Ladies & Gentlemen, I present to you, your 2014 Memphis Grizzlies. Tonight’s 99-81 dominance of the Houston Rockets (larger sample size of six games since the return of Gasol holding opposing teams under 100 points), proves the defensive minded, grit and grind Memphis Grizzlies have returned. Coming off a nail biter last night in Houston where the Grizzlies (22-20) edged out Chandler Parsons’ out-of-body three point barrage and the Rockets (29-17), tonight’s game proved to be a barn burner. However, I doubt very many of the 17,512 walking into FedexForum expected this outcome.
Let’s get right to the action. The Rockets started off the first quarter shooting poorly, but the Grizzlies managed to one up that poor shooting with a bit of their own. At one point with 5:46 to go in the first quarter, it was Rockets 8 (4-12 FG), Grizzlies 4 (2-11 FG). The Grizzlies ended up finding their sweet spot though and ended the first quarter on a 12-6 run to take a 16-14 lead after one quarter of play. (A hashtag of #weinthemud would fit well here)
Once the Grizzlies took the lead at the end of the first quarter, there was no turning back. Spurred (pun intended) on by the stellar performance of the Grizzlies bench (44 points, 21 boards, 11 assists, 6 turns), the lead grew to 11 by halftime, 46-35. The score was eerily similar to Friday night’s game where the Grizzlies led by 9 at the half 44-35. Yet knowing the offensive capabilities of this team, you can never count out the Rockets offense.
The second half started with an 11-4 run by the Grizzlies and the score jumped to 55-37 Grizzlies. In the midst of that run, Zach Randolph would score his 10th point of the night to combine with double digit rebounds tying Pau Gasol’s Grizzlies record of 189 double doubles, which Zach Randolph accomplished in only 300 games with the Grizzlies. The score would never get closer than 12 as the Grizzlies took over the rest of the game. The lead would blossom to 26 at 86-60 with 6:44 to play in the 4th quarter eventually leading to the final result.
Winning two games on back to back nights against a Rockets team that averages 106 points per game and started out the weekend 14 games above .500 is no small feat. The Grizzlies have now won 8 of their last 10 games. The cumulative record of those 10 teams is .517. We have held opponents in 8 of those 10 games under 100 points, 5 under 90 points.
The Grizzlies defense against offensively explosive teams has been reminiscent to years past. Directly impacted by Marc Gasol’s return, your Grizzlies have found their defensive identity. On the flip side, as our fellow blogger Anthony Sain has pointed out on occasions, our offense is clicking because Mike Conley is being aggressive and taking shots. Regardless of what Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph have been for this team, right now, this year, Mike Conley is the go to man. He need not defer to Randolph and Gasol when a weaker defender or a mismatch is defending him. It’s time for Mike to step up and lead this team into the playoffs.
The Grizzlies take off on the road this week for a few games against good opponents who will provide tough tests, Portland, Sacramento and Minnesota. They each have size on the inside and perimeter shooters who will force us to spread the floor on defense. If we can end this 3 game road trip 2-1, we may possibly be within one game of 8th place.
Memphis is buzzing about the Grizzlies again. How sweet the sound! Go Grizz!
A few things I noticed:
Nick Calathes had his best game as a member of the Grizzlies. He ended the night with 11 points on 5-10 shooting from the field including 1-2 from deep, 3 steals, 2 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 turnover. Were it not for James Johnson fumbling and then missing a layup off a fantastic pass at the rim from Nick, he could’ve had 2 assists.
James Johnson & Courtney Lee continue to shine, after another stat stuffing night for James Johnson. He has his moments of sloppiness, but “Lunch Money” has many more moments of brilliance. Courtney Lee capped off another impressive shooting performance with the Grizzlies with 15 points on 5-9 shooting. Since coming to Memphis Lee has played in 9 games. The Grizzlies are 7-2 in those games, 6-1 with him in the starting lineup. He is averaging 15.3 ppt and shooting 56% from the field including 41% from deep. His most impressive performance this weekend was holding James Harden to 10 & 16 points on back to back nights.
The Grizzlies front office has made some tough decisions since taking over at the beginning of last season. Some that we as fans have beleaguered and chastised. We have all questioned at times if the moves being made were for the advancement of the team and franchise. Now, I think we are beginning to see the fruits of their labor. The addition of James Johnson and Courtney Lee were home runs. It is beginning to look like Nick Calathes may indeed be just good enough to produce on the court and turn the Grizzlies into a contender for the Western Conference title!
Jon Leuer despite being up by double digits the entire second half did not play. Jamaal Franklin did. I’m not sure what is going on with Leuer (and it may be nothing) but I have become so accustomed to him playing and producing (he has the team’s 4th highest PER 18.2) that now I miss him.
Dwight Howard has played subpar against the Grizzlies all season heading into tonight. But, you had a feeling that at some point, he would get it together and start playing tough in the post. Alas, that moment would not be tonight. It became clear after the first quarter that Howard wasn’t up to the challenge of banging bodies with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Dwight did make it nearly the entire half before picking up his first foul, which is a marginal improvement for him against the Grizzlies. He had two dust ups with Marc Gasol and after the second one, it was clear Howard wanted no more of the Grizzlies big men tandem. He would end the night with 10 points (4-11 FG) 12 boards, 3 fouls, 4 turnovers, 1 assist and 1 block. I doubt Howard would want to see the Grizzlies again in the playoffs. Without Omer Asik to back him up, the Grizzlies will take advantage of Howards lack of toughness and pound it inside.
Finally, I believe the team we see on the court right now, with a healthy Tony Allen being added soon, will be the team the Grizzlies keep throughout the duration of this season and into the playoffs. I don’t believe a trade will happen. I think our pieces are too valuable right now to lose one to rid ourself of a bad contract. That contract will still be bad next year. I also don’t think we can gain anything that will makeup for losing either Ed Davis or Kosta Koufos. As evidenced tonight, when Marc Gasol gets in foul trouble, Kosta Koufos is needed to back him up. When ZBO needs a break, Ed Davis comes off the bench and produces. While different teams will matchup differently against the Grizzlies, I think Ed Davis and Kosta Koufos are too valuable to us in the short term. I also do not believe pairing either one of them with Prince in a move to get a SF is necessary. While Prince has underperformed for much of the season, ever since the “boo” game he has produced much better. Maybe it lit a fire under him. His length on the wing gives us defensive depth. As long as Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince are not played on the floor together for extended periods of time, say 3 minutes, I believe this roster is the best hope for us to get back to the WCF and beyond this season. I also believe what this team needs most right now is time for rotations to mesh. Too man injuries and flux in the lineups have caused us to drop a few games. With a run to the playoffs upon us, we need cohesiveness, and wins, fitting Tony Allen back in will already be tough enough.