Monday, December 2, 2013

Weekend Recap: Let's Talk About Nets, Baby

Posted By on Mon, Dec 2, 2013 at 7:40 AM

Ed Davis got the start in the place of Zach Randolph Saturday night.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Ed Davis got the start in the place of Zach Randolph Saturday night.

Saturday night at the FedExForum was the first Grizzlies game since the arrival of Zach Randolph in 2009 that neither Randolph or Marc Gasol have played in. It was also an ugly game in which the Grizzlies began at a disadvantage personnel-wise and ended that way, too. Yes, the Nets have injuries, too, but they've been dealing with those injuries much longer—and regardless, the absence of two of the Grizzlies' three best players proved to be too much to overcome.

Randolph was declared out on Saturday as the result of an ingrown toenail that had to be cut out. (My grandfather told me one time that he cut an ingrown toenail out with a pocketknife. I'd like to see Z-Bo try that.) With Gasol out, the loss of Randolph dealt the Grizzlies' whole game—but especially the offense—a crippling blow, and it showed on the court: poor shooting, poor ball movement, a general lack of togetherness and an inability to stop the Nets' recently-returned Brook Lopez, one of the better centers in the league when healthy. The absence of Gasol meant the Grizzlies were essentially helpless against Lopez inside, especially with Ed Davis in a bit of foul trouble.

Overall, it was a pretty miserable game to watch, as the Grizzlies got down big, made it a close game in the third, and proceeded to go down big again. We've seen some games that were ugly because the Grizzlies made them that way, and the ugliness was what was essentially "Grizzlies" about the game—almost an identity thing. This was not one of those games; it was just ugly.

Three (Well, Two) Things I Liked

   • Quincy Pondexter appeared to have returned from the dead being sentenced to a lifetime of sitting on the end of the bench, scoring 22 points in 21 minutes. Pondexter was 3-5 from 3. At the end of the third quarter, it looked like Pondexter was staring down coach Dave Joerger, and it was clear while watching that Pondexter was playing with a chip on his shoulder. He got into a little bit of trouble once he'd scored fifteen or so of this points when he then tried to take over the game down the stretch, doing too much. Pondexter is at his most valuable to this team when he plays within himself and doesn't try to take his man off the dribble every time he gets the ball. But it was certainly a welcome sight to see Pondexter contributing again.

   • All things considered, the Grizzlies' "bench" (which, for this game, consisted of guys who don't always play) made some good contributions. Ed Davis had 10-8 in his 30 minutes, and Kosta Koufos had 10 points and 11 rebounds in his third Grizzlies start. Koufos' rebounding has been a bright spot of his first stretch of games as a starter. Jon Leuer struggled to space the floor, but both he and Pondexter, who have been sitting a lot lately, were able to make positive contributions. Those guys are going to come in handy again at some point this season, so it's good to see them have the ability to play well when they're called upon.

   • Honestly? There's not really a third thing I liked about this game. It was ugly—hard to watch. The Grizzlies were out of sync, moving the ball poorly, struggling to create anything resembling a good look at the basket, and just barely functioning on defense.

Three Things I Didn't Like

   • Another game where Tony Allen (1) struggles to shut down his man—in this case, the bigger Joe Johnson, who ended up scoring 26 points on 15 shots—and does a poor job of knowing when to help and when not to help and (2) is tied for most field goal attempts (12). For all of Allen's great cuts to the basket and willingness to attempt a layup in traffic to draw contact, it seems like he's taking a lot of open jumpers this year, and there is a reason he's open for those jumpers. More concerning than the poor shot selection are the struggles on defense. Allen's help defense has been poor since the Spurs series last year, and he continues not to respect spot-up shooters the way he does a "big name" ball-handler. Which is natural, I guess, but it allows the Grizzlies to get torched by spot-up shooters. The gaps in Allen's defense this year are a concerning long-term trend—one that I hope gets reversed as the season rolls on.

   • Jerryd Bayless apparently only shoots well against the Boston Celtics. Those are the two "Jerryd Bayless" games so far this year. The rest of the time, he's had stat lines like the one he put up against Brooklyn: 1 for six shooting, one assist, 0 for 3 from long range. The Grizzlies need Bayless to contribute a scoring punch off the bench, and so far he hasn't been able to find that rhythm this season.

   • I know this is hard-hitting basketball journalism, but the Grizzlies just aren't that good when you take away two of their top three players. The Griz were already missing Marc Gasol's distribution and playmaking on offense and on defense, they've been missing his presence inside, guarding the lane and telling everyone else where they need to be. Taking away Randolph in addition to Gasol just means their primary post scoring threat is also gone, and so the offense is just as hobbled as the defense. It's not a situation I'd like to see the Grizzlies have to deal with for any significant stretch of time, so with any luck, Saturday night was an aberration.

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