After the Hawks took their only lead of the fourth quarter on a Paul Millsap 3-pointer, Mike Conley responded with a three of his own with 53 seconds to play to retake the lead for the Grizzlies. Atlanta’s final home game of the preseason was a hard-fought 82-81 loss against Memphis that felt like a mid-season match-up. Unlike Sunday’s loss to Miami, tonight’s game gave Hawks fans their first legitimate look at how this team is likely to operate during the rapidly-approaching regular season as all five starters played at least 30 minutes.
Atlanta started the game strong as Kyle Korver scored as many in the first quarter as Memphis’ entire roster (seven points on 3-for-3 shooting). The Grizzlies were able to chip away at the resulting 24-7 deficit in the second quarter with seven points by Courtney Lee and 14 from the bench. The Hawks went to the locker room at halftime with a tenuous 37-33 lead.
Battling against a defensive powerhouse caused the Hawks to lose some of their finesse. Several fouls early in the third put both Al Horford (13 points, game-high 14 rebounds) and Millsap (17 points, nine rebounds) in trouble and forced coach Mike Budenholzer’s hand in giving his starters some much-needed rest. Unfortunately, this was the turning point Memphis needed to finally pull away, and they took the lead for the first time with 3:19 left in the third on a layup by Jeff Green. Zach Randolph’s 11 third quarter points (4-for-5) sent the Grizzlies on a 24-6 run that stretched well into the fourth and put them ahead 70-57.
Memphis would ultimately prove impossible to overcome, but that’s not to say the Hawks didn’t try like hell. With 10 minutes to play, Coach Bud put his starters back on the court and Jeff Teague got the would-be comeback going with three quick baskets. Millsap then contributed another six points to the eventual 20-6 Atlanta run, capped by his 3-pointer that momentarily gave the Hawks a 77-76 lead. The final minute was dominated by fouls and free throws, and after Marc Gasol made both attempts to put Memphis up by four, Horford’s three at the buzzer wasn’t enough to keep the game going.
Kent Bazemore was especially impressive tonight, and the starting small forward job looks like it’s his to lose. He led all Atlanta scorers with 18 points and once again proved he brings more to the table than a quick glimpse at the stat sheet can show. Memphis’ 24-6 run began the moment Baze and Horford sat and Thabo Sefolosha and Tim Hardaway Jr. entered the game (a fact which earned a “so you’re saying that was a bad sub?” from Coach Bud when I brought it up during his post-game appearance).
If that weren’t enough proof of Baze’s value on this team, Atlanta began their 20-6 run as soon as he and his fellow starters stepped back on the court. Teague and Millsap may have been the first to score, but Bazemore was contributing on both ends of the court. A sneaky assist here, a three-pointer there, he even drew a key offensive foul on Gasol that kept the Hawks on their run. I can’t emphasize enough how important he’s going to be to this team during this season. Coach Bud was equally impressed with his efforts after the game:
I thought Baze had a very good game tonight defensively, his energy, and then offensively, attacking the basket, making some pull up shots, making the corner three, getting to the basket. So I think it was good to see Baze play the way he did. I thought he was a big part of us being able to come back and make it a competitive game.
In the locker room I asked Bazemore what part he played in keeping the Hawks in the game, and he had this to say:
I just like to bring energy, bring that spark. If our guys are out there and energy’s low a little bit I just try to go out there and make an exciting play and get the fans into it. My purpose in life is to make people smile, and [be] energized and happy. We fought hard tonight. It’s the first time we played extended minutes together against a very physical team. To fight back against a very good team, a very professional team says a lot about us.
Randolph led the Grizzlies with a game-high 19 points with 13 rebounds. Lee and Green scored 10 each. Conley added nine points and five assists but shot just 1-for-7 from the field. The game-winning 3-pointer was his only field goal as he scored most of his points by shooting a perfect 6-for-6 from the free throw line.
Atlanta’s bench shot 5-for-26. All five starters posted a positive plus-minus while the bench averaged a net rating of minus-9.8. The Hawks have shot a league-best 80.4% from the free throw line in the preseason but shot just 11-for-17 (65%) against the Grizzlies, which proved costly. Atlanta shot just 38% from the field but limited Memphis to 33% shooting. Atlanta’s final preseason game is Friday in Detroit.