by Kevin Lipe
It was the first “Instant Classic” game of the Grizzlies’ young season: the Grizzlies defeated the Washington Wizards in overtime last night, 112-103, mostly because of Marc Gasol’s three-point shooting (seriously! Gasol was 4 of 6 from long range, including 2 for 2 in overtime) and because a flagrant foul committed against Vince Carter shifted the momentum of a game that looked to be spiraling out of the Grizzlies’ grasp. But it wasn’t the only game the Grizzlies played this weekend; they lost to the Knicks 104-111 Saturday night. Let’s talk about that game first, because I owe the reader some poetry.
The defense rested.
The offense froze, pillars of salt,
Looked back at the past.
There was a lot going on Saturday night: Mike Conley was on a minutes restriction and only played 23 minutes, and even with Conley limited, the game followed the same pattern as the home opener against Minnesota: the Grizzlies started slow, got behind early, and then spent the whole rest of the game trying to dig out of the hole they’d gotten themselves in. The problem is that’s much harder to do when you’re playing a team featuring Kristaps Porzingis and the interior defense could charitably be described as “porous.” The defensive problems were compounded by a lack of movement off the ball when the starters were on the floor. Nobody but Conley and Gasol tried to do anything other than stand at the 3-point line and watch what happening. The Grizzlies made it close, but that’s all it ever really was; they closed the gaps but couldn’t ever keep the Knicks from answering a run with a run of their own.
Gasol has new range
And Half Man Half Amazing
Looks to have new life
Thought: Starting Jarell Martin instead of Andrew Harrison may not have been the best move tactically, but it paid off strategically. WIth Martin at the small forward, James Ennis had to play out of position at shooting guard, and I think he’s much better suited to play “up” than “down.” But it was undeniable that the energy was better, the Grizzlies got off to a better start, and that things went more smoothly. Martin had a rough night after that, but don’t be surprised if that starting lineup sticks, at least until Tony Allen returns.
Thought: Much has been made of the fact that Marc Gasol was only supposed to play 20 minutes Sunday night because it was the second night of a back-to-back and Conley had been restricted the night before. Given that Fizdale discarded the limit, Gasol played an entire overtime, and still only played 29:01, I’m fine with it. He only played 31 minutes against the Knicks the night before, and Conley only played 23:36. This new world where those two don’t get run into the ground by January is a world I’m happy to live in.
Thought: Vince Carter is the oldest player in the league and he looks better than he’s looked in two years. It seems like the injury to and surgery on his ankle affected him more than we thought last year. In spot minutes this year, Carter has been great. He was 5 of 6 from the field last night, with every shot a three-pointer, and set the screen that got Gasol open for the game-tying 3 to send it into overtime. His defense has been really good in spurts so far (Exhibit A being how he ruined Andrew Wiggins’ night in the opener). I hope he plays until he’s 50.
Thought: Zach Randolph is going nova in his new bench role. Last night he played 25 minutes, scored 22 points on 16 shots, and pulled down 7 rebounds. The problem is that what we’ve all long predicted has finally happened: his defense has fallen off so much that he’s just not credible protecting the interior at all. He gave the Grizzlies a desperately-needed scoring lift last night—exactly what his role is designed to do—but his defense was just flat-out not good. Worth watching to see whether the defensive limitations interfere with his Super Sixth Man status.
Thought: This season’s a lot of fun so far.
Thought: Mike Conley and Marc Gasol carried the team through the end of the 4th and into overtime last night, but it masked a pretty bad shooting performance from Conley. He missed several point-blank layups, and shot 8-19 on the night (that percentage was notably worse before the last 5 minutes of the game). It’s worth watching to see whether Conley can regain his ability to finish at the rim or whether he’s going to have to adapt his game to go around it.
Thought: I bet John Wall wishes he hadn’t clobbered Vince Carter on that layup attempt. There were around 3 minutes left, and the Grizzlies were trailing 96-90. The flagrant foul resulted in two shots and possession for the Grizzlies, which started a little 5-0 run that got the Grizzlies back in striking distance and led directly to overtime. Funny how momentum can change on plays like that. I didn’t ask Vince whether he was willing to sacrifice taking more blows to the head to seal close games.
Another back to back, this one on the road against Minnesota Tuesday and then home again to face the Pelicans on Wednesday, completing this stretch of four games in five nights by starting a four-game home stand. Clippers on Friday, and then home games Sunday and Tuesday as well.