Saturday, March 29, 2014

Warriors 100, Grizzlies 93: Golden State Gut Punch

Posted By on Sat, Mar 29, 2014 at 9:06 AM

Nick Calathes played extremely well in last nights loss to Golden State.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Nick Calathes played extremely well in last night's loss to Golden State.

That one hurts. The Grizzlies went into Friday night's road game against the Golden State Warriors looking to clinch the season tiebreaker with the Warriors and further advance their playoff cause, gaining ground on a potential 5th or 6th seed. Instead, Golden State went on a 14-0 run in the last 4 minutes of the game—the Grizzlies led 93-86 then, and lost 100-93—as the Grizzlies' offense sputtered to a halt and Golden State managed to run high pick and rolls to get Steph Curry guarded by Zach Randolph at the top of the key.

Curry was close to superhuman Friday night, scoring 33 points and making 8 assists, and of his 5 made threes, at least three of them had no business going in whatsoever, long-range bombs that he can make better than anyone else in the business. Curry's excellence down the stretch combined with the Grizzlies' defensive lapses and inability to get anything going on offense spelled doom for the Griz, and they ended up losing a game that they really needed to win.

The loss to Golden State means the Grizzlies don't have the tiebreaker with them, so to move ahead of them in the standings they'll have to have a better record instead of just tying. The loss also comes on a night when Phoenix won, leaving the 8th-place Grizzlies 2 games behind Golden State, a half game behind Phoenix, and only a half game ahead of 9th-place Dallas. Dallas plays the Kings tonight, so it's very possible that the next time the Grizzlies play, they'll be doing so from 9th place.

The loss was particularly frustrating to me because down 93-96, the Grizzlies couldn't get a stop when they absolutely knew they had to have one. With Z-Bo guarding Draymond Green, the Warriors ran a Green/Curry P&R twice in a row and got two buckets out of it (and prior to that, Green himself made a 3-pointer). It was like the Warriors didn't realize they could exploit Zach Randolph's weaknesses on defense until the last three minutes of the game, and once they did, the Grizzlies were powerless to do anything about it.

You can argue that coach Dave Joerger should've taken Randolph out of the game—I'd say that's reasonable, given that you could then try guarding Green with James Johnson or Ed Davis, two guys athletic enough to get out to the three point line and back without blowing what they're supposed to be doing. For whatever reason—presumably offense—that isn't what happened.

Don't read me as laying the blame for the loss squarely on Randolph or Joerger's shoulders, though. It was a team effort, and early on, the puzzling lack of interior defense the Grizzlies showed against the Jazz on Wednesday night reared its head again, as former "Zoo Crew" (let us never speak of it again) member Marreese Speights reminded Griz fans of when we used to look at each other and say "You know, Speights isn't so bad." The lack of David Lee for the Warriors probably put the Grizzlies at a disadvantage, because the Grizzlies are able to exploit Lee so handily when he's on the floor.

It is worth mentioning, though, that this isn't the first time Z-Bo's liability on defense has come up this season, and it probably won't be the last. Whatever there is to say about how Z-Bo's production hasn't fallen off with age, and how he's still an invaluable part of the Grizzlies' success—all of which is 100% true—his defense was never great to begin with, and this year it's been noticeably worse. Derrick Favors on Wednesday night gave him fits, but that's normal—Favors does that to lots of people. However, the Spurs spent an entire playoff series running Tony Parker high pick and rolls directly at the numbers on Randolph's jersey, and it paid off well for them. An athletic power forward who is a good pick and roll defender (hey, is Ed Davis still alive?) may have handled last night's situation more effectively and thus enabled the Grizzlies to hang on for the win.

I'm not in panic mode, despite the potentially dire consequences of last night's loss. Golden State is a good team, and good teams always have a chance against other good teams. It's frustrating, because the Grizzlies usually handle the Warriors and move on, but the fact is the Grizzlies could've done just that last night and they didn't. With any luck, they'll be motivated and not disheartened when they take the floor in Portland Sunday night.

On to the next one. The Grizzlies still have to play at Portland, at Denver, and at Minnesota on this road trip before returning home to play Denver again on April 4. The last two games of the season are against Phoenix and Dallas. This one's not over by a long shot, and it could be glorious or it could get really ugly. The only way to know is to play the games, but last night didn't help.

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