It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but that’s really only because no important Grizzlies player was traded to the Lakers for Javaris Crittenton. The Grizzlies played a great first quarter in last night’s opening game of their first round series against the San Antonio Spurs, but after that point the wheels fell off and they slowly lost ground until head coach David Fizdale finally waved the white flag and cleared the bench with seven minutes to go.
Why? Kawhi Leonard, for one. Leonard finished with 32 points on 14 shots in only 32 minutes, and didn’t even play in the fourth quarter because the Spurs had already amassed such a lead. He was impossible to defend, and his defense–both of Mike Conley and others–caused problems for the Grizzlies all night.
Marc Gasol played with a lot of emotion, and his intensity carried him to a 32 point game of his own, but most of that scoring came in the first half, and down the stretch of the third quarter, when the game was really getting out of reach, he was the only Griz player able to do anything. That’s the whole story of Game 1, really: it has very little to do with the absence of Tony Allen and everything to do with the absence of any offense at all. No one could score (not even Conley, who had a quick 10 points in the Grizzlies’ improbable 30-25 first quarter, but then only scored three more points the rest of the game.
I’m having a really hard time coming up with some sort of intelligent analysis of this game. The 20 minutes of garbage time had a way of erasing the earlier portions from my mind, the way Spurs coach Gregg Popovich adjusted to what was happening early and erased every single thing the Grizzlies were doing that worked. Fizdale was not able to win the chess match coming out of halftime, and when the Grizzlies’ season-long struggle to do anything in the third quarter reared its head again–and now naive we were for imagining that it could be a thing of the past!–San Antonio did exactly what every Grizzlies fan feared they would do. It felt like last year’s playoff series, where the Griz were undermanned and overmatched at every position. They seemed every bit as overmatched tonight. And, with Chandler Parsons doing whatever he’s doing these days and Tony Allen watching in a suit, two of their best three wing players are out, so maybe they are.
I’m not sure that’s a legit analysis of how the series will go, even though it feels that way at the moment. Zach Randolph had a horrendous showing tonight, unable to make shots, defend, or even screen well enough to help the offense make plays. It seems unlikely that he’ll have another game that bad, but against the Spurs, he will always be made to pay for the 2011 playoffs. Conley was bad after the early start, but it seemed like if the Grizzlies had been able to limit turnovers by making smarter decisions he could’ve gotten the game to a more controlled place, where the Grizzlies weren’t constantly forced to make up for Spurs points off a turnover.
Make no mistake: Game 2 is going to be a referendum on the season, and on this team. Can they show up, adjust, compete, and maybe even win? Or will they lose by 30 again and look like they don’t even belong in the playoffs? If it’s the former, and especially if they win, the way they lost tonight will barely matter and the Grindhouse will be electric for Game 3. If they lose badly again, and look aimless in the same way, things are going to be decidedly deflated.
The path is there. Find a bench contributor who can give more than Zach Randolph did with his 6 points and blisteringly bad -39 +/-. Limit turnovers. Play a third quarter with the same level of intensity that they play the rest of the game. These are all things that are doable, if difficult. If they can’t figure that out, it’s going to be a short, miserable series. If they can, they can make a series out of what appears to be a train wreck after its first night.