"We have been through situations similar to this," said Memphis center Marc Gasol, fielding questions from the media before the Grizzlies faced the Houston Rockets at FedExForum on Monday night (Nov. 25).
Gasol was referring to the fact that he will be out for the next few weeks recovering from a left knee injury he sustained in the loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Memphis on Friday (Nov. 22). An MRI revealed a left MCL sprain, putting the All-Star center out indefinitely.
"It's going to be a little different," said Gasol. "Roles are going to change a little bit, but I'm confident the team is going to play the way they are supposed to."
Meanwhile, the Grizzlies have to figure out how to move on without Gasol. According to Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger, they need playmaking and scoring off the bench and guys to settle in their roles.
Chapter 1 of life on the court without Gasol unfolded Monday night with the Grizzlies fighting hard. They actually held the lead for three quarters only to succumb to the Rockets 93-86. The fourth quarter was full of telltale signs of the work that needs to be done.
Monday's loss to Houston at home was the first defeat against the Rockets in FedExForum since Dec. 3, 2010.
The Rockets played without star guard James Harden, who missed his second straight game with a sore left foot.
The Grizzlies had a steady offense during the first half, forcing 11 Houston turnovers. They closed the second quarter on a 15-6 run to take a 44-32 halftime lead.
The Rockets came back with a plan that they executed at a very high level during the final period.
"We had a great game plan," said Grizz guard Tony Allen. "We did it for three quarters. They just turned into a different team once they sat their starters. Those guys penetrated the basketball. They got to our soft spot, which is the paint."
The Rockets played with their bench in the final quarter. They scored 38 points on 14-of-20 shooting to Memphis' 23 points on 5-of-15 shooting.
The Grizzlies starters were back in the game with eight minutes left to play. They were up by eight at the start of the fourth quarter before Houston went on a 20-6 run. The Grizzlies never came within four points for the rest of the game.
Gasol's backup, Kosta Koufos, finished with eight points and a season-high 13 rebounds in his first start of the season. Tayshaun Prince led the Grizzlies with a season-high 16 points, 7-of-10 from the field. Mike Conley added 10 points and a season-high 10 assists to record his first double-double of the season.
The starters returned and couldn't find their rhythm.
"I was waiting to hold out as long as I could," said Joerger. "I was trying to win it. I didn't want to put them in too early and they run out of gas with two minutes left to go. We ran out of gas when I had put them in anyway. I was just trying to hold it together as long as we could."
Memphis held the Rockets to 93 points, a season low with the team averaging a NBA-best 109.9 points-per-game on the season. Leaning on their key bench players, Houston embodied momentum in the second half, hitting five three-point shots. Chandler Parsons led the Rockets with 17 points. Omri Casspi finished with 16 points, scoring 11 down the stretch.
"I thought our guys needed a rest, and we just kept trying to find a lineup that would really click," said Rockets head coach Kevin McHale. "They took care of the boards and did a great job defensively."
The Grizzlies will play their next seven-out-of-eight games at home facing the Boston Celtics on Wednesday in Boston, then returning to Memphis to play Jason Kidd and he Brooklyn Nets on Saturday (Nov. 30) at FedExForum.