The jerseys looked good—really good. After the game Marc Gasol said it was weird to look up and see guys he knew wearing red, but the dislocation and temporary confusion of wearing Memphis Sounds ABA throwback jerseys was well worth it, because they were spectacular. Zach Randolph looked like he was born to wear one.
Alas, even with all of the (deserved) fanfare around the first Memphis Sounds Hardwood Classics night of the season, there was a basketball game happening, and that's what deserves out attention. Some scattered thoughts from last night's 122-114 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder:
★ First things first: Mario Chalmers. Off the bench last night against the Thunder, Chalmers had 29 points on 6 of 13 shooting and got to the line for 15 free throws. He was 4 of 7 from three. A 46%/57%/86% shooting split? From someone on the Grizzlies roster? I didn't think that was allowed. Either way, Chalmers continued doing what he's done since joining the team on Friday: making the plays that are available to him, playing hard on defense, doing what he can do to make the team better without having practiced with them.
Let's be clear about this: Chalmers will regress. There will be nights where he makes 1 of 7 instead of 4 of 7, or where he's pushing too hard and makes mistakes. Even though that's the case, the Grizzlies still made the right decision in trading for him. His defense of ballhandlers—he did a great job against Westbrook last night, or, well, as good of a job as one can do against Westbrook—is just as tenacious as anyone else on the roster. Chalmers is a definite upgrade. Playing him with Conley only makes that more the case, freeing Conley up to defend someone else, and letting him play off the ball some as well on offense.
★ Speaking of Mike Conley, Conley should just wear a Sounds jersey all the time. The +/- numbers don't really bear that out, because Conley was -4 on the night even though he scored 22 points, but he looked better last night than he has all year, hitting 4 of his 5 threes, making the right plays at the right time, just generally doing the Mike Conley Things he hasn't done this year until recently.
★ Z-Bo got a double double and wasn't on the floor in crunch time. Joerger went with JaMychal Green down the stretch of last night's game, and was justified in doing so—Green's defense was excellent, he hit a 3 at one point, and made life harder on the Thunder in general. Green's emergence as Second Unit Garbage Man is one thing, but his emergence as Crunch Time Power Forward is another. Worth paying attention to. One wonders how many times Randolph will actually be OK with sitting there while someone else brings home a close game.
★ Jeff Green had a good game... on offense. The Other Green (maybe we start calling him The Second Best Green after the last two games) had 20 points for the second game in a row, shooting 5 of 13 from the floor but getting to the line for 8 free throws and making all of them. This is exactly the kind of play the Grizzlies need from Green. He looks much more comfortable on the floor in the rotations he's had lately, in a rhythm offensively, mostly making good decisions about when to attack and when to pull up (the answer is almost never "pull up"). Like Conley, Green's big game came along with a negative +/- (Green's was -1) so I feel like there might be something I'm missing in the game film, but either way, it's good to be pleasantly surprised by Green's emergence as a contributor. Much preferable to having to find a new way to write him off every recap after another terrible performance. He can keep it up, too, if he keeps making smart decisions.
★ Russell Westbrook is a thing. He scored 40 points last night and pretty much singlehandedly kept the Thunder in the game in the absence of Kevin Durant. Y'know. Same deal as always. But his passing seems to have improved this year, and so now he's even more dangerous. Doesn't seem possible. Now the Grizzlies have a player who beat the Thunder in an NBA Finals, though, so maybe Mario Chalmers will function as some sort of Thunder Kryptonite.
★ The Grizzlies continue to get out-rebounded. Last night it was 44-34. The slippage of the Grizzlies' rebound rates is worth watching this year, because that's something they've always been good at, especially with Zach "20-10" Randolph on the floor. Not the case this year, though, and along with the early season problems with offense and defense (that was a weird way to phrase that) it seems to signal some sort of decline or shift. It's certainly possible to win games while getting out-rebounded—the Griz have done it more than once this season—but it's clearly not the preferred way to go.
★ One thing I learned last night: there was a Memphis Sounds player named George "Dirty Dingus" Carter. I looked it up: he is in the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. What a world.
★ The West is weird this year. Houston lost again last night, and it's starting to look like the split between first tier and second tier teams is a wider gap than previously thought. I'd put the Grizzlies pretty firmly in the second tier at this point, as they continue to work through these issues they've faced since the start of the season, but that second group is still pretty tightly grouped in the standings at the moment. Three teams are .500 (Utah, Denver, and Memphis) and the Warriors and Spurs are really the only two teams who have separated themselves from the 3-10 cluster of teams. Some teams will fall out of that group, and right now it seems unlikely that Portland, the Lakers, or New Orleans will climb back up into it, but it's going to be a close race to get to the 44 or 45 wins necessary to get into the playoffs this year. The Unstoppable West mostly seems to just be parity at this point.
At a couple of points late in the game last night, I thought Zach Randolph was about to punch Steven Adams in the face (again). Adams always frustrates Randolph, but last night it seemed to be approaching some sort of boiling point. Earlier in the game, though, Randolph did this to him, which is just as good:
Three days (!) of rest, which will allow Mario Chalmers to actually practice with the team—though I guess it remains to be seen whether that will help or hurt his explosive play so far—followed by a back-to-back of a home game against the flailing Rockets on Friday and a road game at the Spurs on Saturday evening.
Dear Haters, pic.twitter.com/NJQcm4oxPW— Chris Towers (@CTowersCBS) November 17, 2015