Trailing down the stretch against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Memphis Grizzlies turned to the playoff-tested defense for which they are known.
Point guard Mike Conley drove for a two-foot basket with 1.5 seconds left, completing a 9-0 run that gave Memphis a 90-88 victory on Wednesday at Smoothie King Center.
The Grizzlies put the ball in Conley’s hands after getting the ball with 14.7 seconds left. After a timeout, Conley got a pick by Mike Miller against the Pelicans’ Austin Rivers, who was guarding him, and zipped past center Greg Stiemsma.
Conley said that after a timeout, the Grizzlies knew what to expect from the Pelicans, who were playing without starters Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon, who were ill.
“We knew who they had on the floor,” Conley said. “They were going to switch on the pick and roll. I anticipated Stiemsma getting up into me, so I ended up just around around him.”
Rivers tried a three-quarter length heave after the ball was inbounded that was blocked by guard Tony Allen.
The loss ended a three-game winning streak for the Pelicans (26-38), who were looking to complete a four-game season sweep of the Grizzlies.
Memphis (38-26), which had a big victory at home against Portland on Tuesday night, has won four in a row. The Grizzlies, a perennial playoff team, have surged to the seventh playoff spot.
The loss overshadowed 29 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots by All-Star power forward Anthony Davis and 14 points and a career-high nine assists by fellow second-year player Rivers.
The winning score came after guard Anthony Morrow, with the score tied at 88, missed a 3-point attempt with 16 seconds left after Brian Roberts drove into the lane and passed to him.
“I was open,” Morrow said. “I just missed it.
“But we fought hard the whole game and played well on defense. We just didn’t get it done.”
Memphis came back from an 88-81 deficit in the final 3 minutes, 22 seconds. But with the help of two costly New Orleans turnovers, the Grizzlies held them without a basket.
“We couldn’t get into an offense,” Pelicans coach Monty Davis said. “We kind of went away from the things that we’ve been doing, pushing the ball down the floor after stops.
“Anthony had a really good game going, and then they started loading the (lane). A couple of 3s we took down the stretch, we didn’t really need those shots.”
Knowing the Pelicans were without two major scorers, Allen said the Grizzlies decided late in the game to make someone other than Davis beat them. Davis made two free throws that produced the seven-point lead at 3:22, then didn’t get a shot the rest of the way.
“We put (6-foot-9 small forward) Tayshaun Prince on (Davis), and the rest of us keyed on him,” Allen said.
With the Pelicans leading 88-86, Conley came up with the defensive play of the game. Rivers drove into the lane, and Conley poked it from behind. Allen came up with it, then went in for a layup that tied the score with 1:22 showing.
“They were trying to run and pick and roll with Davis,” Allen said. “We took away Davis as an option by fronting him with a player. That forced Rivers to drive, and Conley knocked it away from behind.”
After Memphis cut seven-point lead to 79-78, Rivers had lifted the Pelicans. First, he drove and did a double-clutch move at the rim for a basket against Memphis’ Marc Goal, last season’s defensive player of the year with 6:22 left in the game.
Then, Memphis guard Nick Calathes missed a jump shot, andRivers gathered the ball in and threw a long pass to Davis that resulted in a three-piont play.
Morrow nailed a 3-pointer with Allen guarding closely, and Davis followed with two free throws for the seven-point lead.
The Pelicans jumped on the Grizzlies 31-20 in the second quarter to take a 57-48 halftime lead. Davis scored 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the half.
Conley drove the lane for 14 third-quarter points to bring Memphis back, but the Pelicans fought them off and led 74-67 at the end of the quarter.