Depth makes Grizzlies a force in Western Conference - USA TODAY

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Depth makes Grizzlies a force in Western Conference - USA TODAY
Apr 10th 2012, 03:22

By J. Michael Falgoust, USA TODAY


MEMPHIS – In the first half of Monday night's game alone, the Memphis Grizzlies had 10 different players score vs. the Los Angeles Clippers. And they didn't have starting shooting guard Tony Allen.

  • O.J. Mayo averages 12.5 points a game off the bench, one of six Grizzlies to average in double figures.

    By Spruce Derden, US Presswire

    O.J. Mayo averages 12.5 points a game off the bench, one of six Grizzlies to average in double figures.

By Spruce Derden, US Presswire

O.J. Mayo averages 12.5 points a game off the bench, one of six Grizzlies to average in double figures.

The Grizzlies (33-23) had an 11-point lead at halftime and went on to beat the Clippers 94-85, but the team that made it to the Western Conference semifinals last season appears to have addressed its biggest weakness: Bench scoring.

With power forward Zach Randolph coming off the bench since returning from a knee injury recently, he has given the second unit a post option with guards O.J. Mayo and Gilbert Arenas.

When the Grizzlies fell in seven games to the Oklahoma City Thunder in last year's playoffs, it was their bench of Mayo, Sam Young, Darrell Arthur, Greivis Vasquez and Shane Battier that came up short.

Young wasn't a scorer and was traded mid-season. Arthur's season ended before it began with an Achilles tear. Vasquez was traded before the season. Battier left as a free agent.

Follow J. Michael Falgoust on Twitter at @jmikeNBAusat. To get the latest sports news from USA TODAY, including game results, columns and features, follow us on Twitter at @USATODAYSports.

The Grizzlies' inability to score, particularly in a 133-123 triple overtime home loss to the Thunder in Game 4 of the semifinals, was likely the difference-maker. The Grizzlies could've taken a 3-1 lead and advanced to the conference finals for the first time in franchise history. Instead, the series was 2-2 as the Thunder took back home-court advantage.

Memphis' starters logged too many minutes, and fouls, as attrition set in. When Allen returns from a facial laceration, coach Lionel Hollins can go as many as 12 deep and generate myriad lineups.

"They were doing it more defensively than scoring-wise," Hollins says of last season's team. "When your bench can't score you can't leave them out there a long time. It's just the way it goes because the other team plays their guys that can score. … If you can score a little bit , even if you're not stopping, you can keep the game even."

Monday, Memphis' big three off the bench — Randolph, Mayo and Arenas — combined for 25 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists.

With the Clippers (34-23) hanging around in the fourth quarter, it was a three-pointer by Mayo with 6:59 left that stretched Memphis' lead to 81-64. Los Angeles made a late run to cut the deficit to 86-83, but Mayo handled the ball up the court, beat the trap and found a cutting Rudy Gay for a game-clinching dunk with 37.8 seconds left.

Mayo, a starter until last season, began this year determined to be a utility man, citing how integral the Dallas Mavericks' bench was in winning the 2011 NBA title. He wanted to model his contributions to that of San Antonio Spurs All-Star Manu Ginobili, who is noted for game-changing plays that go beyond just scoring.

"In order to be a championship caliber team you have to be at least eight or nine deep," Mayo told USA Today Sports earlier this season. "Our second team is going to have to play an important role.

"I want to be a playmaker, a little better than just coming in and scoring. … If my shot is not going in, I still want to be able to go in and be effective on both ends of the floor."

The Grizzlies, an eighth seed in last year's playoffs, are just one-half game behind the Clippers for the fourth spot in the West. They're two games behind the No. 3 Los Angeles Lakers.

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