After sluggish start from starters, Grizzlies bench roars to 92-83 victory over Portland Trail Blazers

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After a lackluster first quarter, it looked like the Memphis Grizzlies were headed for a third consecutive loss of the season.

But that effort didn’t last much longer, as Mike Conley and the bench sparked the Grizzlies (16-11) to a 92-83 win over the Portland Trail Blazers (15-13) on Wednesday, Dec. 12 at FedExForum.

The Grizzlies trailed 26-15 after the first quarter and shot just 32% from the field. For the remaining three quarters, the Grizzlies outscored the Blazers 77-57.

Here are three of the main takeaways from the Grizzlies victory:

Bench Production:

When the first quarter ended, the Grizzlies entire starting lineup had produced 4 points. This put the team in an early hole, but the bench was able to dig out of it.

Marshon Brooks caught fire and JaMychal Green provided much-needed energy and scoring as well. Green finished 5-of-5 from the field, scoring 12 points with a plus 9 in the box score. Brooks added 13 points of his own and finished plus 10 in the box score.

At the end of the first half, the Grizzlies bench had outscored the starters 26-16.

“That was the key to tonight’s game,” J.B. Bickerstaff said. “We got off to a slower start, but those guys came in and were all over the place.”

“We just wanted to come out there and play with a lot of energy,” Brooks added. “Our first unit got off to a sluggish start and that’s why we’ve got 12 players ready to play.”

Mike Conley doing damage on both ends:

While it wasn’t the best day for most of the starters, that didn’t include Mike Conley. Conley entered the game in the second quarter with most of the bench, and played a large role in the Grizzlies taking the lead in the second quarter.

In the fourth quarter, Conley knocked down big shots and played aggressive defense to put the game away. Conley finished the game with 23 points, six rebounds and six assists. He had 10 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, and held all-star point guard Damian Lillard to half of his average.

“I think Mike Conley is an excellent on-ball defender,” Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said. “He’s difficult to screen, he fights through screens, pick-and-rolls.”

Eliminating key contributors:

The Blazers big three of Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic combine to average about 63 points a game. They are the only players on the Blazers who average double figures.

While McCollum was able to score 40 points, the Grizzlies defense managed to completely limit Nurkic and Lillard.

Nurkic finished the game 1-of-15 from the field, with two points. He was hounded by former defensive player of the year Marc Gasol all game, as Gasol finished the game with six blocks.

“For him to hold the defense down and keep things in front of him, that’s huge,” Bickerstaff said.

When Lillard plays against the Grizzlies, he’s used to them dropping their big men in pick-and-roll, and that’s what he expected. However, Bickerstaff and the team made an adjustment defensively by keeping their bigs up.

The defensive adjustment, combined with the tenacity of Conley, forced Lillard into a 4-of-18 shooting effort and 14 points.

“They just grind on you,” Lillard said. They play physical, good team defense, they are always there. That’s been their style for years.”

Offensively rookie Jaren Jackson was also a key contributor, as he scored 14 points. With the addition of Joakim Noah, Bickerstaff is more comfortable with how he can use Jackson.

“We are covered at that big spot with Marc, JaMychal and Joakim now, so we can be patient with Jaren,” Bickerstaff said. “He’s going to have flashes of greatness, because he is a special player, but we’re going to go about it the right way.”

The Grizzlies will return to the court Friday night as they host the Miami Heat on the first night of a double-header.