Well, had Sam Young not made that shot at the end of the third in the T-Wolves game, this post-All-Star pair of games might have turned into a MAJOR downer for the Grizzlies and their playoff hopes…but he did, and so it didn’t.
The already-seemingly-interminable stretch of games without Rudy Gay got off to the roughest start possible at Denver, but the Grizzlies were able to right the ship, although it’s surely easier to upright the mast against the Wolves than against a tough opponent like…almost anyone else.
The Denver game’s outcome was no surprise-the post-break blase, the Rudylessness, and the knowledge that Denver would be playing super-inspired basketball. Just SCREAMED “trap”.However, what does not change is that none of those things amount to the proverbial hill of beans as far as excuses go.
What the Denver game also showed is that the Grizzlies still have a long way to go in terms of sustaining drive under pressure and/or against a team feeling a higher-than-normal level of inspiration. Say, like, a team playing in the playoffs. Or a team who has just shed a very talented but drama-inclined star. It’s not that the Griz can’t up the level, sometimes they just don’t.
Strangest thing about the Denver game that wasn’t really strange: Gasol and the Grizzlies seem to get more intimidated by Nene than they do by Kobe, LBJ, Dwight Howard, or any of the other NBA swagger leaders. Like some other centers that have given Gasol trouble, Nene’s combination of good physicality and above-average athletic ability for a guy his size was a bit much for the Griz on the inside. Giving Birdman 75 million FTA’s didn’t help either. The Grizzlies didn’t play with energy on D-the total number of fouls they committed (25, IIRC, not going to look it up now) shows it. When you play with your hands, you foul. When you play with energy, you play with your feet.
And JR Smith. This guy hates the Griz as much as Kyle Lowry does. JR Smith is near the top of the list of guys who are insanely talented but can’t keep out of their own way. His combination of absurd shooting ability and way-over-average athleticism could have made him a major star, but the inter-ear area has failed him once or twice. Or more.
The Griz’ offense, to no one’s surprise, looked as stagnant as a Mississippi River oxbow in August in the first game without Rudy. One could just see Conley at the top of the key ready to pass to Rudy as he cut toward the elbow for that head-on-roof elevated lane jumper…and then one could see Conley looking for the next option. Against the Wolves, who make it very easy on opposing offenses, he had nine assists and a couple of VERY LARGE second-half threes as the Wolves pulled close. It’s easy to like the way Conley gets his threes, too-he gets them when necessary….and within the flow. Ball goes inside, some perimeter guy digs back a bit farther or faster than he should to help on ZBo/Gasol/etc., and Conley makes ’em pay.
Minnesota played hard, but they just don’t have the horses. Denver, on the other hand, has the horses even without the old lead horse(s), and they have a coach who can maximize what guys can do.
The game against the Wolves could not have come at a better time for the Griz-coming out of the AS break without their top dog would have been an awful, awful time to lose two in a row, especially with the race as close as it is. With the murderer’s row of games the Grizzlies have coming up, wins will become ever-more precious….