The Grizzlies play all of their home games at FedExForum, but during the regular season, it doesn’t always feel like The Grindhouse. Crowds come and go, and sometimes it’s not life or death; the fate of the city and our civic reputation and pride doesn’t always feel like it’s what’s being played for.
Last night, as the Grizzlies beat the league-leading Golden State Warriors 105–98, everything was on the line, and the 3rd sellout crowd of the season made everything feel more intense, more important, more electric. The top two teams in the NBA played each other last night, and the game looked like it, and the arena sounded like it. It was a beautiful night to be a basketball fan. This is going to be a little more recap-y than the normal Next Day Notes installment, but this game contained multitudes, and I think the flow of the game was worth diving into.
It started out like a lot of great games: two good teams feeling each other out, checking out who was matched up on who, running sets trying to build up a catalog of advantages to be exploited later. Neither team got out to a big lead, but by the end of the first frame the Warriors were up six and it felt like the Grizzlies needed to stop that run before they fell any further behind.
Fortunately, in the second quarter, Vince Carter happened. Carter was subbed in for the last three minutes of the first, but only took one shot (and it missed). The second, though, was different: Carter went 4–5 from the field, including 3–4 from 3, for 11 points in a short amount of time. Meanwhile Jon Leuer was doing Jon Leuer things—including a really nice reverse layup in traffic (giving more credence to the fact that he’s not just a “stretch” 4; he can do things around the rim when he needs to). Behind Carter’s 11, Leuer’s 7, and 4 from Beno Udrih (along with the 6 assists he had in the 2nd), the Grizzlies reserves put together a 20–0 run and had a sizeable (if short-lived) lead over Golden State. The way things go with the Warriors, though, is that no lead is safe. They’re a high-scoring team, and even though the Grizzlies D was playing really well, it’s inevitable that they’re going on a run. The amazing second quarter from the Griz bench meant the Griz didn’t have to play uphill the rest of the game, and was a big factor in the Grizzlies win.
Udrih, in particular, was great. I have been on the Nick Calathes bandwagon since it rolled into town last summer, but let’s be honest: it doesn’t really matter what advantages Calathes offers over Udrih right now—they’re hypothetical, and Udrih’s passing and scoring is very, very concrete. With Udrih playing this way, he’s got the backup point guard spot sewn up for the forseeable future, and that’s just the way it’s going to be. He’s really come into his own with the Grizzlies’ second unit (and with the starters as a secondary ball-handler), and he provides a true backup at the point that the Grizzlies haven’t ever had (with the exception of Calathes down the stretch of last season).
The second half was sort of a blur, for the most part. The crowd was into it; Zach Randolph and Draymond Green started having an epic battle on the left block, with Green blocking 5 shots in the third quarter only to see Randolph rack up 7 points and 6 rebounds. The Randolph/Green battle—no doubt with a lot of Michigan State-related mutual admiration sprinkled in—was one of the more exciting parts of the second half, as the Grizzlies offense slowed to a halt as Joerger matched lineups with an extra-small Warriors set, with Vince Carter chucking up wild shots trying to get something going since no one else was doing anything or running anything.
Finally the starters came back into the game—including a Mike Conley who had really struggled the whole evening with foul trouble and a bad shooting night—and the Grizzlies managed to get two technical fouls (one on Steve Kerr, and one on Andre Igoudala) on a Conley layup that turned it into a 4-point play.
The Warriors never led again after the Griz bench’s second quarter explosion, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t close. The Griz hung on by single digits for the last 8 minutes of the game, with Golden State—a very good team on both ends of the floor—trying furiously to make a comeback, but the comeback never came. The last five minutes of the game were all Randolph, Gasol, and Conley, who was incredible in crunch time last night after struggling to get anything going for the first three and a half quarters. On the last play of the game, Stephen Curry missed a three, got a rebound from Green, took another three and missed it to, and then Tayshaun Prince grabbed the board and sent it ahead to Tony Allen for a fast break dunk, his only made basket of the night. It felt like an appropriate exclamation mark on a great win over a great team.
I came away from last night’s game convinced that Grizzlies/Warriors is the most fun possible Western Conference Finals this year. Two very different teams playing two very different styles, but they’re both excellent. Both teams have exploitable weaknesses, very smart coaches, players who can take over a game for stretches, shooting (well, sorta, for the Grizzlies), and awesome arenas with loud, passionate fanbases. I fear that the Spurs are lying in wait to spoil that dream by preventing one or the other team from reaching that point of the playoffs, but I can dream, right?
On paper, the Warriors are probably “better” than the Grizzlies. Bogut gives them something they needed last night: someone who can defend Marc Gasol better than Marreese Speights (remember him?). I think David Lee’s injury helps Golden State more than it hurts them—against Memphis and Z-Bo anyway, who always plays like he’s mad at Lee for being on the Knicks with him—but Bogut’s absence, while certainly not making the Warriors a bad team, did probably have an impact on the way they would’ve liked to play the Grizzlies. Even then, though, when has "better" ever mattered against this Griz squad? Not often.
Either way, the best team in the NBA came into town last night and lost to the Grizzlies, who are the second best team in the NBA. This is why we have a basketball team in this city: to get to watch games like this, with players like this, in a setting like this. If the Warriors had managed to squeak out a win last night, it still would’ve been a magnificent night of basketball, and I have just updated my Christmas list to include “a seven-game Warriors/Grizzlies playoff series.”
Tweet of the Night
Try not to watch Beno’s pivot foot, but he actually pulled off a Dream Shake(ish) thing last night:
UDREAM SHAKE!!! https://t.co/MH57X5XbDP— Matt Hrdlicka (@theRealHrdlicka) December 17, 2014
Seriously, though, the Grizzlies got on a plane at 11PM last night and flew to San Antonio, where the Spurs were waiting and rested (minus Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard, too, but when has that ever mattered?). With Parker and Leonard out, it’s a great opportunity for the Grizzlies to steal a game from the Spurs, and even though they’re probably exhausted from last night’s big game, the confidence gained from the Warriors victory should help offset that, at least by a little bit. I’m curious to see what Joerger learned during the first matchup between these two teams that he’s going to deploy tonight, especially given the injury situations (Tony Allen is questionable with an eye abrasion, the same injury he got in the playoffs when KD poked him in the eye).
If the Grizzlies can avoid falling behind early, as they did the last time these two teams played, they’re in an excellent position to grab a win from the Spurs even though they’re on the road on the second night of a back-to-back. That would be sweet.
Normally I’d be critical of Carter’s poor shot selection—something he’s 100% struggled with all season long, but in this case, there really wasn’t anything else happening offensively. It was either Vince Carter trying to sink a long three or create something off the dribble, or four other guys standing around. The Griz offense had seized up like an unoiled machine. ↩
Conley definitely took three steps on the drive, but that almost never gets called in the NBA. After Kerr had already gotten the T, Igoudala decided to show up the refs with this (admittedly hilarious) travel dance, which was just dumb. If the refs are already in the mood to call technical fouls, you have to know this is a bad idea. I was kind of surprised by Igoudala’s lack of awareness in that situation. ↩
The Grizzlies actually have a higher 3-point percentage on the season than the Warriors, but they’re averaging 10 fewer attempts a game than GSW. They attempted 14 last night, but made 35% of them, whereas the Warriors attempted 31 and only made 9 (29%). The Griz could probably stand to be attempting 17 or 18 threes a game, because if they’re connecting at a 35% rate, that’d leave them with six or seven three point makes a game—an instant scoring boost. ↩