Last night's game had a first half and a second half, and the two of them didn't have much to do with each other. At halftime, the Grizzlies were down 65-54 to a Cleveland team that was mercilessly abusing Zach Randolph by stationing Spencer Hawes far outside of the paint and daring Z-Bo to come out and contest. When Randolph left the paint, Hawes kicked to someone—usually either Kyrie Irving or Tristan Thompson—who had a clear path to score at the rim. When Randolph stayed put, Hawes sank an outside jumper. It was brutal, and Randolph didn't do much to help his case, getting benched in favor of James Johnson much earlier than normal and complaining about it to Dave Joerger all the way to the bench.
I have zero information about this, so this is just speculation, but here's what I think happened at halftime, with the Grizzlies trailing big after having given up two consecutive 30+ point quarters to Cleveland:
Z-Bo: [expletive] Can't believe you [expletive] took me out of the [expletive] game, Coach.
Joerger: I can't believe you were so [expletive] bad on [expletive] defense that I had to [expletive] sit you, Zach.
Joerger: [expletive]. At least pretend to be trying on that end.
Z-Bo: That's fine. I'll show you defense, [expletive].
And, as always, Mad Z-Bo is my favorite Z-Bo. In the second half, Z-Bo was clearly playing angry, and Los Cavaliers (it was one of the NBA's "Noches Ene-be-a" last night, so all the teams were en español) were the ones who suffered the consequences.
Randolph wasn't the only one who needed a boot applied to his posterior at the break last night. The whole team came out in the second half with a different energy and a heightened sense of urgency and intensity, and they—with Tony Allen on the floor to guard Kyrie Irving (and James Johnson guarding Irving some of the time, too)—came out and put the screws to the Cavs, putting up a 33-15 third quarter and then nearly repeating the defensive effort in the 23-16 fourth.
Chris Herrington described the Grizzlies' second half defense as "playoff caliber." I'd use a different term, though: "Grizzlies-like." Defensive intensity and execution has long been the identity of this team, and it's the gear that they've most struggled to find this year—all the way back to the beginning of the season. The defense just hasn't always been there, whether it was because of injuries and personnel changes or lineups or just plain lack of craps being given. When the Grizzlies came out in the second half last night—and let's be clear, this Cavs team is better than their record indicates, especially right now—they looked like themselves out there.
I'm not sure what's going to happen this summer. My feeling is that the roster is going to have to be overhauled to some extent—the most obvious places of interest are the two starting forward spots—and that next year's Grizzlies may not look all that much like this year's. But last night showed that this team, as currently configured, currently fighting for their playoff lives every time they take the floor in the month of March, has the extra gear that they need to be able to shut down the other guys in classic Grizzlies fashion.
If they can start hitting that gear consistently—even with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol operating at less than 100%—their odds of making it to a first round playoff series are going to be a great deal better. If they keep playing more halves like the first half last night, they'll be out of it before April. With any luck, last night was a wake-up call of sorts. If it takes making Z-Bo mad at every halfitme to get him to a place where he can play defense, cuss him out every night. Then the Grizzlies can feed #50 after the half and get back to playing to their strengths.