The Grizzlies return from their recent 1-3 West Coast road trip to host the Phoenix Suns tonight at FedExForum. I'll be there and — provided there are no technical difficulties — will be tweeting from courtside as usual. But this time on a new feed. I've started a new Twitter feed — @FlyerGrizBlog — which will be used solely for Grizzlies and NBA content. Three things I'm thinking about in advance of tonight's game:
After Mike Conley hit a runner to break a 94-94 tie and the Grizzlies got a defensive stop at the other end, Phoenix was forced to foul O.J. Mayo with less than three seconds left in the game. Mayo hit both free throws to put the Grizzlies up 98-94, which seemed to seal the victory. What followed was about the most tragicomic couple of seconds of basketball you could ever see.
After a Phoenix timeout, Suns guard Jason Richardson heaved in a desperation three-pointer, cutting the Grizzlies lead to 98-97 with just over a second left on the clock. At that point, the Grizzlies seemingly could end the game with a clean in-bounds pass. Rudy Gay cleverly bounced the in-bounds pass off the back of the Suns Grant Hill and stepped in to claim the ball himself. At this point, two things went wrong: First, the clock didn't seem to start on time. It should have started as soon as the ball touched Hill, but instead seemed to start after Gay touched the ball. The second problem was that instead of movingly rapidly away from Suns defenders, Gay sauntered casually — strutted really — after claiming the ball, thinking the game over. But officials huddled, decided that Steve Nash had fouled Gay before time expired and put .4 seconds — just enough time for the Suns to attempt a final shot — back on the clock. This would mean that the ball bounced off Hill, into Gay's hands, and Nash came over to foul all in .7 seconds. Did the Grizzlies get robbed? Yes. But if so, they assisted the thieves.
As if Gay's casual follow-through on the in-bounds (which, right, shouldn't have mattered) wasn't enough, he fouled up the resulting foul shots. Intending to make the first and miss the second (where the clock would have expired on a rebound), Gay reversed it, giving the Suns the ball for an in-bounds play, down 2, with .4 seconds on the clock. Errors on the in-bounds play: Substitute coach Dave Joerger had Marc Gasol guard the in-bounds pass, but that left the team without anyone to protect the rim. (Alternate option: Put Hasheem Thabeet in to guard the pass and let Gasol protect the rim.) Then, on the in-bounds play, O.J. Mayo got picked off, Darrell Arthur slipped on the switch, and Richardson ended up at the rim all alone, catching and completing an alley-oop pass from Grant Hill to force overtime. The number of things that went wrong — Richardson's long three, Gay's nonchalant catch off Hill's back, the clock/officials mishap, Gay screwing up the free throws, a poor defensive set-up on the inbounds, Arthur falling down, the Suns completing the alley-oop — in the span of a couple seconds of game time was staggering. The Grizzlies went on to lose in double overtime, and you'd better believe they'll want this game even more than most.
2. Getting Back in Beast Mode: Friday's game at Phoenix was the first this season in which the Grizzlies got to pair Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. In his first game back, Randolph's rust was apparent. He grabbed 14 rebounds, but only scored 12 points on 3-11 shooting, his timing clearly off. Gasol, meanwhile, was having his way with the Suns inside, at least early on, scoring 26 points on 12-14 shooting.
The next night in Sacramento, where the Grizzlies won 100-91, the roles were somewhat reversed. Randolph looked much sharper, reverting back to his default form with 20 points (8-15 shooting) and 11 rebounds. But Gasol, who had tweaked his sore ankle late against Phoenix the night before, was clearly limited, finishing with 6 points and 5 rebounds.
If the Grizzlies can finally get both bigs playing well together, they should be able to manhandle the Suns inside, more than balancing out the Suns three-point shooting advantage. The Grizzlies will hope the Suns are a little softened-up coming in for the second of back-to-back road games after defeating the Atlanta Hawks 118-114 yesterday. That was an early game, though, so I don't think it will impact the Suns much.
3. That Rough Early Schedule: I probably didn't comment enough before the season on just how frontloaded the Grizzlies schedule is this season. The Lakers, Heat, Celtics, and Magic are, by acclamation, the top tier of NBA teams this season. The Grizzlies will play 10 games against that group, but half of them take place in November. If you look at the schedule through mid-December (through Dec. 18th), which comprises roughly a third of the team's regular-season slate, the team will play 8 of their 19 back-to-back sets, both of the long West Coast road trips on the schedule, 19 of 28 games against teams that made the playoffs last season, and 15 of 28 on the road. Factor in that the Grizzlies have started the season with injury issues, and it adds up to a recipe for a slow start. 3-4 is not so bad and if the Grizzles can come out of this early third of the season somewhere around .500 and in reasonably good health, it will bode well.