Thursday, November 21, 2013

Road Recap: Grizzlies 88, Warriors 81

Posted By on Thu, Nov 21, 2013 at 7:54 AM

Mike Conley was quietly excellent on the Grizzlies whole West Coast trip.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Mike Conley was quietly excellent on the Grizzlies' whole West Coast trip.

The Grizzlies are now 30th out of 30 teams in the league in pace, according to Basketball Reference, and as they've plummeted to the bottom of the league's pace-of-play rankings, they've started to solidify into a cohesive team of grind-it-out intensity and a violent offensive mindset spearheaded by two (or three when Kosta Koufos also gets a double double) of the league's best big men. The Grizzlies everyone (including this author) was worried about are gone, and the old Grizzlies have returned in their place.

The Grizzlies defeated the Steph Curry-less Warriors to overtime last night despite (1) playing their fourth game in six nights, all on the West Coast and (2) the Warriors' starting Andre Igoudala at point guard due to injuries, causing the Grizzlies to struggle mightily with their length on the perimeter for most of the first half. They did so by doing what they do best: forcing the Warriors, one of the most potent offensive teams in the league, into what was probably the slowest game they've played all year, with both teams tied at 75 at the end of regulation.

The pace number—an estimate of the number of possessions in a game—for last night? 78.9. League average so far this season is 94.6. The Warriors average 95.9, the 11th fastest in the league.

But the Grizzlies are last. Like Z-Bo says, "We in the mud."

Three Things I Liked

1. I liked Marc Gasol's defense last night. It was his first DPOY-ish performance yet this season, and it became a huge difference maker while the rest of the Grizzlies were out of sorts trying to figure out the help defense necessary to keep the Warriors' extra-tall lineups from beating the smaller Griz defenders. Having Gasol in the middle playing like Gasol was a difference-maker last night, and a welcome return to form for a guy who, let's be honest, didn't look like he wanted to be playing basketball the first two weeks of the season.

2. Another 20-10 game for Zach Randolph, which... I mean, I don't even know what else to say about it at this point. I know three of the four games on this road trip have been against teams without good interior defense, and Z-Bo has historically owned the matchup against the fourth team—the Clippers—when healthy, but I have to admit that I wasn't sure Z-Bo still had this gear on a regular basis. I'm glad he does, because he's carrying a massive amount of the Grizzlies' scoring load. The only Grizzly with a usage rate higher than Randolph's is Mike Conley.

3. Speaking of which, even when he's struggling to guard Andre Igoudala one-on-one, Mike Conley was brilliant on the whole road trip. Understated greatness. Conley has been fantastic this season—so much so that he's carried the team through some tough spots, and when the rest of the roster finally started clicking, he's made them that much better by continuing to do what he was doing. Conley's got a tough test coming up Friday facing Tony Parker and the Spurs, but we'll get into that tomorrow.

Three Things I Didn't Like

1. Ed Davis didn't play at all, and while that was clearly the right move in terms of winning the game, I still think Davis is going to have to play at some point. Zach Randolph played 46 minutes last night, and Gasol played 38 after playing 40 against the Clippers Monday night. Even with Koufos playing 21 minutes, I think that kind of minute load is untenable over the course of a season, and Dave Joerger is going to have to go with a 4-man frontcourt rotation, like it or not. If Davis is really so bad that he can't play even for 10 or 15 minutes, the Grizzlies need to just get rid of him now. A 3-man frontcourt rotation is fine in the playoffs. It's not a recipe for playoff success when you're doing it in November. Note that I don't say this because I think Davis has earned the minutes. He's been very uneven to start the year, and mostly bad. But I don't think the Grizzlies can really play a 3-man frontcourt rotation all year long. I don't see how that can end well.

2. Quincy Pondexter started in place of the suspended Tony Allen, and for whatever reason, really struggled to find his rhythm and to play within himself. His struggles contributed to a very slow start for the Grizzlies, who were down 10 after the first quarter. The Grizzlies really missed Allen's excellent cutting ability on offense, and Pondexter's poor offensive start to the year was certainly a contributor to their woes in the first frame last night. If Pondexter wants to start, he's going to have to play better.

3. Tayshaun Prince came up huge in overtime, which is when you expect a veteran guy like him to turn it on: when the game is on the line and he needs to make a bucket. It almost made up for the fact that he couldn't hit the broad side of Zach Randolph's $3 million Memphis house for the 48 minutes before that. Almost.

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