MEMPHIS, Tenn. — You can’t escape “Grit and Grind” here.
The words are on T-shirts everywhere, from Grizzlies fans in the stands at the FedEx forum to the locker-room attendants who tidy up after the game. Folks yell the team’s slogan in timeouts, and players reference it in interviews.
And on Friday, the Grizzlies showed against the Pelicans that it’s more than a catchphrase. In beating New Orleans 121-114 in overtime in a battle of short-handed teams, Memphis proved it’s part of the team’s culture.
“We got to be that ‘Grit-and-Grind’ team just like them,” Pelicans forward Anthony Davis said after a 25-point, 13-rebound performance on his 23rd birthday. “No matter who’s on the floor, they’re going to play hard, play aggressive and that’s how we got to be. We got to be one of those teams that goes after it for the full 48 minutes.”
New Orleans showed signs of it on Friday, battling back from nine points down to twice take the lead in the final 1:18 of the fourth quarter. But when the Pelicans got going, the Grizzlies got tough.
With his team leading 99-97, Davis got his hands on a rebound of a Matt Barnes miss only to see Memphis’ JaMychal Green swipe it — “It hit the backboard and slipped out,” Davis said — for a stick-back that tied it at 99 with 49.4 seconds to play. That was the score at the end of regulation.
“You got to make those plays to be able to win on the road,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “Close is great, but it doesn’t help you out at all. You just got to complete the possession and come up with the plays, and we didn’t do that. And they did.”
Lance Stephenson and Matt Barnes made most of them.
Stephenson scored a career-high 33 points. Barnes had his first career triple-double, finishing with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
Those two are playing major minutes — 37 for Stephenson, 43 for Barnes — in large part because the Grizzlies, like the Pelicans, are battling significant injuries.
Memphis played without center Marc Gasol, out for the season with a foot injury, and power forward Zach Randolph (sore knee) and point guard Mike Conley (sore foot).
The Grizzlies also were without guard Jordan Adams and forwards Chris Andersen and Brandan Wright. Forward Vince Carter suffered a lower left leg injury in the second quarter and didn’t return. The Grizzlies started a point guard, Briante Weber, who’s on a 10-day contract.
Gentry feels their pains.
The Pelicans have four players — guards Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon and Bryce Dejean-Jones and forward Quincy Pondexter — out for the season, and Friday were without guard Norris Cole and center Alexis Ajinca.
But the Grizzlies found a way to plug in pieces, to (grit and) grind out the win.
“Their reputation here is that they’re a tough team,” Gentry said. “When you think about Lance Stephenson and Matt Barnes and guys like that, they’re tough guys.”
So is Green, who had 21 points and 10 rebounds and whose rebound stole from the Pelicans a chance to ice the win in regulation.
“At the end of the day, we can’t come close to getting that rebound or putting our hand on it, we got to come up with it,” Gentry said. “We can’t come close to stopping (them). We have to come up with it. That’s the difference between playing a good game and losing and playing a good game and winning on the road — or anyplace, really.”
The Pelicans gave themselves chances. Jrue Holiday was a big reason why.
The point guard played a season-high 40 minutes, finishing with 34 points and 10 assists on 12-of-27 shooting. But he also committed seven of the Pelicans’ 18 turnovers.
“With a physical team like that, you can’t turn the ball over,” Holiday said. “It’s just giving them extra possessions that we can’t get back.”
The Grizzlies made the most of those chances — they scored 20 points off turnovers — and played with the kind of energy and toughness, that Holiday said the Pelicans still are “looking for.”
Around here, they call it “Grit and grind.” You can’t escape it. New Orleans would like to build a franchise that can imitate it.
“They’re a powerhouse team; we’re a team that’s trying to get to where they are,” Davis said. “We just got to find a way to win. This team grinds it out every minute of the game. That’s kind of how we want to be.”