Sunday, March 23, 2014

Next Day Notes: Grizzlies 82, Pacers 71

Posted By on Sun, Mar 23, 2014 at 12:07 PM

Mike Conley got back on track with a great showing against the Pacers Saturday night.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Mike Conley got back on track with a great showing against the Pacers Saturday night.

Last night, the Grizzlies had one of the best defensive outings they've had all year, holding the Pacers—the #1 team in the Eastern Conference—to 71 points, a season low for a Griz opponent and a season low for the Pacers as well. Roy Hibbert, Indiana's standout center, collected zero rebounds. Paul George was held to 2-10 from the field, and point guard George Hill shot 2-7. The Grizzlies absolutely terrorized the Pacers. In fact, the only Pacers who made more than two field goals were Lance Stephenson and David West.

I was home on the couch with a migraine last night instead of in the building watching the bloodbath happen, so my notes are a little more scattered than usual, and I'm just going to give them to you:

• Mike Miller, according to some numbers being quoted last night on Twitter, is shooting better than 60% from three after the All Star break. Last night, Miller had 13 points, all of them in the second quarter, and those 13 points comprised the Grizzlies' lead over the Pacers headed into the half. Not too shabby. Miller's floor-spacing ability was in full effect last night, with no Pacer defender able to leave him for any extended amount of time. The ball found him when he was open. It was beautiful to watch.

• Nick Calathes didn't put up a huge numbers night—1-3 from the field, 2 assists, a steal and a block—but the official box score doesn't count deflections and doesn't account for pressure. Calathes seemed to be everywhere on defense last night, getting a hand on the ball at every possible opportunity, frustrating passers, and using his considerable length to make the Pacers' guards uncomfortable. Calathes' defense has been steadily improving over the course of the season—one would expect that to happen to any young player who hangs around this particular group of players for while—and it's been encouraging to see him figuring out how to use his size to his advantage.

• The backup point guard wasn't the only one doing a number on Indiana last night, though: Mike Conley put up a game like we haven't seen him play in a while. In 31 minutes—see how much easier life is when the Grizzlies have a real backup point guard?—Conley went 9-15 from the field, including 1-3 from 3, for 21 points, in addition to 5 rebounds and 4 assists. The first time these two teams played each other, Conley was torched by George Hill, unable to do anything. No so this time, as Conley, who has been in a bit of a funk lately, shook off whatever's been bugging him lately and played like the Mike Conley, Destroyer of Worlds we all took for granted earlier in the season. It was great to see Conley perform that well against such a good team.

• Speaking of that team, the Pacers look completely checked out and ready for the playoffs. If the Griz were in the East, they'd be the 3 seed, so it's not like whoever the Pacers end up playing is going to be any good, but they'd better figure out how to show up for some games between now and then. Backing into the playoffs is never a good idea in the NBA, whether it's because of injury or mental toughness. Just ask the 2011 Spurs.

• James Johnson played 10 minutes in Friday night's loss to the Miami Heat, and even though the Grizzlies lost that game, it was clear that Johnson was contributing during his (limited) minutes. On Saturday night against the Pacers, Johnson didn't play until Pacers coach Frank Vogel declared it garbage time with a minute or two left in the game. That didn't stop fans from chanting for him while the Griz were beating the best team in the East by 15 points. Now, I'm (obviously) no defender of Dave Joerger's rotations, but it was clear that the Grizzlies were firing on all cylinders last night, Johnson or no Johnson. Rather than clamoring for a fan favorite—and this is not a slight to Johnson—that segment of Griz fans is eventually going to have to realize (much like I had to do) that sometimes "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" isn't such a bad place to be. I don't like some of Joerger's decisions, but (1) I'm not the one being held accountable for how my decisions affect the team's performance and (2) the team is performing pretty dadgum well.

With Marc Gasol's ankle (apparently) intact, the Griz head into a tough stretch on the road, playing Minnesota at FedExForum Monday night before heading to Utah, Golden State, Portland, Denver, and Minnesota (again). Saturday night's beatdown of Indiana ought to give them a boost of confidence heading out onto the road and carry them back up the standings after Friday night's loss set them back a little. It was a marvelous defensive performance, and with any luck, it set a tone for what the rest of the regular season is going to look like.

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