The Grizzlies are not a fast team.
Nothing earth shattering there. Being a slow team means a lot of their games are close right down to the final minutes. That is why I keep saying my cardiologist loves the Grizzlies.
But I digress. The point is the Grizzlies are winning games right now for one simple and inescapable reason: they outperform teams in crunch time. By crunch time I mean a game where in the last five minutes of the game the team is within 5 points of their opponent. It doesn’t matter if they are winning or losing. The game simply needs to be close to qualify.
Consider the Utah Jazz game Wednesday night. The Grizzlies were down 7 points (77-84) until 4:00 remained in the game when Conley dropped in a jumper. From that point on the Grizzlies outscored the Jazz 14-3 to win the game 91-87. Those last four minutes all counted as crunch time statistics.
On the NBA.com/Stats page you can actually look up team clutch performance stats based on games played where in the final 5 minutes the outcome is within 5 points either way. The Grizzlies offensive rating in those situations is 113.8 compared to an offensive rating of 103.1 for the entire season. The rating tells you how many points the Grizzlies score per 100 possessions. The Grizzlies are 6th league in offensive efficiency in crunch time situations. When things get tight and points need to be scored, the Grizzlies are making scoring more efficiently than they do the over the entire course of the season. That is a good thing.
But it doesn’t end there. The Grizzlies defensive rating is a stifling 83.4. The second best team in the league is Chicago at 88.5 then the Pacers at 97.4. This means when the going gets tough no one in the league gets going more than the Grizzlies. How much more? The net rating of offensive and defensive efficiency over the final five minutes of games where a team is either ahead by 5 or fewer points, toss up games in effect, has the Grizzlies at a positive 30.5. The next best teams are San Antonio (20.2), Indiana (19.0) and the LA Clippers (14.4).
One reason for the outperformance could be found in rebounding. The Grizzlies are 18th in total rebounds per game at 42.5 RPG. Their slow pace accounts for much of this however. When adjusted for pace the Grizzlies are 5th rebounds per missed shot). However in crunch time the Grizzlies grab a league best 58.5% of available rebounds. The Raptors (56.8%), Rockets (54.5%) and Pacers (53.7%) are next in line and all of those teams are looking to host opening round playoff series not fighting just to reach the playoffs.
You may assume since the Grizzlies are one of the best offensive rebounding teams that this would explain that stat but actually the Grizzlies aren’t that good getting offensive rebounds in crunch time. Rather they dominate the defensive boards grabbing 83.1% of all defensive rebounds. That is a half-step ahead of Toronto (83%), Charlotte (79.9%) and Indiana (78.3%).
The Grizzlies don’t need a lot of offensive rebounds because they hit a high percentage of their shots. Memphis has an effective field goal percentage of 48.8% in crunch time. This places them among the top 7 teams in the league. Effective Field Goal percentage (eFG%) factors in 3 point shots being more valuable than regular 2 point shots. When factoring in true shooting percentages (TS%) the number rises to 58.8%, 4th into the FG%.
So the Grizzlies become one of the most efficient offenses in the league in crunch time by being more efficient shooting the ball and are the most efficient defense in crunch time thanks to tough play and strong rebounding.
Which leads to the obvious question, what effect has Dave Joerger had on this? Is it better than what Hollins did last season?
At first glance you would say yes Joerger has had a very meaningful impact on the Grizzlies in crunch time this season compared to Hollins last year. The Grizzlies played 45 games last season that qualified as crunch time situations. Their net rating was only 8.4 compared to this season’s 30.5. Their rebounding percentage was basically the same (57.0% last season) but the team’s eFG% was a terrible 41.2% last season and the TS% only 50.9%. Clearly the offensive is running better at the end of close games than it did last season.
Is that fair? Probably not but this is pro sports and it isn’t always fair. Hollins didn’t have (or at least didn’t play) court spreading shooters like Mike Miller and Courtney Lee last season. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol weren’t nearly as important for a large portion of last season’s games as they have been this season either. However, Hollins didn’t have to deal with the plethora of injuries Joerger has dealt with this season either.
I realize this doesn’t tell the complete story and there are numerous reasons and other explanations that can be brought up but this blog isn’t trying to answer every permutation. The main point is that the Grizzlies are doing it this year. Great teams know how to win close games. Right now no one in the league is better at the end of close games than the Grizzlies have been. How well that translates into play from here on out likely will determine how successful the Grizzlies are in reaching the playoffs and possibly advancing if they reach them.