1. Griz Win! Griz Win!:It seems silly to consider the second game in an 82-game schedule a "must win," but tonight's game felt that way for the Grizzlies since it was sandwiched between a demoralizing opening-night loss and rough five-game West Coast road trip. And it was a good win — the heightened energy level was palpable from the very beginning and the execution improved over the course of 48 minutes.
The Grizzlies had two big problems tonight — turnovers and defending Chris Bosh — and improved in these areas over the course of the game. The Grizzlies had 5 turnovers in the first 5 minutes, and 12 in the ensuing 43 minutes. The early turnovers were a bad product of good things, though — over-aggression and over-passing as a result of trying perhaps too hard to play team basketball. The Grizzlies gave up 25 points to Bosh in the first half. "Only" 12 in the second.
And most promising was how the team responded to late adversity. Going down 8 — their largest deficit of the game — two minutes into the 4th quarter, the team called a timeout, and then came back to outscore Toronto 35-19 over the final 10 minutes.
It was a game where the starting lineup functioned exactly how you'd like it to: Balanced scoring across four spots — Zach Randolph (30), Marc Gasol (19), O.J. Mayo (18), Rudy Gay (17) — with a deferential Mike Conley playing an efficient, versatile game (10-6-10).
2. The Real Zach Randolph?:I was not a fan of the Zach Randolph acquisition for a variety of reasons: His off- and on-court track record. His shot selection. His two-year contract. But I could foresee how it might work, and the results have been very promising so far.
Randolph's always wobbly shot selection went off the deep end last year with the Knicks and Clippers, resulting in him taking nearly two three-point attempts per game. This year, through eight preseason games and two regular-season games, he's taken only three long-range attempts (all in the preseason) and has been ferocious on the offensive glass. So far, Randolph seems committed to putting the power back in his power forward game.
I asked coach Lionel Hollins about Randolph's shot selection last season, and he said he wasn't aware Randolph had taken so many threes last season and hadn’t talked to him about it. I asked Randolph about it in the locker room after the game and — after making it clear he thinks he can make that shot — he acknowledged that he's made a conscious decision to focus his game more in the paint this season.
The result tonight against a Toronto team with a weak interior defense was 30 points on 13-21 shooting and 6 offensive rebounds. Randolph took 22 shots tonight (including one where he was fouled and it didn't register as a FGA) and I only remember cringing once. I'll gladly take that ratio.
Randolph was working hard to get deep post position all night. He was passing the ball pretty well and willingly (3 assists). And he was relentless on the offensive boards. He struggled to defend Bosh, but that was expected, and his effort in this area seemed acceptable. It's very early, but if Randolph plays like this all season and stays out of trouble, I will be very happy to say I was wrong about acquiring him.
3. The DeMarre Carroll We Expected: Rookie forward Carroll was a summer-league and preseason revelation with his constant hustle plays, but he had a rough opener against Detroit. He bounced back quickly and was everything fans have hoped tonight. Playing 32 minutes off the bench, including nearly 8 minutes in a comeback 4th quarter, Carroll lived up to his reputation: Defending all over the court, snatching rebounds (7), getting steals (3), and giving both his team and the fans an adrenaline boost.
Griz fans love to compare Carroll to Shane Battier, but he lacks that kind of shooting range and immediate vocal leadership. He looks to me like a more skilled version of the young Bo Outlaw (the Orlando version, not the late-career Grizzlies version). He has that kind of wiry, helter-skelter style, except he isn't petrified with the ball and is able to make some plays offensively.
Carroll will have his ups and downs, but expect him to have plenty of games like this one the rest of the season.
The Jacob Riis Report: The Raptors are loaded with deadly shooters but are soft defensively up top and down low. Tonight, the Raptor's finesse frontcourt couldn't handle Randolph or Marc Gasol. And point guard Jose Calderon couldn't stay in front of Mike Conley. The Raptors might shoot their way into the playoffs in the East, but without more toughness they'll be an easy out come April.
Hasheem Thabeet: DNP-Coach's Decision. With Toronto a smaller team, the Grizzlies only gave 9 minutes to backup centers tonight, but what does it say about the second overall pick when all of those went to Steven Hunter and Hamed Haddadi instead of him? I suspect Thabeet would benefit from a D League stint or two this season, but I doubt the team will do that.
One answer to the team's Game One bench problems was not to play it. Other than Carroll's strong sixth-man performance, the only other reserve to get double-digit minutes was point guard Marcus Williams, who did a nice job (8 points, 4 assist, 0 turnovers) in 11 minutes. The result was heavy minutes for some starters — 36 for Randolph, 37 for Conley, and 47 (!) for Rudy Gay. You don't want to do that every night, but with Allen Iverson still out and badly needing this win, I can understand Hollins not wanting to mess around with rookies and projects out there more than he needed to.
Announced attendance tonight: 10,563. Disappointing for a Friday night early in the season. But the people who came were treated to a great game and responded with really good energy in the second half.
Allen Iverson looked good in pre-game shootarounds and should debut sometime on the upcoming road trip. Most likely Monday night in Sacramento.