Can a team take a colossal gut punch and come back two nights later in an arena just as loud (almost) and a team just as good? Whoops, guess not.
Could the Grizzlies come back after suffering what was, for all practical purposes, a blowout and compete in thin air straight off the airplane while losing an hour in the process?
Let’s look at seven things that stood out (went wrong?) in the Blazers game and see if they were less noticeable (were remedied) in the Nuggets game…
Thing one: Arms-down, apathetic defense. Against the Blazers, the Grizzlies surrendered a ton of points in the paint, and, most distressingly, fell victim to the same plays over and over. Sure, LMA going for a sweeping hook in the lane is one of the harder things in the NBA to stop, but good grief. The Blazers, particularly in the second quarter, also “got behind” the Grizzlies’ defense on a number of occasions. Against Denver, things were not much better, but the Grizzlies managed to slow down the train enough to hold on to win. They gave up over 51% in the first half, and the Nuggets barely dipped below 50% for the game. Biggest red mark on the Grizzlies’ D in Denver was Mozgov’s performance-NO WAY this cat should be rockin’ a 20-10 against a team as talented inside as are the Grizzlies. Now is when I should probably mention how strange it was that Shaw apparently willfully, purposefully drew up that three for him at the end. So, so odd.
Thing two: Good Lord, the free throws. Hideth thine eyes from the bricks as they are cast into the abyss of Andre Drummond-ish-ness. Holy mackerel, this is going badly. The Grizzlies are never gonna be a 90% team from the line, but this hovering around 60% they’re doing won’t get it. The two misses by ZBo then the (ahem, purposeful) miss by Lee at the end of the Denver game comprise suitable punctuation for what we all should hope is the end of this free throw funk.
Thing three: Sluggishly forced (think about it, that’s the best way I could describe it) entry post passes. Nothing more cringe-inducing than watching Prince and Conley jack around on the right wing trying to get ZBo in position to get the entry pass with about ten on the 24. The other side of that coin is thing four, but it was rough. Also, Robin Lopez. Same m.o. in Denver, with Joerger surely telling the whole team to feed #50, especially in light of Gasol’s megastruggle. One must appreciate that Joerger wants to ride the horses who he knows can win, but he must also remember that should the playoffs be reached, especially if it’s against SAS in the first round, that the post will simply be made absolutely unavailable. Offensive balance is not completely absent as it has been in the past-Conley and Lee are getting shots (and Lee has made the most of them in two of the three on this trip thus far)-but giving TA an extra cut or two and Ed Davis an extra roll or two wouldn’t hurt.
Thing four: 28 assists on 41 made FG’s. That’s just wonderful, no two ways about it. The fast start (more on that in a moment) surely helped, as shots were just falling-but the aforementioned plodding approach to getting what Conley/Joerger wanted on each possession led to a dearth of “chuckit” basketball…except when the Blazers did a great job taking away first and second options. Then the Grizzlies went completely off the rails, and were not able to drive the Blazer train off the tracks at the same time. That’s a path to bad results. In sharp contrast, the Denver game was much less marked by offensive execution, and more marked by ZBo and Courtney Lee scoring points however they could-the Grizzlies ended the game with only 17 assists on 38 fg’s. Conley also scored a couple off alternating-screen plays with Gasol, and those are unassisted. ALSO THAT GIANT THREE CONLEY HIT TO MAKE IT 93-88 IN DENVER. What a shot, but unassisted. This is all sorta related to what will be #7 on the list for this night.
Thing five: Attitude. The team flat-out looked like they were down on themselves after the GSW late-game chokeoff. Marc Gasol, it would be easy to think, is just still angry at his own ankle for not healing as quickly as he’d like and as the team needs. In Denver, he got so far into his own head that he was passing up all sorts of open elbow jumpers in deference to teammates-is that the chicken or the egg for a 6-19 night? No real blame to place there, as that’s the sort of player he is-but it’s obvious that he’s not confident enough in his ankle (or his current self-perception?) to take it to the rack more often. Faried/Mozgov/Aldridge/Lopez/et. al. smelled it over these two games, and fenced him in under the glass.
Thing six: It was, despite the way the rest of the game went, a nice fast start in Portland. The Grizzlies’ fire was quickly extinguished, but it was good to see a team who is right at the bottom as far as first quarters go get off to a high-percentage start. In Denver, the first quarter was maybe the best bit of the game, especially that 8-0 run to close it out. Couldn’t be too happy, though, because, well, it’s all inconsistency, which brings us to…
Thing seven: …inconsistency in rotations and matchups and bench/starter mixes and on and on. It’s great to see Ed Davis getting some run (although he’ll likely catch splinters come playoff time if the Grizzlies reach), and perhaps it’s a testament to the Grizzlies’ depth-but seeing Conley/Lee/Allen on court at the same time in POR and seeing Conley and Udrih share the court the same night shows how Joerger is trying every tool in the box. DJ brought in Miller late in Q1 in PDX to match up with Batum, and took him out exactly when Batum went out in Q2. Not the worst matchup maybe, but not the best. Calathes with only six (perhaps deservedly so) minutes in PDX, then seventeen (with better production, but more TO’s) in Denver. It’s easy to settle into rotations when the wins are coming, but when it’s super-crunch time in a playoff race is when a new head coach earns his stripes. It will surely bear watching whether Joerger can settle himself and make his players understand why he does what he does. To his credit, no discord has thus far been detected-but a chase for a postseason spot is no time to give such things any shot at causing upset.
Boy was the end of that game weird, huh?
There’s a cliche written down somewhere that starts with “a win is”….