Toyota Center, Harden erupted in the third quarter and dramatically shifted the momentum of the contest.

His last-second trey to close the first half offered a hint of what was to come, and after scoring 12 points before the break, Harden tallied 14 in the third quarter, making his first four shots before finally cooling a bit.

While Memphis recorded seven field goals in the third, Harden nearly matched the Grizzlies' 15 points that period. His 3-pointer with 65 seconds left cut what was a 19-point deficit to 64-59, and when rookie forward Terrence Jones drilled a trey 65 seconds into the fourth, the deficit was just two points. Two Harden free throws at the 8:54 mark pulled the Rockets even. But what got them in trouble as Memphis raced to that lead -- turnovers -- played a role as Memphis surged back ahead.

"They are going to get some of those calls," Harden said of the physical play. "That's just how it is. We had a good chance. We put ourselves in position to go into overtime and make the right plays."

NOTES: Rockets forward Chandler Parsons missed his fourth consecutive game with a strained right calf. And while the injury is improving enough that Parsons might participate in the Rockets' home finale against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday, Parsons has missed enough time that his conditioning in advance of the playoffs could be a concern. "He's played a lot of minutes this year," McHale said. "We'll get him back (for practice) hopefully tomorrow and he can do a little bit more. We'll see if he can't go one of the (games) Sunday or Monday (at the Phoenix Suns), and then let him play Wednesday (at the Los Angeles Lakers)." ... Streaking Memphis has won seven of eight games, building the sort of momentum teams crave in advance of the postseason. That is, if momentum is viewed as a particularly valuable commodity. "It's happened both ways," Hollins said. "Some teams have ended the season not playing so well and they're talented enough to stay in a (playoff) series and extend it where they get to playing well. When you're playing like we are playing you just go out and try to compete every night, and then when you get to the playoffs you try to compete every night."
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