Back to the Grind
It wasn't pretty, but then, what ever is with these Memphis Grizzlies? When is it ever easy, and when does it ever look good when it happens? The Grizzlies got their first win of the young season tonight in their first home game, and they did it in typical Grizzlies fashion: they had to grind out a win even though nothing was going their way.
First things first: the Detroit Pistons are much better than they were last year. Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe are a brutal post duo to face off against (sound familiar?) and the addition of Josh Smith at the small forward spot in the place of our mutual friend Tayshaun Prince (not to mention swapping Brandon Jennings for Brandon Knight at the post, although Jennings was injured and out of action tonight) has made this a much better team than they were last year. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (who I'll refer to as KCP from here on out to avoid having to type that again) is a rookie guard out of Georgia with a lot of promise, and along with Rodney Stuckey the two of them gave the Grizzlies' guards a great deal of trouble tonight off the bench.
A lot of things went wrong for the Grizzlies tonight against the Pistons. The first, and most obvious thing was the turnovers. I mean, 20 of them. Uncharacteristically, five of them were on Mike Conley, who seemed to be a little lackadaisical with his passing tonight. Zach Randolph accounted for another 4. It seemed like every other trip down the court, one of those two guys got the ball swatted out of his hands. Detroit is a much-improved defensive team this year, but they're not, well, the Grizzlies, and taking care of the ball has to be a bigger concern for the Griz going forward.
Another thing that was concerning to me tonight was the ability of the Pistons' guards to get into the paint at will. Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum seemed to be able to drive to the basket every single time they wanted to tonight, and the Grizzlies' big men weren't rotating properly to cut the drives off in time. I'm not sure whether the Griz are scheming a little differently on defense or whether they're just doing more ball-watching than usual on defense, but whatever it is, the bigs can't play as deep as they're playing and expect to be able to keep opposing guards out of the paint. It's just not going to work. I haven't seen a shot chart yet, but it felt like Detroit was able to generate a large number of attempts near the basket, and with Monroe and Drummond both down low to clean up, it was no wonder the Grizzlies had so much trouble getting stops when they needed them.
Speaking of cleaning up: the Grizzlies only had 6 offensive rebounds all night. At halftime, they had 2, and one of those was on Zach Randolph's last-second putback of a Mike Conley miss. A Memphis Grizzlies team only having 6 ORebs in a game that went longer than regulation is probably an outlier, sure, but that doesn't make it okay. If that's a trend that's going to continue, it's eventually going to start costing them basketball games.
If you hadn't read the first paragraph and didn't know how the game ended, you'd probably think I was describing all of the reasons the Grizzlies lost, right? It felt that way a lot of the night: like the Griz were going to lose because they were outexecuted and because they turned the ball over too many times. It was a back and forth game, with nine lead changes, the Pistons' biggest lead being 7 and the Grizzlies' being 10, but there were times when it felt like the Grizzlies' sloppy play and inability to hang on to the ball were going to cost them the game.
But somewhere around the four minute mark or so, the Grizzlies started getting stops. Marc Gasol got to the line, and then with two minutes left Mike Miller hit a three to bring the Griz within 2 of the Pistons. The whole building held its breath while the shot arced toward the basket and exploded when it went in. I guess it's a little early in the season for Gap Band, but it probably would've been appropriate. From there on out, the Grizzlies began to assert their control over the game and seemed to reconnect with their inner Grindfather, getting stops (and lucking out on a Chauncey Billups missed gamewinner) and riding Marc Gasol to the tie.
Overtime flew by and the Pistons never seriously challenged for the lead once the Grizzlies grabbed it, and the Grizzlies won 111-108 (it would've been 111-105 if not for a wide open Will Bynum buzzer beater from 33 feet).
Overall, hard to argue with the win. The Grizzlies still don't look comfortable in the offense, and the play hasn't tightened up yet. They appear to still be overthinking everything, never quite sure who to pass to or where to be. When plays break down guys start improvising, and that never seems to go well. It's going to be a while before this group of guys—especially the new additions to the roster—start to feel completely comfortable on the floor together, and that's fine. As Dave Joerger said in the postgame presser, the Grizzlies' biggest talent is that every single guy on the roster plays hard no matter what, and it's that professionalism (and, yes, grind-ness) that's going to carry them through some rough patches that other teams might not make it through—like tonight. I'd sure like it if they were able to look good doing it, though. It'd make these things a lot less stressful.
Tomorrow night the Grizzlies take on the Mavericks in Dallas in the first SEGABABA (Second Game of a Back to Back) of the season. It remains to be seen exactly how this Mavericks team is going to gel. The Mavericks are on a SEGABABA too, having lost 105-113 to the Rockets in Houston tonight while the Grizzlies were handling the Pistons.
I'd like to see Mike Miller in street clothes for the Dallas game, since he played 32 minutes in tonight's game. It might not hurt to keep the recovering Tayshaun Prince to 20 or fewer minutes again tomorrow night too. Beyond that, what happens is anybody's guess. This early in the year, it's unlikely that either team is currently in the same configuration they'll be in at the end of the year.
Next week is a busy one for the Grizzlies, with three games—all at home, mercifully—against the Celtics (which, you know, they should be terrible this year, but look at the 2-0 Philadelphia 76ers), the New Orleans Pelicans (who are improved this year as well with the additions of Jrue Holiday and Memphis Tiger Tyreke Evans), and the Golden State Warriors with their white-hot shooting backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. It's going to be an eventful week of basketball for the Grizzlies, but no matter what the outcome of tomorrow night's Dallas game, if they can handle business next week and win at least two, I think they'll be in great shape to tackle the rest of what looks to be a tough month of November.