Last night, the Grizzlies played the Spurs in the first game of their first round playoff series. Pretty much any other year in the history of the NBA, the Spurs would've been the top seed in the Western conference (they won 67 games, only six fewer than the record-setting Warriors) but instead, they flew a little bit under the radar. The Grizzlies, on the other hand, hung on to make the playoffs by the skin of their teeth and very likely wouldn't have if Chicago hadn't given up by the time they played.
The first half of the game was very different from the second half. The Grizzlies started Jordan Farmar, Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, Zach Randolph, and Chris Andersen (we'll pause here for a moment so you can stop weeping uncontrollably) and hung in with the Spurs pretty well, except for two big runs at the end of the first two quarters—and a complete inability to score in the first, which left them in a 22-13 hole after 12 minutes. The second quarter was much closer—the Griz were only outscored 26-24, thanks in part to very poor shooting from the Spurs, but also because of the Grizzlies' defensive effort. Again, though, the Griz gave up a big run at the end o fthe quarter and went into the locker room trailing by double digits.
From there, the third quarter was kind of like this:
The third quarter is when the carriage carrying the Grizzlies turned back into a pumpkin and deposited them on the side of the road before being run over by all the king's scary-looking horsemen. (Can you tell which Disney movie my daughter is currently binge-watching?) The same lineup that started the game started the second half (as per usual) and they got absolutely demolished for six straight minutes until Xavier Munford was subbed in for Farmar. Unfortunately, the substitutions didn't do much to stop the bleeding, and by the end of the 33-14 third quarter (that's two quarters in the teens, for those of you keeping track at home), the Griz were down 30 and the goal became to avoid losing as badly as the Dallas Mavericks did (which was a 38-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in their Game 1 on Saturday night).
They did avoid that, by the hardest, and can probably take a little bit of pride in not having the worst loss of the first weekend of the playoffs, I guess. But if they can't find more scoring firepower than that, the next three games of this series promise to follow the same script.
★ This is going to be a long series. Not really—at this point it looks like it's probably only going to be four games—but watching Game 1 was like watching a Cutlass Brougham on its third transmission meet the car crusher in slow motion. There's something about watching the Spurs pick apart a team until there's nothing left that slows down the passage of time, and I sure hope the Grizzlies' draft pick is worth whatever we've got to endure as the people watching these things. I can't imagine it's much more fun for the players.
★ The Grizzlies don't have enough scoring firepower to hang in this series. The defense really wasn't bad most of the game, but the Spurs' defense is historically good, and they shut down Zach Randolph (as they always do) so the Griz had no other real scoring threats. Vince did what he could, trying to single-handedly win the game, finishing with 16 points on 7 shots (but resting once the game was out of hand). Lance Stephenson, still playing for his NBA career on some level, had some great baskets. He took some bad shots, but overall I thought Lance played a pretty good game. But there's just not enough. Randolph went 3-13. Matt Barnes was 1-7. JaMychal Green did better (7 points, 3-7) than he did against the Warriors in game #82, but still struggled. There just aren't enough basketball players on this team to score. It's the classic Grizzlies problem, amplified by the absence of Conley, Gasol, Wright, and Chalmers.
★ The goal now should be to get the young guys postseason experience. It's pretty clear that this isn't going to be a very competitive series. Best case scenario, to me, is that the Grizzlies somehow win one of the home games and force a Gentlemen's Sweep instead of being eliminated at FedExForum. That being the case, I think getting JaMychal Green, Jarell Martin, and Xavier Munford all of the time they can get in real postseason play will pay dividends down the road. The only way to be acclimated to playoff basketball is to play playoff basketball, and here's a golden opportunity to play these guys. And not just in garbage time, either—play them when the game is still within reach. They'll learn. This is valuable time. I'd hate to see the Grizzlies waste it on guys who are (1) old and (2) not going to be here next year, like Farmar and Andersen and most likely Barnes.
★ It would probably be wise to spend these games looking at draft scouting reports on guys in the 15-20 range. I guess this isn't really a thought about this series, but in a way, it's related: because the Grizzlies made the playoffs this year, they get to keep their pick in this summer's draft. The Grizzlies have the 17th pick. It's the lowest/best pick they've had since the Xavier Henry year, and it promises to be an important one; if you find yourself staring glassy-eyed at the screen while the Spurs start another one of their Finely Honed Death Machine runs while the Grizzlies struggle in vain to stop it, just go look up highlights of guys like Denzel Valentine and Timothe Luwawu and Domantas Sabonis (yes, that Sabonis) and hope that the Grizzlies can find a guy who develops into a quality NBA player sooner rather than later.
★ This series is going to be hard to talk about. The playoffs are a chess match, a game of adjustments and counter-nadjustments, played over the course of a whole series, with each team tweaking what it does to meet the challenge of the opponent. That's what makes playoff basketball so fascinating, and what makes it so much easier to analyze and discuss: you have to think about what adjustments the coaches will make, and how the other team will adjust to those adjustments. There's not a lot of that here. The Grizzlies are mostly depleted, and the Spurs just have to go out and play something resembling Spurs basketball and that should be enough. There just aren't that many adjustments for the Grizzlies to make, really—and that's going to make this one harder to reason about and pick apart. There's just not much "there" there.
Well, this about sums up last night's game:
@ReynoldsRant) April 18, 2016
Game 2 is Tuesday night in San Antonio at 8:30.