This was touted as a matchup between the teams with the two best records in the league. For the first two quarters, both teams executed plays and shot well. New York was shooting over 60% and making key steals, but still couldn’t get more than a 2-3 point lead due to giving up too much second-chance points on the offensive board. Melo was having to work extremely hard on defense, contending with Zach Randolph and Marc, Gasol who both outweighed him by 30-40 pounds. But as he’s shown over the winning streak, Melo made the right passes to guys like Kidd and Brewer for open shots. Unfortunately, Melo had to sit after getting two fouls, as did the Grizzlies’ Rudy Gay, leaving it a tight game of 29-25 in favor of Memphis after one.
Rasheed Wallace went to work in the post in the second, hopefully a sign of future things to come. That forced double teams and allowed for guys like JR Smith to get going with outside jumpers. Unfortunately for NY, Memphis’ outside shooters were hot, in particular their point guard Bayless. Matters would get chippy with him when a JR elbow and Bayless shove resulted in double technicals. The hard play continued and Melo began to complain too much about the lack of calls for him inside. The Grizzlies scrambled hard for every loose ball and even a Knicks block from Rasheed Wallace went in the Grizz’s favor, as the loose ball went to Mike Conley who hit a three to give them a 54-49 halftime lead.
Then disaster struck in the third. Melo caught a suspect third foul early and less than two minutes later got another while being tangled up with Marc Gasol. Melo got irate and earned a technical before hitting the bench. Tyson Chandler got his fourth foul and the team just became unglued. Think the playoffs last year in game 1 where the Heat got a bunch of fouls and ran the Knicks out of the building. This was very similar as the Grizzlies went on a ridiculous 19-1 run and ended up outscoring the Knicks 31-18 for the quarter. Chandler got his fifth foul, coach Woodson his own technical and next thing you know the score was 74-56 Grizzlies.
Chandler’s foul trouble forced Woodson to do something he should have done from the outset; put Kurt Thomas on Randolph. Immediately, Randolph had a much tougher time scoring and had to work harder in the paint for rebounds. Unfortunatly, the damage had been done. Although the Knicks rallied to pull as close as 8 points in the fourth, a few quick Grizzlies scores off pick and rolls effectively iced the game to give the Knicks their first defeat.
You’d think we would have had a good shot of winning having shot 51%, but having our best players in foul trouble and Woodson being stubborn with the lineup sealed our fate. Thankfully, Woodson is already on record stating some of his substitutions hurt us down the stretch. This game is a clear example that while Melo has had success at the 4 spot, that can become a weakness against a team like the Grizzlies and we have to adjust accordingly.
Melo’s been great this year, but the one glaring flaw he needs to get in check continues to be the ref complaining. He’s going to start to get, if he hasn’t already, a reputation with the refs and the techs will start coming quicker. Our team follows his lead; when he became irate and unfocused in the third, the rest of the team followed suit. I’m sure his patience wasn’t helped matters by getting banged around by Randolph and Gasol, but he needs to check this behavior ASAP.
It’s back home on Sunday to face the Pacers. All in all, it was a good road trip going 2-1. Let’s hope we don’t see Melo trying to guard Roy Hibbert tomorrow.