Ahhhhh. It’s that time again. Real players, real games, real results.
Or, in tonight’s case, “real unmitigated Gasol-and-ZBo-less disaster”.
The pregame music and such was cool. The intros were cool. The moment of silence for Lorenzen Wright was somber, eerie even, but deserved.
And it was treated with reverence by the large-ish crowd.
The game was not very cool, however, for a variety of reasons.
There were some ups.
Darrell Arthur, offensive weapon? Huh? Yep, he was. 8-for-12 in 31 minutes until he fouled out (from fatigue as much as sloppy or inconsistent play). He showed a level of confidence and security with the ball in his hands that we haven’t yet seen in Memphis.
The down? Only 3 rebounds, as he was out-athleticed by Smith, Williams, and Horford, and out-sized by the Georgian Terror, Zaza Pachulia. He has learned to control his energy, but he simply must get better at anticipating ball bounces on misses, and his jump timing when he does find himself in a good position.
Now, it’s one game, and it’s against a terrible defensive PG (and an untested backup)….but I don’t know that I’ve ever been as impressed with a regular-season OFFENSIVE debut as I was with Mike Conley ‘s this game. He penetrated with extreme confidence (got his shot blocked twice, but I’m ok with that), found his teammates, and shot well from outside. 23 and 5 with 8 big fat assists. WAY TO GO MIKE. Best thing about the lane-finding? He did it on the break, he did it off picks (one particularly memorable one set by none other than Thabeet at the elbow), and he just did it when he saw a seam. You know it’s coming..
..the down? The Hawks’ perimeter players made mincemeat of the Griz’ backcourt “defense” (term applied loosely). Pick-the-picker for open shots, straight pick-and-pops, they all worked a zillion times. When Mike Bibby goes 7-9 against you, you got a TON of work to do. Conley was a man left on an island more than once in trying to defend Johnson/Crawford/Bibby/whoever, but the energy just wasn’t there on defense (more on the cause for that later).
Rudy Gay really, truly did play like he wants to earn his massive amount of money. When the Griz got close in the third (as close as 79-75, believe it or not), it was largely due to Rudy’s aggressiveness on the floor. He did what he could to put the team on his back. Love it. Rudy was victimized by a couple of questionable calls, and it got into his head a little bit…Rudy just had a huge load to carry with ZBo and Marc both hurt.
Ok. The Grizzlies got their butts kicked, so here’s a few downers:
-OJ Mayo was just HORRIBLY overmatched against JJ, and it wasn’t about size. Joe Johnson is just a better player than OJ can defend. That’s how it is. Can OJ improve his body positioning? He knows his players and their tendencies, but his basketball IQ and preparation both just write checks that his physical defensive ability cannot cash. His future with the Griz and in the NBA will be largely based on whether he can improve his D.
-Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are both officially limping before the season even really starts, and it was SO easy to see the balloon get punctured when ZBo went down less than four minutes into the game. The team’s energy, especially on defense as I mentioned earlier, just dropped in most precipitous fashion when ZBo left the game for good after 15 minutes rendered largely ineffective by his lower-back contusion. I’ve done that crashing a mountain bike…it can’t feel any better on hardwood.
-Tony Allen hada rather inauspicious debut. Went from 0 to 60 fouls in 4.2 seconds, or so it seemed. He had couple of nice vintage TA energy plays, but he was lost on offense, as was most of the Grizzlies’ second unit, because…
-…Acie Law played like absolute garbage. Yes, it’s one game. Yes, he accepts being a backup. Yes, he was stuck on the court with rooks and a couple marginals…but everything he did was a mess. He was not able to direct the team into any sort of set (do they have those?), since it seemed that his memory of training camp seemed to have been erased. Got burned on D and was inept and impotent on offense. Just disgusting.
-Thabeet. I’ll not even bother. I will say only that a man of 7’2″ should never, ever, ever, ever be blocked by the rim on a dunk attempt.
-Somewhat following from the last point, Hamed Haddadi is no savior for this team. It’s easy to get a grass-is-greener feel about it when Thabeet is getting sent back by an inanimate object, but Haddadi is the very definition of concrete-footed. I’m rooting for the guy as much as the next Griz fan, but he’s just not on a real NBA level yet.
Tough, tough opening night. Not as tough as last year’s debacle against Detroit, maybe, but not the way the Griz can set a tone for attracting non-NBA-junkie Memphians to the FEF.
Get well soon, Marc and Zach, or this is going to be a long season for Darrell Arthur, Lionel Hollins, and all of usGrizzly freaks.