What Memphis Grizzlies Learned About Survival Through Marc Gasol's Injury

Tom FirmeAnalyst IIApril 1, 2013

Mar. 27, 2013; New York, NY, USA; Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) looks to pass the ball around New York Knicks power forward Kenyon Martin (3) during the first half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Marc Gasol returned to the Memphis Grizzlies lineup with a signature roar last week, reawakening a team that desperately needs him for the playoffs. After missing two games due to an aggravated abdominal tear, Gasol played 35, 39 and 35 minutes in the last three games.

He attacked the basket without abandon in the last two games, scoring 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting in both games and dishing out a combined 10 assists.

The Commercial Appeal's Ron Higgins noted Gasol's aggression in his second game back via Twitter.

Watching him go as hard as he did after aggravating an abdominal tear that the Commercial Appeal reported had him out indefinitely either showed his grit or Lionel Hollins' dependence on him.

The latter is closer to the truth as it applies to the Grizzlies' hopes of battling the best in the playoffs.

Hollins conceded as much to the Memphis Flyer while making a nod to the battle between the third, fourth and fifth teams in the West, saying, "That's just the way it is. At some point, I'm going to cut back on minutes, but right now it's a dogfight. Everybody is doing the same thing."

Hollins has been more reliant upon Gasol than any other starter. During his tenure, the Grizz coach never had a backup center who could handle a significant minute load to help Gasol. Hamed Haddadi played between 5.4 and 6.7 minutes per game for Memphis. Dexter Pittman has played 16 minutes in five games since joining the Grizz Feb. 21.

In his career, Pittman never averaged double digits in minutes per game.

Also, neither Pittman nor Haddadi were ever known for their conditioning.

Gasol has played 35 minutes per game. Last season, he placed 12th in minutes per game.

The metrics further demonstrate the Spaniard's value to the Grizz. He's sixth in win shares at 10.6 and 10th in win shares per 48 minutes at .194.

His value was evident in the two games he missed. John Wall posted a career-high 47 points against a Grizzlies team that hadn't let a player score more than 35. They allowed two of the bottom seven teams in offensive rating to score more than 105 against them.

The Memphis Flyer's Chris Herrington called the Grizzlies' thumping at the hands of the Washington Wizards a validation of his Defensive Player of the Year campaign.

The Grizzlies' backcourt defense stands out more than their interior play, considering how often Mike Conley and Tony Allen grab steals. However, Gasol seals off a great deal of scoring. When Conley, Allen or Tayshaun Prince can't keep guys from driving or defer to inside guys, Gasol often shuts them down.

Zach Randolph, who isn't a naturally effective defender, plays off his partner to make a stop. Without Gasol next to him, Randolph struggles to shut guys out. That showed in Gasol's absence, as Randolph allowed 119 points per 100 possessions against the Boston Celtics and 113 against the Wizards.

Besides their defensive acumen, a large part of their playoff chances hinge on their ability to win matchups inside. Gasol and Randolph form the toughest inside duo in the league. Their ability to leverage strength against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers may key series victories.

Gasol's passing ability breathes life into an oft-dormant offense.

Now, as Fox Sports Southwest reporter Rob Fischer tweeted, the big man is at top health.

That's a relief for a Grizzlies team that faces a tough fight for playoff positioning. They'll play six of their last nine games against .500 teams and soon embark on a three-game West Coast road swing.

With his defense and his partnership with Randolph, Gasol will create great fuel for the Grizzlies' playoff run.