MILWAUKEE — Memphis coach David Joerger was not only happy with the win, but proud of the way his Grizzlies earned it.
Mike Conley and reserve James Johnson each scored 15 points, and Ed Davis added 14 points on 7 of 8 shooting to go with nine rebounds in Memphis’ 82-77 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night.
The Grizzlies have won a season-high four straight.
“A couple of weeks ago we don’t pull this game out,” Joerger said. “I’m proud of the growth that we’ve made. That’s a happy locker room.”
Johnson scored eight straight points in the fourth quarter to go with four of his season-high six blocks, as Memphis improved to 19-19 and returned to the .500 mark for the first time since Dec. 9 (10-10).
“They put me in to bring energy,” Johnson said. “I felt like we weren’t getting enough fast-break points and defensive stops. That’s what I did. I filled the gap. I was ready for whatever came my way.”
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The Grizzlies also won for the ninth time in 13 games despite no points in 14 minutes from Marc Gasol. It was the second game in two days for the NBA’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year after he missed 23 contests with a left MCL sprain. He had 12 points in 24 minutes Tuesday against Oklahoma City.
“Marc Gasol has some of the best hands I’ve ever seen,” Joerger said. “To watch balls fall off of his hands, that wasn’t him. It was very emotional (Tuesday). He’s had to be very patient. He’s a team guy and gave us everything he had, but it was just one of those nights.”
Brandon Knight scored 27 points on 10-for-17 shooting for Milwaukee, which lost its seventh consecutive game.
A layup by Conley gave Memphis a 78-67 lead with 3:47 remaining before Milwaukee answered with an 8-0 run. Two free throws from Knight trimmed the Grizzlies’ lead to 78-75 with 1:44 left.
Memphis got a basket from Courtney Lee, but Milwaukee immediately responded with a layup from Larry Sanders to trim the Grizzlies’ lead to 80-77 with 1:08 to go.
Memphis then missed its next four shots, including three on one possession to give Milwaukee a chance. But Sanders missed a game-tying 3-point attempt _ the fifth of his career and first this season _ from the top of the arc with 2 seconds left and the Grizzlies held on.
“The play was for me to get it at the top, hopefully looking for an open 3, or just something where I had an opportunity to get a shot off,” said Knight, who made five 3-pointers. “It wasn’t what we were looking for. I think they did a good job taking away our best options. If we could go back and do it over, we would all do it differently, of course.”
Milwaukee coach Larry Drew said the play was designed for Sanders to set screens. But Knight was forced to pass him the ball thanks to the defense by Memphis.
“We didn’t execute the play,” Drew said. “He’s not a 3-point shooter and he should never be in that position. Had we executed the play, we would’ve gotten a shot from one of three other guys. He was not an option the last play of the game.”
Memphis scored the first 12 points of the final quarter and forced Milwaukee to miss its first 10 shots to beat the Bucks for the sixth straight time.
A tip-in by Davis tied the score at 60 with 11:12 to go and then Johnson scored eight consecutive points. After a dunk and two layups, Johnson stole the ball from John Henson for another dunk to give his team a 68-60 lead. A follow dunk by Davis capped the run and put the Grizzlies up 70-60 with 6:32 to play.
“(Johnson) is athletic,” Davis said. “He’s everywhere. He’s active and always hustling. He’s going to do all the little things. ... He’s been a great addition for us and is helping us a lot.”
Milwaukee struggled mightily in the beginning, missing 16 straight shots in a span of 10:05. The Bucks clanked their final 13 field goal attempts of the opening quarter, and their 10 first-period points equaled their lowest total of any quarter this season.
But Memphis’ halftime lead was only 42-35 after Milwaukee scored the final seven points of the second quarter.
NOTES: Memphis also won four games in a row Nov. 15-20. ... Milwaukee was held to just 10 points in the first quarter Saturday at Oklahoma City. ... Lee finished with nine points, one day after scoring a season-high 24 against the Thunder. Milwaukee’s Ersan Ilyasova also had a season-high 29 points Monday at Toronto. Against Memphis, he managed only four points on 2-of-11 shooting. ... Milwaukee is 3-15 at home and 1-11 overall against the Western Conference.