The Grizzlies snapped a seven-game losing streak Saturday night with a win over a depleted Minnesota Timberwolves team:
1. Finally, a Win: Okay, so it wasn't an impressive win: The Timberwolves are one of only three teams with a worse record than the Grizzlies (also: Knicks, Nets) and heading into tonight were the only team with a worse point differential. The Wolves, already missing their second best player, Kevin Love, all season, were playing tonight without their best, Al Jefferson. They were also coming into Memphis on the second night of a back-to-back set against a Grizzlies team coming off two days rest. And the Wolves threw out potentially one of the worst starting lineups you will ever see in a regulation NBA game: Jonny Flynn, Corey Brewer, Ryan Gomes, Nathan Jawai, and Ryan Hollins.
Despite all this, the Grizzlies had trouble shaking the Wolves, going into halftime with a 45-45 tie before turning up the defensive intensity and pulling away. But, hey, with all the losses and upheaval the Grizzlies have been dealing with lately, they'll take it: "It's a big win for us from that perspective," coach Lionel Hollins said of breaking the seven-game losing streak. "You have to get some wins so [the players] will believe in the system and believe in themselves."
2. The Unguardable Marc Gasol: Against a frontcourt rotation of Hollins, Jawai, Oleksiy Pecherov, and Brian Cardinal, Marc Gasol was pretty much unguardable when he was able to get a shot off. Gasol scored 17 points on perfect 8-8 shooting and tied his career high with 16 rebounds and looked like he belonged in a different league than any of the players the Wolves threw at him. With only one free throw (that to complete a three-point play), Gasol had only 8 shot attempts on a night where he should have gotten a lot more. That he didn't was partly due to him (6 turnovers), partly due to the refs (who fouled him out with a few minutes left in the game and victimized him with a few noticeable bad calls and non-calls), and partly due to teammates (who seemed to forget about him for much of the third quarter, though the Griz were widening the lead at the time). Gasol could have easily gone 20-20 tonight.
Gasol has clearly been the Grizzlies' best player this season and was arguably the team's best all-around player last season. And he wanted this one badly after a terrible personal and team performance at Houston Wednesday night. "After Houston, I felt like I let down my teammates," Gasol said after the game.
"Marc just hates losing," Hollins said, before lauding his center's effort and court sense. "And he sees things on the court most players don't see unless they're told."
3. Sam Young Breaks Out: Outside of Allen Iverson's so-far brief tenure with the team, this year's Griz squad has suffered from a severe lack of point production off the bench. But they got a big lift tonight from Sam Young, who scored 15 points in 18 minutes on 7-11 shooting. Young had his flat jumper working reasonably well and also got to the rim. The team can't expect Young to play like this consistently, at least not yet. But if Young can get somewhere closer to the every-other-game production he flashed in pre-season that would help the Grizzlies' weak bench considerably.
The Jacob Riis Report: The Wolves new point guard tandem of Jonny Flynn and Ramon Sessions was a mixed bag tonight. Flynn did not look good. He scored a little (10 points) but mostly just because he threw up a lot of shots (14). And he continued a season-long trend of actually having more turnovers (6) than assists (3). This was my first up-close look at Flynn and it's only one game early in his rookie year, but I don't really see huge upside here: He's a small guard with good but not quite electric athleticism, a work-in-progress jumper, and so-so playmaking ability. He is aggressive. Better tonight was Ramon Sessions who came off the bench for 13 points and 8 assists, splitting time between both backcourt spots, his quick first step giving O.J. Mayo, in particular, fits.
The Grizzlies discussed a trade with the Bucks last year that would have exchanged Mike Conley for Sessions, but Bucks ownership reportedly wouldn't pull the trigger. And the Grizzlies considered giving Sessions an offer sheet this summer, but were reluctant to commit multiple years with the cap likely to shrink and with potentially multiple players coming up for extensions. I understand this reasoning, but I don't agree with it. The combined salaries this season for Sessions ($3.7 million) and that of renounced free agent Hakim Warrick ($3.0) is roughly equal to the combined salaries of Grizzlies acquisitions Allen Iverson ($3.1) and Steven Hunter ($3.7). There's no guarantee that the Grizzlies could have had both Warrick and Sessions this season, but I think the odds are pretty good. And this team would look a lot better right now if they'd gone in that direction.
The Grizzlies signed former Pacers point guard Jamal Tinsley today after a workout for team management. The national reaction is that this is a sign that Iverson will definitely not be back, but general manager Chris Wallace said tonight that the Tinsley signing was done independently of the Iverson situation. I actually believe that because I know that Wallace had discussed Tinsley with the player's agent (Raymond Brothers, who also represents Zach Randolph) well before Iverson's unexpected departure. I'll have more on Tinsley's potential impact in a separate post, hopefully tomorrow. One note: Grizzlies players were essentially the last people to learn that the team signed Tinsley. I was the first person to approach Mike Conley after the game tonight and when I asked him for a reaction to the Tinsley signing, it was this: "We signed him? I had no idea." On the way out, I heard Steven Hunter responding the same way to someone else's question. Conley said that he knew Tinsley well from his time hanging around Conseco Fieldhouse as an Indianapolis high-schooler and said he looked forward to having him on the team. Asked about the team bringing in someone else at his position, Conley shrugged: "I've had it all thrown at me this season with guys at my position. I'm just trying to go out there get better and help the team." One other person who definitely found out about the Tinsley signing before Conley? His dad/agent, Mike Conley Sr. who spent all of halftime deep in conversation with Chris Wallace. More on Tinsley to come.
The Grizzlies finally took control in the second half by amping up their defense, coming out much more aggressively. I asked Hollins in the post-game about deflections from half to half (a stat the team tracks) and he said that the team had 7 in the first half and 17 in the second. The Grizzlies did a good job of turning up the defensive heat without fouling too much.
Hasheem Thabeet was in uniform tonight but did not play. He showed me the wire across his bottom front teeth tonight and said it was tough for him because it was his first injury. Asked when he'd be back out there, he said he'd be practicing Sunday and would be ready to go in the next game. After giving the Grizzlies some good minutes against the Clippers on the road trip, I would expect to see Thabeet against them at FedExForum Wednesday.
Welcome stat of the game: Rudy Gay with 6 assists.
Unwelcome stat of the game: Zach Randolph 2-9 from the floor against a D-League-level power forward rotation. Randolph has generally been strong for the Grizzlies all season, so I'll dismiss this as just one of those nights.
I've remained agnostic on the subject of O.J. Mayo as a point guard, pending the further evidence Hollins doesn't seem at all eager to provide. But tonight was a reminder of something I've noted before: Mayo is terrible at managing a fastbreak that involves other teammates. If he's going to be a point, he either has to get better at it or the team playing him at the one needs to be a very halfcourt-oriented team.