by Kevin Lipe
Last night’s contest at the FedExForum between the Grizzlies and the Boston Celtics wasn’t actually much of a contest for most of the game—it was more an exercise in acquiring and maintaining a double-digit buffer over the visiting team. The Celtics are young and play an exciting brand of basketball; they move the ball well and take a lot of 3-pointers, and Rajon Rondo is one of the most fascinating characters in the league in terms of his on-court play and his off-court personality. What they can’t do, at least against the Grizzlies last night, is defend anything in the paint.
With Marc Gasol matched up against Kelly Olynyk most of the night, and with Zach Randolph paired against Jared Sullinger (Tayshaun Prince started in place of Tony Allen, who was home recuperating from the Great Grizzlies Cholera Outbreak of 2014 or whatever that was) the Grizzlies pounded the ball inside over and over and over again, and ended up scoring 66 of their 117 points in the paint.
Combine that with a game in which 11 Grizzlies played (Allen and Quincy Pondexter were both still sidelined by illness) and none of them played more than 30 minutes, and Jon Leuer finally had a breakout offensive performance (and hit a three!), and you have a Grizzlies win over a team they were supposed to beat that went according to play. There wasn’t much I didn’t like, so I’ll just give you Three Things in general:
Three Things From Last Night’s Game
➭ Marc Gasol managed to score 32 points (tying his career high) while still not looking like the dominant Gasol from the first few games of the season. While he was able to punish Kelly Olynyk on the offensive end last night, he still looked strangely hesistant. At one point, Gasol dribbled like he was going to take Olynyk one-on-one, paused in mid-drive and looked around for someone to pass to, and you could see him standing there thinking about what he was going to do next. He ended up driving again, taking it straight to the rim past a helpless Olynyk, but it was unusual to see Gasol so obviously overthinking things.
I don’t know if it’s the “Contract Year Gasol” stuff, or if he’s just trying to figure out how to be more of a scorer than a facilitator, or if there’s something else going on that has Gasol feeling uncomfortable in the offense. Whatever it is, it bears watching, because this Gasol is somehow managing to play well without looking like he’s playing well, a microscosm of what the whole team was doing to start the season.
➭ Jon Leuer, fresh off missing the Toronto game while suffering from the rampant Grizzlybola, finally had a good offensive game last night. Leuer is a big part of the Grizzlies’ bench when he’s playing well, a great fourth big for what they’re trying to do this year. He can stretch the floor, but he’s also sneakily athletic—probably the best dunker on the team, if we’re being honest—and his rebounding and interior passing make the Grizzlies’ second unit hum on offense.
He hasn’t been playing badly all season, though he’s had his moments, but he hasn’t been hitting shots. He’s been getting good looks all year long, and nothing has fallen, and as a result his confidence took an obvious hit and he stopped stepping out to take the open 3’s he started hitting last season. That wasn’t the case last night. Leuer went 9 of 13 from the floor (including 1–2 from 3) and grabbed 7 rebounds to go with his 19 points. This is the kind of game Leuer is more than capable of having. If he can get going off of last night’s performance, the Grizzlies’ worries about their second unit will be that much more in the rearview mirror.
➭ Last night marked the final game of Nick Calathes' 20-game Tamoxifen-related suspension. He’ll be available to play on Sunday against the L.A. Clippers. Whether he will or not will be a different story, given how well Beno Udrih has been playing to start the season, but when asked about it last night Dave Joerger stressed how much the second unit needs “a playmaker” and that that’s going to be Calathes’ role. I’m not sure I would expect him to immediately supplant Udrih as the backup ball-handler, but I do think we’ll start to see Conley/Udrih and Conley/Calathes pairings for five minutes at a time. Joerger has been going with two-PG looks fairly regularly this season, and being able to do that with Udrih and with Calathes gives those lineups yet another wrinkle that makes them hard to defend. At any rate, I know the Grizzlies are glad to have Calathes back in the mix.
Tweet of the Night
Guess the Grizz flu had the same effect on Tennessee Dirk as C-Lee's concussion. #JonLeuerTakeover— Joshua Red Coleman (@3SOB) November 22, 2014
The Clippers are coming! The Clippers are coming! Sunday at 5pm, the first real grudge match of the season happens. The Clippers are hit-or-miss so far this year, with some real struggles at times, and a little bit of a regression for Blake Griffin offensively so far. Look for the Grizzlies to come ready to
whoop that trick play. I’m excited to see Vince Carter to get his first taste of the very real, very palpable dislike between these two teams. And I’m excited to be in the Grindhouse while its 18,000 denizens are all howling for retribution and waiting for Z-Bo to lower the strap. Jerry Lawler ought to just pass the crown to Zach Randolph at this point, right?