MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — With the Los Angeles Clippers still hanging around in the fourth quarter, the Memphis Grizzlies’ reserves put them away with a long-range barrage: Quincy Pondexter, Courtney Lee and Jon Leuer provided the knockout blow with a trifecta of 3-pointers.
It was another impressive performance by the Grizzlies reserves.
Memphis’ bench is beginning to gel and is a big reason the Grizzlies have matched their best start in franchise history at 12-2. There’s no drop off in Memphis’ trademark stingy defense when the reserves enter the game. They even bring some much-needed 3-point shooting and their play has led to more rest for the starters.
“It was just a matter of time and them just breaking through and things converting for them,” guard Tony Allen said. “They just need to bring that firepower off the bench. They’re very capable of sustaining the lead or building on the lead, or if we are down, then bring some energy.
“That’s their mindset, and they are doing it together. That’s what’s most impressive.”
The improved play of the bench comes at a good time.
Memphis starts a four-game West Coast swing Wednesday at the Lakers now tied with Toronto for the NBA’s best record at 12-2. The Grizzlies also visit Portland, Sacramento and Houston before returning home to face the Spurs, Heat and Mavericks.
The Grizzlies knew the guys coming off the bench were better than they played in the first few games. After all, this was a unit bolstered this offseason by signing Vince Carter.
But the Grizzlies did not have a reserve reach double figures until Beno Udrih scored 16 points and Kosta Koufos added 14 in the eighth game of the season – a win over the Los Angeles Lakers. They showed just how good they can be Nov. 11 outscoring Houston’s bench 56-40.
Leuer has averaged 13.6 points and 5.3 rebounds in the last three games he’s played, while Pondexter is at 8.6 points over the same span. Guard Beno Udrih is checking in at 11 points and 4.6 assists in his last three.
“It’s opportunity,” Koufos said of the difference. “Everybody’s been playing well. The starting five is doing a heckuva job, and now it’s our job to continue to lift them up and play hard.”
Leuer’s burst included 19 points, seven rebounds and four assists against Boston last week, when he could barely hold his head up in postgame interviews, still suffering the symptoms of a stomach virus that swept through about half the roster.
“I think his confidence is sky high now,” guard Mike Conley said of Leuer. “He’s making the shots and taking the shots he should and that we believe he can make.”
One key factor is timely 3-point shooting. Memphis is tied with Golden State for fifth in the NBA hitting 37.7 percent beyond the arc, though taking far fewer attempts than the Warriors. But the bench has hit the long ball when it matters most.
Against the Sacramento Kings, Memphis posted the biggest comeback in franchise history after trailing by 26 thanks to a trio of 3-pointers from Carter, including one from each corner. That helped Memphis defeat the Kings 111-110 on Lee’s reverse layup on a perfect inbounds lob from Carter – a play Sacramento still disputes that will be decided by the NBA by Dec. 2.
The bench play also has led to bigger margins of victory for the Grizzlies.
After squeaking through the early part of the schedule with only two wins by 10 or more points, Memphis has won the last three by an average of almost 20 points. That has allowed the bench to take over in the fourth quarter and the starters to get some rest. Zach Randolph has not played in the fourth the last two games, while Allen sat the final frame against the Clippers.
“They trust the work that they’ve done,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. “They are good players. It’s just finding a little bit of rhythm.”
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