The plan going in was to limit the Grizzlies’ bears in the middle, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
No one, it seemed, thought about accounting for Wayne Ellington. On a night filled with many errors by the Heat, that was the biggest one.
Ellington, the Grizzlies’ reserve guard from North Carolina, scored a career-high 25 points in the Heat’s 104-86 loss to Memphis on Sunday at FedEx Forum.
The Grizzlies made 14 three-pointers and Ellington had half of them, going 7 of 11 from distance and 8 of 13 overall. In its two losses this season — both blowouts — the Heat’s defense has yielded 33 three-pointers on 60 attempts.
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“We came into the game really aware of their interior game,” Heat forward Shane Battier said. “They lead the league in points in the paint and rim shots and so we really, really focused on that and probably were not as focused on their shooters.”
“We wanted to compact the lane and we were willing to live with some of the jumpers but they got hot and we couldn’t slow them down,” Battier said.
While the Heat (5-2) held its own in the paint, Battier (five points and four fouls) was overwhelmed inside by the Grizzlies’ size and played just 16 minutes. His absence contributed to a lack of defensive rhythm early and Miami never recovered. The Grizzlies used three big runs — one at the end of the first half (14-1), another in the third quarter (11-0) and the final uppercut in the fourth quarter (16-1) — to knockout the defending champs.
“We didn’t make shots and they made shots,” said LeBron James, who had 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. “They made 14 threes and our game plan coming into the game was protect the paint. They’re a great paint-scoring team and they were, like, close to last in three-pointers made and three-pointers attempted per game. But we paid for it today.”
Ellington started the second quarter with his first three-pointer of the game and then nailed two more in succession to give the Grizzlies a 40-34 lead. His fourth three-pointer of the period came amid Memphis’ 14-1 run to end the half.
Ellington’s seven three-pointers was the most by a member of the Grizzlies since April 6, 2008, when Mike Miller had eight at Minnesota.
“It’s a great feeling,” Ellington said. “You get in that zone where you feel like you can’t miss. That’s the kind of night it was for me tonight.”
Maybe this is the season the Grizzlies break through in the Western Conference and make a deep run in the playoffs. On Sunday, they certainly seemed ready. Memphis’ 5-1 start to the season is its best in franchise history.
Limiting Randolph and Gasol inside was the Heat’s plan but the frontcourt players ended with double-digit totals in rebounds. Randolph had 18 points and 12 rebounds while Gasol had four points and 10 rebounds. Still, the rebounding battle ended even, 43-43, and the Heat outscored the Grizzlies in the paint 42-40.
The Heat also accomplished its objective of getting to the free-throw line. Once there, however, the team struggled. Miami was 22 of 36 from the line with James missing all four of his attempts.
“If you would have told me before the game that we would out free-throw them by 20 and out-paint them, sure I thought we would have a chance to win at the end,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
But, in the end, Spoelstra threw in the towel with 4:37 left in the game. The Heat trailed by 22 points when the Heat’s coach subbed out James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen.
Miami trailed 82-75 with 8:34 left when the Grizzlies went on its 16-1 run. Ellington had a pair of three-pointers during the burst, Rudy Gay offered a massive dunk through the heart of the Heat’s defense and Quincy Pondexter and Mike Conley finished it off with two more threes.
Gay had an active stat line, shooting 7 of 17 from the field for 21 points to go along with eight rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocked shots. It was Gay who defeated the Heat two seasons ago at FedEx Forum with a buzzer beater over James but no late-game heroics were needed on this night.
Wade had an off game, going 3 of 15 from the field for eight points and eight rebounds. Allen had five points on 2 of 7 shooting in 26 minutes. Mario Chalmers played just 24 minutes and had five points and three assists. Chalmers’ counterpart, Conley, had 18 points and nine assists in 32 minutes.
The Heat finished with 18 assists and 13 turnovers. It was the first time in four games an opponent held the Heat to fewer than 20 assists.