Friday, January 27, 2012

Road Recap: Clippers 98, Grizzlies 91 — Where It's West Coast, We Love You, But You're Bringing Us Down

Posted By on Fri, Jan 27, 2012 at 9:55 AM

As the eastern-most team in the Western Conference, the Grizzlies have never really taken well to West Coast road trips. Even in the past two seasons, over which the team had a winning record overall, they went 4-14 over four long West trips, including 1-8 in each season's early trip.

The Memphis Tams throwbacks the Grizzlies modeled last night.
  • The Memphis Tams throwbacks the Grizzlies modeled last night.

So it's not surprising to see the Grizzlies struggle a bit in their first long West Coast swing this season. And last night's national TV game ended up better than the early returns suggested. With each team wearing ABA throwback jerseys — the Grizzlies representing the Memphis Tams — the oddball color schemes evoked a Harlem Globetrotters-Washington Generals game — with the green-and-yellow-clad Griz on the bad end of that dynamic. And that's what it looked like for most of the first quarter, with the Clippers racing out to a 29-13 lead.

But with help from a quarter-ending halfcourt three from Rudy Gay, the Grizzlies went on a 15-0 run to get back into the game and it was close the rest of the way. But the Grizzlies just couldn't generate enough offense in the fourth quarter to pull this one out.

Gay scored a game-high 24 points on 9-18 shooting but also committed six turnovers, and didn't get much help from any other perimeter scorers. Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo combined to shoot 7-29, with reservers Quincy Pondexter and Dante Cunningham (2-8) similarly ineffective off the bench. Meanwhile, the Clippers deployed five good perimeter shooters, all of whom — Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler, Mo Williams, and Randy Foye — hit at least one three-pointer.

In the fourth quarter, Gay, Mayo, and Conley combined to shoot 1-13, with a Mayo three the trio's lone bucket. I was pretty tired by the end — West Coast trips are rough on us too — but felt like the team was rushing up outside shots down the stretch, rather than focusing on working the ball in to Gasol (and, to a lesser extent, Gay) closer to the basket.

The loss continues the trend of beating bad teams (the Grizzlies and Atlanta Hawks are the only teams still undefeated against sub-.500 opponents) but losing to good ones (2-8 against teams above .500). Though perhaps this game signaled some progress. The Grizzlies dropped to 0-6 in road games against winning teams, but this was the closest of the six.

A micro-trend worth watching is how the Grizzlies respond to match-ups against elite scoring power forwards. Current starter Marreese Speights has struggled mightily the past two games against LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin — giving up 14 first-quarter points to Aldridge and picking up three fouls in eight minutes guarding Griffin. Speights didn't play again last night's game, with the Grizzlies finding more success going small, with Rudy Gay guarding Griffin and, with some good help from Marc Gasol in particular, doing a pretty credible job.

Going small — with Mayo in the lineup instead of Speights — puts the team's best players on the floor. But beyond that, it's looking like Gay might actually be the team's best defender against high-scoring fours. And that's a problem.

Speights didn't even soak up the back-up center minutes in the second half. Instead, that went to Hamed Haddadi, who looked a little bit more physically together in his six minutes than he had in the past three games. Though this is still an outlier:

With the loss, the Grizzlies dropped to ninth in a very tight Western Conference playoff race. The Grizzlies will finish the four-game trip Saturday at Phoenix with a chance to get a 2-2 split out of it. The biggest obstacle for the Grizzlies in this one might be psychological — maintaining full focus on the game instead of looking ahead to that plane ride home.

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