Friday, April 25, 2014

Next Day Notes, Game 3: The Real Tony Allen Game

Posted By on Fri, Apr 25, 2014 at 10:10 AM

See Mike Conley. See the ball. See Mike Conley poke the ball away from Westbrook.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • See Mike Conley. See the ball. See Mike Conley poke the ball away from Westbrook.

The Grizzlies now hold a 2-1 lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round. The Thunder are the 2 seed in the Western Conference, and feature either the best or second-best basketball player on the planet, depending on who you ask and what week of the season it is. And yet: these two teams have now played 15 playoff games against one another over the past four seasons, and the Grizzlies have won 9 of them. Fully 33% of Griz/Thunder playoff games have gone into overtime. What I'm driving at is this: these are NBA classic playoff series happening right before our eyes, involving the hometown team.

Last night's game is only another chapter in that story, another overtime win by the Grizzlies at the Grindhouse. (One wonders whether Russell Westbrook will bother objecting to that nomenclature going forward.) Something about these two teams brings out the best in the Grizzlies, and last night was no exception—especially for one Grizzly in particular.

I'd like to propose that last night was maybe the Tony Allen-est Tony Allen Game that's ever done been had.

Coming into Game 3, the talk was about Tony Allen's defense of Kevin Durant. In the first two games—especially Game 2—it was masterful, with Allen crowding Durant and denying him the ball at every opportunity, hounding the best pure scorer in the league into just jacking stuff up to see what hit. (Fortunately for the Grizzlies, not much.) Durant seemed sort of pissed off about the whole thing, seeming to have less poise than normal, like even he didn't understand how Tony Allen was so good at guarding him.

Let me tell you how Tony Allen is so good at guarding him: Tony Allen is not one of us. Tony Allen, against the Oklahoma City Thunder, operates on a plane of existence that is separate but visible from ours. He is a force for the creation of chaos, wandering around a basketball court operating according to laws which are just similar enough to the actual rules of basketball to keep him from getting ejected.

There are the tricks, and the treats. Last night was the ultimate manifestation of both, Tony Allen operating at Peak Chaos.

Treat: Tony Allen almost winning the game himself, making a layup to put the Grizzlies up 83-81 and then stealing the ball and streaking back down to hit another one (he didn't miss the layups!) and put the Grizzlies up 85-81 as the game clock started to wind down.

Trick: Tony Allen fouls Russell Westbrook on a 3-point shot (and yes, he did actually foul him) and gives the Thunder the 4-point play they need to tie the game at 85 with 26 seconds left, which meant the Grizzlies' 17-point lead was just barely enough to keep them from losing instead of being enough to win comfortably.

Treat: Tony Allen and Beno Udrih simultaneously going on a scoring outburst against the Thunder second unit (who were categorically abysmal in Game 3, even Derek "I Came Over On The Mayflower" Fisher) to build a Grizzlies lead while the Griz Big 3 of Conley, Gasol, and Randolph caught a breather.

Trick: Tony Allen then assuming that since he had made some shots, he'd make more, trying to stretch the defense by taking wide-open jump shots that even Tony Allen, in later moments of clarity, would admit that he had no business taking, burning valuable offensive possessions in a game in which the Grizzlies slowed the pace down to the point that every possession was sacred.

It was all Tony: defensive brilliance, 4-point plays at the worst possible times. Scoring flurries that work, taking stupid open shots. Tripping people for three-shot fouls at the end of overtime. Crashing the boards and grabbing vital offensive rebounds. And in between all of the flexing on the bench, pointing which way the ball was going to go, listening in on ref huddles, trash talking, wandering around in his own world with crazy eyes during breaks in the action that we've come to expect from The Grindfather, that we've grown not only to love but to require come playoff season.

There were lots of reasons the Griz won Game 3 beyond Tony Allen, but none of them felt as real, as easy to process. Last night Tony Allen elevated himself to a new level of TA that we were scared to admit the existence of—a hyperactive flurry of activity we dared not ask for, lest it be impossible. And yet there he was. All heart... you know.

Lessons from Game 3

And yet, there are lots of other basketball things from last night that could point the way to the Grizzlies winning this series and advancing out of the first round:

  • Beno Udrih is, apparently, not playing around. The veteran stepped in at the backup point guard last night and carried over his performance from Game 2—you know, the one we thought was a fluke—by racking up 12 points on 5 of 6 shooting (that's an eFG% of 91.7%, which is just stupid) in 14 minutes of play, some of which was spent off the ball in a super-small Conley/Udrih/Lee/Miller/Koufos lineup. Yes, you read that correctly: that is a real lineup used in an actual playoff game, and it worked. At any rate, Udrih's play has been a revelation, even as Nick Calathes had established himself as an important piece of the rotation puzzle. Udrih has stepped up in a big way. I still can't believe the Knicks cut him.

  • The Grizzlies have got to be a little better at knowing when to do something besides (1) run clock or (2) post Z-Bo up in late game situations. It's been a recurring thing over the last few weeks, not just the playoffs. The Grizzlies have a bit of a lead going down the stretch, and they hold the ball and start to get slower than they need to be. It's not the first time those plays (Z-Bo iso postups against double—or triple—teams) have happened and hurt the Grizzlies in the final minute or two of a game.

  • Speaking of Zach Randolph, at some point the Grizzlies have got to stop forcing it in to Randolph. The Z-Bo Isolation Project just doesn't work against OKC with the same efficiency that it works against teams that don't have good post defenders, and instead of getting good looks it's blowing up what little offense the Griz have to start with. There's a reason Randolph's shooting percentages in this series have mostly been abysmal: defending the post against other big slow dudes is literally the only thing Kendrick Perkins is good at. Nick Collison is another great defender. Serge Ibaka is too long and athletic for Z-Bo to get a good look. Steven Adams is apparently made out of granite. Do something besides isolate against any combination of two of those guys.

  • The Thunder introduced a defensive wrinkle in the fourth quarter of Game 3 that really gave the Grizzlies problems: using Thabo Sefolosha and another guard to trap Mike Conley hard on every single pick and roll. That one change in OKC's defensive scheme singlehandedly choked out the Grizzlies' ball movement and led to a scoreless drought of I don't even remember how many minutes—but it was too long. It may be time to start experimenting with some more "multiple ball-handler" lineups so that doesn't become as much of a problem, but at any rate, Conley in the P&R is essential and the Grizzlies have to figure out how to deal with the trap.

  • The Grizzlies can apparently bait Westbrook into trying to take the game over and let him run the Thunder straight into the ground. Doesn't seem like he or KD really (1) believe in what they're doing or (2) trust an of their teammates to get it done. Down the stretch, making Westbrook feel like he had to beat the Griz by himself was the best thing the Grizzlies did in Games 2 and 3, even though it took overtime to do it.

  • Apologies are in order: I thought the Grizzlies would really struggle with Gasol on the bench with 2 early fouls in the first quarter, but Kosta Koufos stepped in and the Griz increased their lead instead of losing it. I still can't believe the Grizzlies got him for Darrell Arthur.
  • Dumbest Thing I Tweeted Last Night

    I usually don't do this, but I was incredibly proud/ashamed of this 30-second Photoshop job.


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