I just don't even know what to say about these anymore. The Grizzlies lost at home to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, 111-89, in a game that was interesting for the first half and then found itself over in a hurry as the home team lost touch with the lead, and then lost interest.
It wasn't pretty. Marc Gasol looked like he was tired and/or like he didn't want to be there. Zach Randolph shot 2-8 from the floor and ended up with 5 points and 3 rebounds. Courtney didn't attempt a field goal in his first 13 minutes on the floor, and finished playing 19 minutes and going 0-3. Mike Conley was decent but got flat-out worked by Kyrie Irving—something that's been happpening a lot to him recently against the league's (other) best point guards as of late and a trend that has gotten worse as the season goes along and Conley struggles to get healthy and stay healthy.
The list goes on. Vince Carter wasn't playing well and then managed to get himself ejected while on the bench during a timeout in the third quarter. Jeff Green was okay, but that's it, just okay. Garbage time let us see Calathes/Adams/Leuer/JaMychal Green/Koufos, so that was fun, I guess.
One thing you can't say is that the Cavs didn't deserve it. Their offense is running at something close to full speed now, and when they really start moving the ball, and when Kevin Love is brought into the fold enough to contribute close to the basket, their execution is fearsome. The Grizzlies' defense, just at the very core scheme level of what they're doing, can't handle the Cavs when they're moving the ball as well as they were last night. The second the Griz overloaded one side of the floor or overhelped on one drive to the basket, the ball was kicked to the perimeter and somebody on the weak side was wide open.
I just wonder about this Grizzlies team. All season long, they've played badly against bad teams, and then the "real" Grizzlies come out in the big games and they either take care of business or lose a tight game. Last night was not that—last night they got waxed by one of the best teams in the East, and never looked like they were executing at their highest level for a single second. The timing on all the sets was wrong. The interior passing game was being disrupted by two Cavs just standing on either block and a guard coming to help. (Mozgov and Love aren't exactly known for their tough defense.) Sure, the Cavs were playing exceptionally well, but the Grizzlies didn't just lose a hard-fought game against a good opponent; they got run out of their own building.
With Golden State coming to town Friday night—a team with which the Grizzlies match up well, and against whom the Griz are historically pretty good—one wonders whether another team who is really good at moving the ball will be able to pick the Grizzlies apart the same way. The Grizzlies will either win that game by 10 or, if they're not careful, and if they come out playing the same way they played against the Cavs, they'll lose by 30. And it's hard to feel good about the championship hopes of a team that's still sputtering down the stretch while the other top teams are starting to round into form.
I don't remember another Grizzlies season so fraught with expectations and then filled with existential puzzlement down the home stretch. Here we are, almost to the end of March, and the Grizzlies aren't playing anywhere near the level they played at to begin the season, they don't look like they remember how to play at that level, their body language, while not as terrible as it was a week ago, still isn't quite right—like something, no one knows what but something, is still bothering them all, eating at the same team chemistry that got them so many features written about them back in December. The question no one wants to ask—myself included—is "what if they played way above their heads early on and this is more in line with who they really are?"
I don't necessarily believe that's true, at least not completely true. As discussed ad nauseum by everyone writing about the Griz, if Gasol doens't get back to MVP form in the playoffs, they don't have much hope of making it to the Finals.
But there are small things that would help in the meantime, and the main one is Courtney Lee. When he shoots well, the Grizzlies win. When he shoots poorly, they lose. The correlation is too tight not to be significant. And you can see why just from watching: now that the Grizzlies don't have a reliable shooter who isn't Conley, teams are packing the paint against the Grizzlies and forcing them to deal with it, interrupting the execution on which the sets the Griz run depend so much. Lee was brilliant to start the year, with the highest 3P% in the league for a long early stretch, and he's been slumping (a.k.a. "regressing to the mean") ever since. Shooting that far above his career averages was never going to be sustainable, but to play 14 minutes of basketball before even attempting a field goal—like he did last night—makes him useless. He's got to be shooting, and some of them have to be going in, if the Grizzlies are going to get anywhere. They need the floor spacing, desperately.
That's an important fix, but it's only a minor one compared to the more generic and hard to pin down "they have to play harder." Execution has been sorely lacking for the Grizzlies for a long time now, and on some nights, effort, too. It's easy to write that off as "veteran team coasts through March," but when they come out against the Cavs and have some of the same problems—a team against which they shouldn't be coasting—it's hard not to wonder whether they've formed some bad habits.
Last night was a little scary. The Cavs absolutely dismantled the Grizzlies, and the Griz wanted no part of it. Maybe they just realized they weren't going to win and shut it down, looking forward to Friday at home against the Warriors and Sunday on the road at San Antonio. But that's not really what it felt like. It felt like the Griz were just operating on a different level than the Cavs, a difference of class of team, not just of execution on a given night. They (the Grizzlies) made it feel like they weren't up to the Cavs' standards, and that was concerning. The Grizzlies now have a lot to prove, to themselves and to the whole rest of the world, over the next couple of games. We're waiting.