When the Memphis Grizzlies come to town, you know you’re in for a battle. Two weeks ago in Memphis, the Sacramento Kings did everything right for 45 minutes, only to blow it down the stretch. Wednesday night in Sacramento, the Kings had a chance to make things even, buoyed by the return of Rudy Gay. But in a game that suited Memphis’ rugged style, the Grizzlies had all the answers. Driven by their All-Star worthy point guard, the Grizz slowed the Kings pace and came away with a 99-89 victory.
CONLEY WINS THE POINT GUARD BATTLE – Memphis and Sacramento are teams that rely on their speedy, left-handed point guards to run the show. On Wednesday, Mike Conley Jr. was the clear victor. Offensively, Isaiah Thomas (39 MIN, 24 PTS, 10-21 FG, 4-10 3FG, 5 AST, 2 TO) posted a solid stat line, but his rhythm was off, and he forced too many perimeter shots. Defensively, Thomas was actually quite good, draping himself over Conley for much of the night. It speaks to the talent of Conley that he was able to impact the game despite the defensive pressure. Conley simply knows how to run the Grizzlies offense, knowing when to attack and when to dish, and he did both very well. Conley took control of the game, especially in the final minutes, leading Memphis to victory with 27 points and 10 assists.
GAY SOLID IN RETURN – Rudy Gay (34 MIN, 23 PTS, 10-16 FG, 2 REB, 5 AST, 5 TO) made his return to the Kings lineup after missing three games with an Achilles injury. His comfort level is debatable — he seemed a bit tentative in his movement and appeared to be wincing in the final minutes. Nonetheless, Gay was a welcome addition for the Kings. Against his former mates, Gay looked to assert himself, scoring on his usual short jumpers and quality takes to the basket. His Achilles appeared fine on a couple fierce dunks in the second half. There was room for improvement — Gay was sloppy with the ball, losing two in the closing moments to kill the Kings comeback hopes. But to have that reliable scorer back in the fold was nice for Sacramento.
THORNTON BACK TO NON-FACTOR – Apparently, a byproduct of Gay’s return was Marcus Thornton once again becoming an afterthought. In the three games missed by Gay, Thornton averaged 24 points and 18.3 shots. Against Memphis, Thornton (2 PTS, 1-2 FG, 1 AST) took just two shots in 17 minutes. What gives? Obviously, Gay’s return pushes Thornton down the totem pole a notch, but it shouldn’t make him irrelevant. If the Kings want Thornton to be a part of the offense, the responsibility falls on three people — Thornton, Isaiah and Coach Michael Malone. Thornton has to be aggressive. He works hard to get open, but apparently not hard enough, and if one shot misses, he can’t sulk or hang his head. As the floor general, Thomas must look to get Thornton going — set up plays for him, hit him in favorable spots on the court. And Coach Malone also has to help get Thornton involved. If all those things fail and someone else presents himself as a better option, by all means, sit Marcus. But against Memphis, Malone claimed Thornton’s defense was the reason for his low playing time. I didn’t see it that way — Thornton’s defensive effort has been solid all year, and Ben McLemore had very little going. The plug was pulled too soon in this one.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – Carl Landry (23 MIN, 8 PTS, 4-5 FG, 9 REB) is getting his legs back. He looked much improved offensively, scoring efficiently around the rim. Something new for Kings fans is Landry’s commitment on the defensive end and boards. He didn’t show much there in his first stint with the team, but against the Grizzlies, Landry again asserted himself as a physical presence in those areas … Jimmer Fredette (9 MIN, 4 PTS, 2-4 FG, 4 AST, 1 TO) played a strong game, albeit in limited minutes. Fredette was a great distributor, finding his mates with nifty passes for easy looks. Defensively, you couldn’t ask him to guard Conley, and that’s why he couldn’t play more … Quincy Acy (19 MIN, 4 PTS, 2-5 FG, 5 REB, 1 BLK) did his best to rev up the Sacramento crowd with some great hustle plays. He has a nose for rebounds, and his vicious rejection of Courtney Lee’s dunk attempt in the third quarter almost ignited a Kings run … Since the refs typically only get mentioned in a negative light, it’s worth noting that this was a very well-officiated game. The refs let the players play in a physical, rugged game, and it was to everyone’s benefit. Ron Garretson even participated in a Kings T-shirt toss, hooking up a young fan during a timeout.