After the game, David Fizdale said it didn’t feel like a rivalry game. The Clippers, he said, came to play a rivalry game, but the Grizzlies didn’t bring that kind of energy. He was telling the truth. Last night, after a solid (if ugly) first quarter, the Grizzlies slumped into nothing, and they would’ve gotten mercilessly blown out if they hadn’t put together a frantic run of 3-pointers to close out the game. Nothing worked. Gasol shot terribly for most of the night, Conley was ineffective when his jumper wasn’t falling, Zach Randolph wasn’t able to do his normal damage, ending up with what counts as a quiet night by his standards. Wade Baldwin finally had a game where he looked like a confused rookie. The other confused rookies didn’t help much, either.
We came expecting another pitched battle in the long history of Grizzlies/Clippers animosity, and got a run-of-the-mill garbage regular season game. Continuing a trend from their games against the Wolves and Pelicans this week, shots weren’t falling. Movement on offense other than the Conley/Gasol pick and roll was minimal. The defense looked like work but accomplished little. (In fact, in his presser, Fizdale touched on the defense, saying the Griz were “gambling too much in the backcourt,” which he called “fake hustle. Insert eyeballs emoji here.)
There’s not really much more to it than that. Without focus on defense, without executing sets sharply on offense, this Grizzlies squad, still missing Chandler Parsons (until Tuesday, reportedly), just can’t get much done. The success they had in the first two wins came from effort and intensity, just like every other Grizzlies win of the last 7 years. When effort is there but intensity isn’t, they look like a middle-of-the-pack group of young players still learning how to win, rather than a team that’s been to the playoffs six straight times and intends to be there a seventh.
Tony Allen’s reinsertion into the starting lineup seems to have hurt things more than it’s helped. The promise coming into the season was that Allen would be used in new ways, featured as a cutter and maybe even a bit of a ball handler, but so far that hasn’t happened. Allen’s offensive role continues to be limited by the team’s overall struggles; when there’s no space on the floor because shots aren’t falling, there’s considerably less for him to do. But they continue to kick the ball out to an open Allen on the wing, and he continues to shoot it. His defense isn’t quite up to his normal standard either. Allen’s doing a good bit of the gambling Fizdale was talking about, and with so many young bigs, there’s not the solid interior backing Allen is used to playing with to catch whatever he lets past. It’s an adjustment to fit him into the “New Grizzlies Way,” and so far it’s been a rough start.
Overall, I’m not worried by much of this. The shooting guard situation is somewhat troublesome; when Parsons returns to action there’s still not much of a way forward there for the bulk of shooting guard minutes unless James Ennis plays out of position as an oversized two. Ennis showed some chops defending ball-handlers by guarding Chris Paul credibly in this one, so maybe there’s a future there. The Grizzlies continue to be a puzzle that’s about half put-together, and while it’s no fun to see them lay an egg against the hated Clippers, regaining Parsons and continuing to work through these execution issues is the name of the game at this point, trying to make sure they stay in contact with the top of the West standings.
I wrote these and haven’t posted them, so here’s a haiku dump:
Game Haiku #4 (Timberwolves)
“Let the young guys play!”
“That’s not what we meant!” they say.
“Let the old guys play!”
Game Haiku #5 (Pelicans)
Free basketball, yes
But at seventy-five points,
Get what you pay for.
Game Haiku #6 (Clippers)
Save the “Whoop That Trick”
Maybe next time there won’t be
Mostly garbage time.
The Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday afternoon, and the Nuggets on Tuesday, and then a few days’ rest before playing the Bucks in Milwaukee. It’s been a tough-ish stretch to start off the season so far, but winning every other game is a good way to tread water at .500. I’m interested to see what the focus of the team looks like in a Sunday matinee game, given the issues they’ve had there recently (according to Fizdale, anyway).