MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE – The Memphis Grizzlies celebrated the return of Marc Gasol with a victory over one of the league’s top teams — and one of their biggest rivals.
Courtney Lee scored a season-high 24 points, including the closing two free throws, and the Grizzlies beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 90-87 on Tuesday night in Gasol’s first game in almost eight weeks.
While Lee provided the early offensive punch for Memphis, many teammates were talking about the return of the Gasol, the league’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, who missed 23 games with a left knee injury. The 216-cm center played 24 minutes and finished with 12 points.
“Everybody is excited, especially for him,” said guard Mike Conley, who had 19 points and seven assists in Memphis’ third straight victory. “He’s been itching to get out there forever, and I thought he did great. It gave us a good boost.”
Gasol, whose return was not announced until just before the game, received a rousing ovation from the Memphis crowd when he was introduced with the starting lineup. He said the cheers gave him “goose bumps” and made him feel like a rookie again. He said the knee did not bother him, but the large knee brace he is wearing is uncomfortable.
“It felt really good, especially since we got the win,” Gasol said of the knee. “That makes everything worth it.”
Zach Randolph had 23 points and 13 rebounds on the night his inside partner returned.
Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 37 points, converting 15 of 28 shots. Reggie Jackson scored 17, but also committed seven of Oklahoma City’s 19 turnovers. Serge Ibaka finished with 11 points and four blocks as the Thunder lost their third in the last four.
Durant, who has dealt with an aching left wrist and did not practice Monday, had ice on it after the game, but said he did not aggravate the injury.
Lee converted a 6.7-meter shot from the right wing as time ran out in the third period to help Memphis carry a 72-67 lead into the final frame.
The Grizzlies, who trailed 47-43 at the break, converted 10 of 18 shots in the third, while the Thunder managed only 9 of 22. That led to the Grizzlies outscoring Oklahoma City 29-20 in the period.
Pacers 116, Kings 92
In Indianapolis, Paul George scored 31 points, making four 3-pointers, as the Pacers snapped Sacramento’s three-game winning streak.
David West had 16 points and eight rebounds, and Lance Stephenson added 13 points, five boards and five assists for Indiana (30-7), which has won five of six.
The victory clinched the Eastern Conference coaching spot for Frank Vogel, since the Pacers are guaranteed to have the best winning percentage in the conference through games of Feb. 2 with Miami’s Erik Spoelstra ineligible after coaching last year.
DeMarcus Cousins had 31 points and 13 rebounds, and Rudy Gay scored 12 points for the Kings (13-23), who scored under 100 points for the first time in 12 games.
Bobcats 108, Knicks 98
In Charlotte, Al Jefferson scored a season-high 35 points and Kemba Walker had 12 of his 25 in the fourth quarter as the Bobcats snapped New York’s five-game winning streak.
Carmelo Anthony had 20 points and six rebounds as the Knicks (15-23) lost in Tyson Chandler’s return to the lineup after missing four games with bronchitis. Amare Stoudemire scored 17 points and ex-Tokyo Apache big man Jeremy Tyler had six in two minutes.
Cavaliers 120, Lakers 118
In Los Angeles, Luol Deng hit five 3-pointers while scoring 27 points, Anderson Varejao added 18 points and 18 rebounds, and Cleveland beat the spiraling Lakers.
Dion Waiters scored 13 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter as the Cavaliers improved to 4-16 on the road. They also won for coach Mike Brown in his return to Staples Center to face the Lakers, who fired him early last season.
Jodie Meeks hit six 3-pointers while scoring a season-high 26 points in injury-plagued Los Angeles’ fifth straight defeat. Nick Young scored 28 points, but the Lakers have lost 11 of 12 heading into a punishing seven-game road trip.