The Memphis Grizzlies weren't really in danger. I mean, I guess you're technically always in at least a little bit of danger when you're up against the defending NBA champions and a team that entered Sunday leading the NBA in points scored per 100 possessions, but Lionel Hollins' squad had hit 10 of their 19 3-point attempts through three quarters, held the Miami Heat to 40.3 percent shooting on the other end and taken a 10-point lead into the final frame. Still, though, there was a split-second where momentum could've switched up and made things pretty hairy.
Four minutes into the fourth quarter of their Sunday matchup, after some traded possessions with the Heat down nine, Ray Allen had just swiped a Jerryd Bayless pass and was streaking up the court for a transition layup. It would've cut Memphis' lead to seven with plenty of time left — and if he got fouled on the trip, it could've made it a two-possession game — and in an "everybody makes a run" league, is precisely the sort of swing that can make three strong quarters disappear, tightening coaches' collars and reducing everything to a half-dozen minutes of held breath.
Luckily for Memphians, Bayless' horse runs a little bit faster than Allen's.
The mistake-erasing chasedown was quickly translated into a big-time 3-pointer by Wayne Ellington (who made seven long balls en route to a 25-point night, both career highs), marking a five-point swing that pushed the Memphis lead up to a dozen. From there, Grizzlies swingman Rudy Gay made his presence felt, rebounding a missed Dwyane Wade runner and draining a long jumper (which is the kind of shot we still wish he wouldn't take, but hey, it went in) before putting an exclamation point on the proceedings:
So, to review: A Heat steal that could've cut the deficit to six turns into a 7-0 run keyed by a huge block, a huge 3-pointer, a sick shake move on LeBron James and a massive tomahawk of a dunk that put Memphis up 16, and this all happened in the space of about 75 seconds. Pretty good run, Grizz.
Memphis continued to pour it on down the stretch to finish off a convincing 104-86 home victory, led by Ellington's 25-point outburst, Gay's all-around contributions on the wing (21 points on 7-for-17 shooting, eight rebounds, five assists, four steals, two blocks), a steady outing from point guard Mike Conley (18 points on 7-for-11 shooting, nine assists against just three turnovers) and another double-double from low-post beast Zach Randolph (18 points, 12 rebounds). Chris Bosh (22 points on 12 shots, eight rebounds) and James (20 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, two steals) paced the Heat, while Dwyane Wade (just 3-for-15 from the field for a season-low eight points) struggled against Memphis' tough perimeter defense.
The win over the defending champs was the Grizzlies' fifth straight W since their season-opening loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. They've held the opposition to 94 points or less in all five, posting an average margin of victory of 12.6 points. They're tied for eighth in the league in offensive efficiency and ranked fourth in defensive efficiency through six games, and they're not sweating their competition at all — witness the answer Gay gave to a question about their upcoming schedule, via The Associated Press:
[Zach Randolph] called this ''a statement game'' for the Grizzlies. They visit Oklahoma City, the defending Western Conference champs, on Wednesday night before hosting the undefeated New York Knicks on Friday. When asked about the Grizzlies having the Thunder and Knicks, Gay had a quick answer.
''They have us,'' he said.
We're sure the Thunder and Knicks are just thrilled about unwrapping that present.