Saturday, March 1, 2014

Saturday 2-Pointer: A Schedule Loss, A Necessary Win

Posted By on Sat, Mar 1, 2014 at 10:10 AM

James Johnson and the Griz bench led a furious comeback attempt against the Thunder.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • James Johnson and the Griz bench led a furious comeback attempt against the Thunder.

Thunder 113, Grizzlies 107

To reiterate something I said on Twitter immediately after the game ended last night: I did not expect the Grizzlies to win against Oklahoma City. The Thunder had lost three in a row at home—the last one to Cleveland—and Kendrick Perkins was out of the lineup, which meant that Thunder coach Scott Brooks had no choice but to play his best frontcourt players for the whole 48 minutes.

The problem last night was that the grizzlies played the first three quarters like they didn't expect to win, either, starting with a 4-0 run and then sinking to a 15 point deficit at the half. Early on, the Thunder did an excellent job of stifling the Grizzlies' interior game, with Ibaka, Collison, and Collison's body doubleAdams carrying a majority of the workload. But. Even our old friend Hasheem Thabeet got in on the act, playing seventeen minutes and using up five fouls.

Z-Bo struggled early on, starting out 0-6 and later 2-10 from the field. Mike Conley still hasn't returned to his stunning early-season form. Gasol had a pretty good game, but it wasn't enough to keep the game close. Tayshaun Prince kept finding himself mysteriously wide open, and to his credit, he made the Thunder pay for it, going 5-9 from the field for 12 points. But nothing seemed to get the Grizzlies defense to tighten up, and they never gained any ground on the Thunder.

It wasn't until the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth that the Grizzlies started to prove they had a pulse, and then it was largely because of who else but the Lords of Basketball Chaos. An all-bench lineup of Nick Calathes, Mike Miller, Tony Allen, James Johnson, and Kosta Koufos started bringing the pain, getting stops on one end and converting them into point-blank looks at the basket and/or Mike Miller letting it fly with reckless abandon, to the tune of 4-5 from long range. The energy level increased, and even when Durant and Westbrook returned to the game, they kept shrinking the lead.

You know the rest. Gasol came back in, but Durant started Durant-ing, and the Grizzlies were never able to get over the hump and into the lead. But there for the last quarter, it was an exciting basketball game again—it felt like a real contest for a while.

And then it was over, and the Grizzlies lost.

But let's not be Cavalier about it

See what I did there? Tonight the Grizzlies are back home for another weekend back-to-back to face the 24-36 Cleveland Cavaliers. The last time these two teams played—in Cleveland—the Grizzlies lost in overtime in one of the Conley-less games earlier in February.

I think it's going to be interesting to see Kyrie Irving in action against a not-quite-all-there Mike Conley. Other than that, I'm not really sure what else to say about this game—other than how it fits into the overall picture of the Grizzlies' mad dash to make the playoffs.

There are 17 games on the schedule in March. 9 of them are against Eastern Conference teams (though two of them are against Indiana and Miami), and only 3 of them are against Western Conference playoff teams (two against Portland and one against Golden State). It seems reasonable that the Grizzlies could go something like 12-5 or 11-6 in this stretch—and they'd better. The way things are going, I'm not sure 10-7 or 9-8 will do it. All of these are winnable games. It's just going to come down to winning enough of them to ensure that the Grizzlies are in the right place at the right time.

That starts tonight at the Forum against Cleveland.

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