When Dave Joerger took over as head coach of the Grizzlies, one of the things he said early on (I can't remember exactly when) was that he didn't want the Grizzlies to play "vomit basketball."
Last night in Brooklyn, the Grizzlies didn't play vomit basketball so much as they played like vomit personified. If I hadn't already used up all my Oregon Trail references a week ago, I'd be making them again, this time in reference to the Grizzlies' field goal percentage:
I don't even know how to intelligently comment on this game. And it's not because it was something new that happened—something I hadn't already watched twenty times this season. The Grizzlies have been doing this since the preseason: digging themselves a massive hole and then trying to climb back out of it. They go cold shooting (starting 2 of 15 in this one, and going down by as much as 22 points in the first quarter, which is pretty impressively terrible) and then for long stretches it looks like they're inside Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb," hands like two balloons, getting stomped on by a team they should've been beating.
That's what's so frustrating about the Nets/Grizzlies game to me. It's not the specifics of how it happened, all though those are frustrating too. It's that it happened again.
Zach Randolph didn't play in Brooklyn, due to "flu-like symptoms." By all accounts, Z-Bo looked terrible, was shivering, all kinds of bad stuff. Fine. You lose your big guy. Normally, I'd say that means Ed Davis gets the start—as Chris Herrington mentioned in his column this week, Davis plays much better when he's able to get extended starter-like minutes, and most of the time (remember that phrase) he's the clearest candidate to be the starting power forward if Randolph goes down.
Most of the time.
Last night was not "most of the time," and instead saw the Nets start with a small lineup where Davis had to guard Paul Pierce all the way out to the three point line. Part of it was rust from the string of DNP-CD's he's racked up recently, but part of it was discomfort and unfamiliarity with guarding small forwards. Either way, Pierce torched Davis to start the game, and set the Nets on the big run they took to start the game.
But I'm not about to pretend that the Davis-on-Pierce matchup was the thing that cost the Grizzlies the game. If you look at the stat lines for the Grizzlies' starters—if you really want to, but I don't recommend it, because some things are just better not to know—they just didn't get it done, period.
Mike Conley played 20 minutes, was 0-8 from the field, and his +/- was -30. He had 6 (six!) turnovers in his limited minutes. Tayshaun Prince played 17 minutes and attempted no shots, no 3-pointers, no free throws. Davis was 0-2 in 12:54. Marc Gasol contributed some offense, but not enough to stem the tide.
The bench, on the other hand, came in and did the things the Grizzlies' bench has been doing for a while now: tried to save the day. The bench scored 70 points. Nick Calathes, reigning Western Conference Rookie of the Month for February (imagine that!) had ten points, five assists, and one turnover. I'm not going to run down the rest of the box score, but every single bench player contributed. Mike Miller was the only bench guy who got into the game who didn't score—even Beno Udrih made his only field goal attempt—and despite Miller's lack of scoring he still grabbed three rebounds.
But, unsurprisingly, 70 bench points isn't enough to get you over the hump when your starters get down 22 points in the first seven minutes of the basketball game. Basketball is a game of runs, but when a team gets down that big that early, so much energy is expended trying to even up the game that it becomes that much harder to actually take the lead. That's not an excuse, though, because the Grizzlies should never have been down that big to begin with. They keep digging these holes, and they keep barely getting out of them... except when they don't, like last night.
Playoff Race Update
Obviously, last night's loss didn't help the Grizzlies in their quest to get into the playoffs. The Grizzlies are still in the ninth spot, one game back of the Dallas Mavericks, and also one game back of the seventh-place Phoenix Suns, who have a better win percentage. To make things worse, Minnesota has refocused and is lurking only four games back of the Grizzlies and five back of Dallas.
Other problems: Minnesota has an easy schedule this week, while the Grizzlies are playing teams like Washington, Brooklyn, Chicago, and Charlotte—remember when I said these games were "winnable but certainly not guaranteed"? Now they're something approximating "must-win" if the Griz are still going to finish out the month of March going 12-5 or 11-6.
Frankly, looking at the rest of the season and not just the few games coming up on the schedule, it's a lot more important that Conley get completely back to playing like Mike Conley, and for Marc Gasol to keep improving. Gasol has bounced back admirably as of late, but now it's Conley who (despite a great showing against the Cavs and Wizards) seems to be in an injury-inspired funk. The Grizzlies would probably be better off rolling with Calathes and Udrih for a while and letting Conley rest up than having him on the floor playing the way he did last night. For the first time maybe ever (in the "good Conley" era) the Griz can afford to do that.
A hobbled and/or crappy Mike Conley means a lottery pick for the Grizzlies. That's the real playoff race factor at the moment.