MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Considering the Memphis Grizzlies came back to beat Dallas a week ago after trailing by 27 points, did you think a 17-point deficit against Portland on Wednesday night would be impossible to overcome?
The Grizzlies, even without two of their top six players and another one under the weather, didn't think that way. Playing to their strength, the Griz got down and dirty in the fourth quarter, playing lockdown defense to rally for a 91-85 victory at FedExForum.
Point guard Mike Conley led the Grizzlies (40-19) with 20 points, hitting two free throws with 16.1 seconds left for an 89-85 lead and then forcing Portland rookie Damian Lillard to miss a forced outside jumper.
Marc Gasol added 23 points and 12 rebounds for the Grizzlies, and Jerryd Bayless scored 10 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter.
"We play better with adversity, but we need to go into the next game and play the second half like we played the first half," said Griz guard Tony Allen, who held Portland's Nick Batum scoreless in the second half after Batum scored 10 in the first half. "All five of our guys collectively had a sense of urgency that we were going to get stops. We can't keep coming back, it's going to haunt us to keep having to do this."
The Grizzlies had a bit of excuse this time. They played without starting power forward Zach Randolph (sprained ankle) and his backup Darrell Arthur (back and neck spasms), a collective 22.1 points and 14.6 rebounds. Normally spunky wingman Quincy Pondexter played a lethargic 22 minutes after getting food poisoning earlier in the day at breakfast.
Despite all of that and an offense that scored just 38 points in the first half because Randolph's absence wiped out the Griz's high-post, low-post attack, Memphis found a way to vanquish the Trail Blazers (28-32).
"They hurt us early in pick-and-rolls, but in the second half we did a much better job," Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said. "As we got a feel for trusting what we were trying to do and trusting each other, we took away a lot of their stuff."
For instance, Portland point guard Damien Lillard, the NBA's top candidate for Rookie of the Year, scored 18 of his team-high 20 points in the first three quarters. In the fourth period, when the Grizzlies held the Trail Blazers to 25 percent shooting, Lillard, Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge, normally Portland's top three scorers, combined for four points on 1-of-10 field goals.
"They are a good defensive team and they turned it up defensively," Lillard said. "They started making shots, and once you do that as a team, you get confidence."
The Grizzlies had a total lack of ball movement early, shooting 30.6 percent in the first quarter and trailing 26-18. The problem was the wrong people were taking shots for Memphis. Defensive specialist Allen jacked up almost a third of the shots (3-for-8).
Portland stretched the lead to 50-38 at halftime as the Grizzlies had no answer for Lillard, who had 14 points.
Memphis tried hard to dent the lead in the third quarter and finally got into Portland in the last three minutes.
The Griz, with no Randolph or Arthur playing, found it difficult to run any high-low post offense. Finally, Tayshaun Prince moved to power forward with Gasol, the offense ignited and the Grizzlies' attack suddenly became more than Conley attacking openings.
"That was a disappointing loss," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "They (the Grizzlies) tightened things up defensively, but their offense had a lot to do with that."
NOTES: Gasol had his 14th double-double and Conley had his sixth 20-point plus game of the year. The Grizzlies are 6-0 when Conley scores 20 or more. ... Conley wishes Greg Oden, his former high school and Ohio State teammate, were in a Portland uniform. Oden, a 7-foot center who was a No. 1 pick, was released by the Trail Blazers at the end of last season after a third microfracture knee surgery. He has played 82 games in five years. Now, Oden's rehabbing the knee, splitting time between Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio, where he's taking classes at Ohio State. Conley said when he looks at other centers in the NBA, he can't help but think how Oden would have compared if healthy. "I think about it a lot," Conley said. "When you think about certain guys succeeding in the league, knowing what Greg was coming out of college, Greg was THAT guy coming out of college. What would he have been six years later? "It's tough for me to see him not on the court. I'm hoping that this next year he can do that and prove people wrong." ... Lillard had his 30th game of 20 points or more. ... The Griz have a six-game home winning streak.