If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen this tonight:
That's a real stat, by the way. The Grizzlies have not won their season opener since 2000, and it was in Vancouver over the Sonics 94-88.
— Kevin Lipe (@FlyerGrizBlog) October 31, 2013
The Memphis Grizzlies (playing on the road) also scored 94 points in their season opener, but unfortunately for them, the San Antonio Spurs scored 101, dashing whatever hopes the Grizzlies had for an undefeated season. It was a rematch of last year's Western Conference Finals that played out exactly like last year's Western Conference Finals, with the Grizzlies coming out strong, playing with a lot of heart, but ultimately cut off at the knees by their own inability to make a basket.
The Grizzlies scored seven points in the second quarter, and watching it live, it felt like they didn't score any. Let us never speak of this again.
It's hard to know exactly what to take away from the game, given that it was so similar to last year. It's why I'm not really a fan of these playoff rematch season openers. This game played out exactly like last year's Spurs series. Last year's season opener against the Clippers had the same horrible, headache-inducing stressy vibe of the 2012 Clippers playoff series. It's supposed to be a new season and a new start, but when you begin it by playing the guys you ended it playing, it's hard for the game to not take on some of the same psychological and emotional overtones, the same feel, the same energy. That's as hippie as I'll get about it, but suffice it to say the Grizzlies had not figured out a way to get past the Spurs, and the Spurs followed pretty much the same game plan they used in the Conference Finals to get past the Grizzlies.
Here's one thing that I don't feel great about:
Before tonight, Zach Randolph had never started a game and played at least 20 minutes while scoring fewer than 3 points.
— Peter Edmiston (@peteredmiston) October 31, 2013
The fit of Z-Bo in Dave Joerger's offense, along with the question of whether Randolph, as he ages, will be able to maintain the insanely high level of play that's gotten him on the map as the irresistable force to Marc Gasol's immovable object, are issues for this team. In 25:44 against the Spurs, Randolph scored 2 points on 1-6 shooting, grabbed 2 offensive and 5 defensive rebounds, and attempted zero (0) free throws. If you're a big believer in the +/- stat—I'm not—Randolph's was -21.
I'm certainly not going to start digging a grave for Randolph's career. The Spurs are a team that has 100% had his number since he wiped them from the face of the earth in 2011. They were old and banged up and he made them look ancient and broken, like the Big Three era was in need of a good arson. Since then, the Grizzlies haven't beaten the Spurs in San Antonio, and Randolph hasn't looked good against them once.
So matchup has a lot to do with it...
...But. There's always a but. This was a phenominally bad performace against a team the Grizzlies needed Z-Bo to be present for. Too many of those, and all these lingering, nagging questions are going to turn into persistent howls of "do something" and the Z-Bo era of Grizzlies hoops is going to be over, before we've even had time to stop and think about how much he—and this whole Grizzlies core group—has meant to our city. If he's really declining, this is probably what it's going to start to look like on a regular basis. We'll know soon enough.
The other issue at play here is execution. The Grizzlies had 14 turnovers tonight, which was actually one fewer than the Spurs, but it seemed like every one of them came at the worst possible time, when the Griz were poised to take another big bite out of San Antonio's shrinking lead, killing the momentum of whatever frantic comeback was in progress. The team just doesn't look good yet. There's a level of comfort and crispness that's missing from the way they're executing sets on offense, no doubt due to the fact that this was the first real game they've ever played with Dave Joerger as head coach.
It's something that'll take time to get straightened out, but it's definitely worth keeping an eye on as the season gets underway: is the team able to go out and execute and play smart, or are they constantly going to have to try to recover from 7-point quarters? Are they going to be able to assert their scheme and their offensive will on other teams, or is everything going to be an "effort" play on the second or third attempt of each possession? If it's the latter, it's going to be a long year.
Other storylines of the night were probably smaller. Ed Davis played 8 minutes and didn't do too well, and Jon Leuer played almost 10 and did a little bit better, only making one basket but making all manner of hustle plays that helped the Grizzlies close the gap they'd created for themselves. Unsung hero of the night was probably Kosta Koufos, with 7 points and 3 rebounds in 14 minutes and also a good job holding down the fort for the Grizzlies' interior game while Marc Gasol was on the bench. Seeing a legitimate starting-caliber center on the floor while Gasol is out is going to take some getting used to, but I think I'm going to like it.
All in all, the night could've gone better for the Grizzlies. The second quarter was abysmal, to the point that the more panic-prone sectors of Griz Twitter were starting to wonder if the entirety of the Joerger Era was a bad idea, stumbling out of the blocks never to regain its form, but the Grizzlies came out and fought, and fought hard, and even though they ran out of steam towards the end, the fact that they came out and almost caught back up to the Spurs says a lot about the heart of this year's Grizzlies—something that was being questioned a bit after the two blowout preseason losses. In the heart department, the Grizzlies are doing just fine.
But seriously, next time score more than 7 points in the second quarter.