Friday, January 25, 2013

Postgame Notebook: Grizzlies 101, Nets 77 — A Lesson in What Works and What Doesn't

Posted By on Fri, Jan 25, 2013 at 11:25 PM

Rookie Tony Wroten again made big plays for a suddenly energetic bench.
  • Rookie Tony Wroten again made big plays for a suddenly energetic bench.
The Lead: You know about the “tale of two halves,” that most cherished post-game cliché around these parts. But tonight warranted a different 10th-grade English class reference: This was about Jekyll & Hyde offense.

Two days after putting 106 on the Lakers, the ecstatic first half tonight suggested that maybe the deplorable defense of Team Turmoil wasn't the lone reason for the Grizzlies' suddenly fluid offense.

A day after being “snubbed” for the All-Star team, Marc Gasol came out more aggressively than he's been in weeks. It took him three-and-a-half minutes to match his field-goal attempt total from Monday's game against the Pacers. It took fewer than five to match the seven shots he put up against the Lakers.

The ball was usually running through Gasol and All-Star post-mate Randolph and moving with more quickness and precision than Griz fans have seen since November, while the bench — lead by rookies Tony Wroten and Chris Johnson and a rejuvenated Jerryd Bayless — entered the game with big-play energy. The result was a season-best 67-point half, with 17 assists on 32 made field goals, including 32 and 12 on a combined 16-23 shooting from Gasol and Randolph.

Then, in the third quarter, it all changed. Though I doubt this was the stated game plan, it almost looked like the team decided it needed to get Rudy Gay — 4 points on 2-5 shooting in the first half — going. Suddenly the offense grew heavy with Gay isolation plays. He went 3-8 in the quarter. Gasol and Randolph combined for two field-goal attempts. And the Grizzlies scored only 18 points, four assists on eight made field-goals. Meanwhile, an emboldened Nets squad was able to slice a 30-point Grizzlies lead down to 18.

The Nets couldn't complete the potential comeback. Another bench boost — Darrell Arthur tip-in, Bayless pull-up, line-drive Johnson three — put the game away.

But, amid the many good vibes, the Grizzlies were left with an in-game offensive instructional.

“We didn't do anything special,” Marc Gasol said afterward about the early explosion. “In the first half we did a good job of moving the ball. Of getting rid of it at the right time. In the second half, there was more holding and we were a lot more stagnant.”

Lionel Hollins echoed this, citing “pace,” “ball movement,” and “attacking in the pick and roll” as reasons for the first-half surge. In the second half, Hollins said, “We didn't play as fluid. We were holding the ball more.”

Marc Gasol went large in the first half.
Men of the Match: This one has to be shared. Even if he was scoreless — shotless, actually — in the second half, Marc Gasol's dominant first half helped all but put the game away by the midway mark. After weeks of passing up good shots, Gasol was aggressive, going right at fellow All-Star snubee Brook Lopez with rumbling hooks, feathery fadeaways, and burly putbacks.

Perhaps equally important — and as much a key to what's happened the past two games as anything — was Jerryd Bayless, playing with palpable confidence for the first time in weeks. I wrote after this week's trade and subsequent elevation of Tony Wroten into the rotation that moving Bayless off the ball and into more of a scoring role might get him going. But I don't think that's quite what's happened.

“We took him off the ball, but he still had the ball,” Lionel Hollins said, afterward, trying to explain Bayless' confidence boost and struggling for the correct words. But I knew what he meant, and I think he's right.

WithWroten struggling with turnovers initially, Bayless moved back on the ball and was really playing the point guard role, running the pick-and-roll. But he did it with a scorer's aggression. It almost seemed like an unintentional psychological trick, like making the trade and publicly declaring that Bayless would play more off the ball in a scorer's role convinced him that's what was happening, even as he was leading the team.

Whatever it was, Bayless didn't seem as tentative. He was moving sharply to open spots on the floor and taking his shots. He was keeping the ball moving. And he was using his strength and leaping ability to make plays at the rim. The result was 11 points (5-8 shooting), 7 rebounds, and 8 assists in 30 minutes off the bench.

Nightly Number: The Grizzlies topped 100 points in consecutive games for the first time since that amazing mid-November stretch in which they beat the Heat, Thunder, and Knicks in the span of a week. But where November's offense was goosed by an increase in three-pointers and free throws, that has not been the case here. Tonight, the Grizzlies took only nine three-pointers (hitting four) and were outscored at the free-throw line 16-3.

The Match-Up: Maybe it's time to put Reggie Evans on the Griz Killer team. After tormenting the Grizzlies as a Clipper last spring, Evans was again a pest tonight as the new starting power forward for the Nets. Evans' physical defense helped limit Zach Randolph's attempts and generally keep Randolph from getting good position, especially in the third quarter. Statistically, at least, Evans neutralized Randolph on Z-Bo's first game since being named to the All-Star team. Randolph scored 12 points on 13 field-goal attempts, with 9 rebounds. Evans had 11 and 10 on seven field-goal attempts.

Elements of Style: Rookie Tony Wroten was a flamboyant net positive again. Wroten had a couple of bad turnovers. He had a misguided dunk attempt that was easily rejected. He got blown by a few times. But he also hit the offensive boards (3). He had two beautiful assists, both zip passes for lay-ups. And he did this:

It added up to 11 points on 5-9 shooting, four boards, two assists, and a +17 in 23 minutes. Oh, and some classic bench celebrations from his mentor, Tony Allen.

Less flamboyant but just as effective was Wroten's fellow rookie, 10-Day Chris Johnson, who impresses with his composure. A rookie playing for his very uncertain career, Johnson just acts like he belongs. He scored 10 points on 4-6 shooting, including hitting 2-4 from three-point range — the reason he was signed — and played solid defense.

Good vibes are back on the Grizzlies bench.
“He played fearless,” Hollins said. “He's made shots. He's gotten offensive rebounds, and he's done a nice job defensively. He doesn't even know all of our schemes. He's only had one really full practice, and I'm excited about what he's done.”

I'll caution against irrational exuberance by noting that once upon a time a player named Bobby Jones put up a triple-double on a 10-day contract and was never heard from again. But, after two games, it's hard not to be really impressed with Johnson.

The Jacob Riis Report: Brook Lopez probably has a better case for making the All-Star team than anyone who didn't actually make it, and though he was outplayed by Marc Gasol tonight, he was still good. Lopez scored 18 points on 8-15 shooting and was pretty much the only thing working for the Nets in the first half. Watching the enormous Lopez dunk the ball in person is like watching a 13-year-old on their bedroom-door Nerf hoop.

The Nets are frequently mentioned as one of the teams most interested in Rudy Gay, but unless there's some really creative three-or-more team possibility I can't dream up, I see no way a deal could possibly be made between the teams. The Nets would never move Deron Williams or Brook Lopez in a Gay deal. Joe Johnson's contract is too big even if the Nets wanted to move him. Small forward Gerald Wallace is the obvious piece, but his athleticism-based game is on a swift decline. Wallace was all-but-invisible tonight, scoring a single point and getting only three rebounds in 24 minutes.

Tweet O’ the Game: "{Insert "off-color PJ Carlisimo wants to choke himself" joke here.}" — @theRealHrdlicka

Arena Action: Zach Randolph got a nice ovation when his All-Star bid was acknowledged during the game's first timeout. New acquisition Jon Leuer made his Grizzlies debut with two garbage-time minutes. He grabbed a steal, but looked a little nervous, missing his lone pick-and-pop field-goal attempt and then missing two free-throws.

Where They Stand: The Grizzlies improved to 28-14 and moved back to two games ahead of the Warriors for fourth in the West.

Looking Ahead: The Grizzlies will host the New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans on Sunday, with an early 5 p.m. tip. Obvious question: Will Lionel Hollins have Tony Allen guard Greivis Vasquez the entire game the way he did with O.J. Mayo?

Announced Attendance: 16,911


After losing three straight games by 20 or more points, the Grizzlies have now won four of five.

The Grizzlies improved to 13-0 when scoring 100 points.

Rudy Gay moved past Pau Gasol to become the franchise leader in games played with 477.

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