by Kevin Lipe
Last night, the Grizzlies beat the Toronto Raptors 92–86 in one of the ugliest games we’ve seen out of the Grizzlies at least since the Charlotte Hornets last came to town. Everything was out of sync on both ends: offense, defense, shooting, rotations, rebounding, everything–but somehow the Griz were able to pull together a big fourth quarter (mostly on the backs of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol) and close out the Raptors in a sweet revenge game for the last time these two played, when the Grizzlies were missing five rotation players to a stomach virus that ravaged the whole team.
It wasn’t just that it was ugly: it was that the ugliness threatened to cost the Grizzlies the game. Rebounding—especially allowing Toronto to get offensive rebounds and second-chance points—was a particular area of struggle. The Grizzlies lost the overall rebound battle 50–45, but 21 of the Raptors’ rebounds were OREBs, while the Griz only pulled down 9. The game was played at a glacial pace (88.7 according to Basketball Reference), and if it had been faster, Toronto would’ve gained even more extra possessions.
Of course, the other reason the Raptors got so many offensive rebounds is that they just flat-out couldn’t hit a shot. Overall they shot 31.8% from the field, and 17.9% from 3. DeMar DeRozan was 2–11 on the night, and former Griz Greivis Vasquez was 1–8.
The Grizzlies of this season are different than the ones of years past, even the good ones: they find a way to win games when it looks like they’re done for. In seasons past, when the Griz were down 1 after the third quarter and neither team could get anything going, it would’ve been time to brace for the inevitable Raptors run and the Grizzlies’ inability to catch up with it (basically, exactly what happened to the Grizzlies Monday against Dallas). But this year is a little different. This team can close an opponent out, especially at home. As the gap between the Griz and Raps widened, it occurred to me that I expected the home team to give up the lead until the last minute. Too much time being a New Orleans Saints fan? Maybe. But it’s nice to see a team that defies my own expectations—not that this Grizzlies team is new to defying expectations in general.
➭ For the first time all season, the Grizzlies experimented with a new starting lineup: Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Jeff Green, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol. It didn’t go as well as one would hope. I think the idea behind the switch was twofold: for one, Green brings length and athleticism in a scoring capacity to the starting group that hasn’t really been there (not on offense, anyway). Lee’s shooting and defense are both welcome additions to the bench, where he’s probably going to be expected to fill some of the “shooter” role that Vince Carter has been filling (sort of—he’s got the “shooting” down but not necessarily the “making”).
I don’t think it worked out for either group. With Green on the floor with the starters, things started off well but quickly the Grizzlies ran into spacing issues, with the Raptors packing the paint and, well, the same thing that always happens to the Griz happened to the Griz: everything became more difficult.
Meanwhile, Lee only had 2 FG attempts in the first half, and ended up 0–3 on the night in 30 minutes. Which is a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad way to use the best 3-point shooter on your team. I don’t know how much of Lee’s struggles were just a bad night and how much he was affected by the move to the bench, but having Courtney Lee play 28 minutes only to go 0–3 from the floor for 1 point is pretty much a disaster. If Lee can only play well as a starter (and that’s not a knock on him—lots of guys have trouble getting into a rhythm off the bench) then he needs to start, pretty much without regard for match-ups.
➭ Giving up offensive rebounds was still a thing. As I mentioned above, the Grizzlies allowed Toronto to pull down 21 offensive rebounds out of a total of 50, which is too many, especially off the heels of the Dallas game. It was worse in the first half than in the second; in the first, the Griz lost the OREB battle 10–2. Clearly they made an effort to clean that up in the second half, and to be more active on the Toronto glass, but allowing a team as good as the Raps to get that many second chances at a basket is not going to end well 9 times out of 10.
➭ Can we just have Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph team up to solve all of the world’s problems? Gasol went for 26 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists, while Randolph had 19 points and 13 rebounds, moving him to 5th on the list of active players with the most double doubles. They work so well together. The idea of seeing a Grizzlies team without the two of them on it—the idea that if Gasol leaves, Randolph will just be here by himself—is one of the more heartbreaking things I’ve had to consider as a basketball watcher. I still think it’s very likely that Gasol returns. But if he doesn’t, the Gasol/Z-Bo two-man game will be a thing that I miss forever.
➭ Hey, remember Jon Leuer? Turns out he’s (1) still on the team and (2) still capable of playing well. Leuer came in to start the fourth quarter last night, playing with Udrih, Calathes, Koufos, and Lee (in other words, 80% of the fabled “Whitewash” lineup that some of us have been daring Joerger to play since the beginning of last season), and Leuer made his presence felt. In six minutes, he only had 1 rebound, 1 assist, and 2 points, but his physical presence was a net positive (if you’re into +/-, Leuer was +5) and he made some plays that helped the Grizzlies build a lead and keep it. Leuer will probably remain out of the rotation while Green soaks up backup PF minutes—well, I say that, but Tyrus Thomas is headed to the Bluff City on a 10-day contract—but it was good to see his number be called last night and to see that he’s still capable of playing well.
Tweet of the Night
Ah, a tribute to the long-lost days of yesteryear when playing James Johnson more minutes would:
it's about time Joerger put in James Johnson.— Beno Fuego (@tab027) January 22, 2015
Saturday night, the Grizzlies face the Philadelphia 76ers at home. The Sixers are terrible, but they’re very, very good at making the team they’re playing look terrible too—so much so that when these two teams played in Philadelphia the Grizzlies needed overtime to get past them. In the Grindhouse, things should be a little easier for the Griz, but the Sixers’ defense is a lot better than it should be for a crap team with so many young and/or undrafted guys on it. I won’t call it a “trap game,” exactly, but I do think it’ll be a little tougher than folks are expecting.
I did think it was funny that on the same day that Jonathan Abrams’ masterful profile of Mike Conley and his career came out, the Grizzlies played (1) the team they traded Rudy Gay to and (2) a team that featured both Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez in the starting lineup (not to mention bringing James “Bloodsport” Johnson off the bench). ↩