The Grizzlies ran out of gas in the fourth quarter last night, playing their third game in three days and fifth game in six days on the road against defending champions who really needed that win as they look toward a road-heavy finish.
The Grizzlies couldn't find the energy and chemistry in the fourth quarter this time, especially after Tony Allen hit the deck and then the locker room after an inadvertent elbow from O.J. Mayo opened a gash in his mouth that required stitches. The Grizzlies had already lost a fourth-quarter lead with a 10-0 Mavs run in the middle of the quarter, while Allen was on the bench. Trailing by three with five minutes left when Allen headed back to the locker room, the Grizzlies then watched the Mavs go on another 9-0 run to put the game away.
Merely losing a game in this situation, given the schedule and the opponent, isn't that big a deal. More troubling are a couple of trends that continued in the game:
After a good first quarter — 3-4 shooting and active transition play on both ends highlighted by breaking up a 2-on-1 break and blocking a shot at the rim after forcing Dallas to reset — Rudy Gay wilted as the game wore on, finishing with 8 points on 4-12 shooting with 2 rebounds.
Over this three-games-in-three-nights stretch, Gay averaged 10 points and 5 rebounds on 28% shooting. He's also now missed 15 three-pointers in a row. Gay's total 31 points in the stretch is his lowest total over three consecutive games since January 13th-19th, 2009 (he shot 33% in those three games), which just happened to be the three games before Marc Iavaroni's final appearance as Grizzlies' head coach. Gay had clearly checked out in the final days of Iavaroni's tenure (though he wasn't the only person who had lost faith at that point), and rebounded quickly after the change.
Gay has been prone to the occasional funk in his career and has had a bit of a disappointing season overall anyway, his handful of poor games rarely balanced by a great one. (Gay hasn't hit the 30-point mark in a game all season.) It's hard to say what the source of his current downturn is. Lionel Hollins and Pete Pranica both hinted at Gay being under the weather this week. I asked Gay about this after the Warriors game Tuesday night and he acknowledged but dismissed it, saying that most players deal with minor physical issues during the season. But if Gay's energy has flagged, his body language has also been a concern. One point I would make is that the compression of these games likely compounded whatever problem is driving Gay's current struggles. In a normal season flow, if some short-term physical ailment or off-court issue or whatever is affecting a player for a few days, it might only impact one game.
Hopefully whatever Gay's issue is — and it might just be a run-of-the-mill slump, though it looks like something more than that — it's short-term and not a case of truly checking out like he did back in January, 2009. Though there are lingering chemistry questions related to Gay's absence during last season's playoff run, from the outside, it's hard to see anything in the past week that would have caused that kind of significant disruption in Gay's approach. Perhaps a day off will clear his head and rejuvenate his body, but Gay's game is going to be under an awful lot of scrutiny this weekend.
(One question about Gay's recent play that's outside his control: Given the team's quality depth now, why play him so much — 36 minutes per in the three-game set — when he's playing so poorly?)
Struggling in these games as much as Gay, albeit with a much more obvious and understandable reason for it, has been Zach Randolph, who averaged 8 points and 4 rebounds on 30% shooting. Watching Randolph in these games underscores how little margin for error he's always had. That small decline in quickness — particularly on his face-up post moves and trying to finish offensive rebounds — renders him mundane. Randolph's soft touch and ability to move bodies around and get his hands on the ball around the rim seem pretty much still there, but that's about it for now — though one would imagine that three-games-in-three-nights was particularly rough for him right now.
Getting Gay and Randolph right is second only to playoff-position jockeying over these final 13 games. Whether Gay and Randolph can be a semblance of their best selves in May will determine whether the Grizzlies are a feisty out or an actual threat.
(Quick bonus observation: It was good to see Gilbert Arenas continue his improved shooting, including 2-4 from long-range, but it was odd to see the team not use the Arenas-Mayo combo in the second half after it had been effective again in the first.)