Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Next Day Notes, Game 5: Grizzlies 100, Thunder 99

Posted By on Wed, Apr 30, 2014 at 9:56 AM

Z-Bo had a 20-10 game last night, doing a good job scoring on the move.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Z-Bo had a 20-10 game last night, doing a good job scoring on the move.

Last night's 100-99 overtime win over the Oklahoma City Thunder gave the Grizzlies a 3-2 lead in the series, which returns to Memphis on Thursday for a fateful Game 6 at the Grindhouse. But while last night's game ended the way Griz fans wanted it to, the fact of the matter is that the Grizzlies spent the whole fourth quarter trying to give the game away, and they ended up lucky that the Thunder—and especially Thunder coach Scott Brooks—weren't coordinated (and/or smart) enough to take it from them.

The Grizzlies got off to their best start of the series, with Zach Randolph and Mike Conley putting up 10 quick points. The offensive momentum carried over from there through the whole first half (and really the first three quarters) and the Thunder just couldn't keep up. Tayshaun Prince had his best game of the series, scoring 7 in the first half and defending Kevin Durant well enough that Tony Allen only had to play 11 first-half minutes. Everything was clicking for the Griz, while those of us who have watched the other four games in this series sat around and waited for the Thunder to put together a run and make things competitive again.

They didn't do it until the start of the fourth quarter, when the Grizzlies offense hit one of its customary dry spells—only this time the dry spell was more like Death Valley. The Grizzlies did not make a single field goal for the first half of the fourth quarter, while Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and company started hitting shots, getting out in transition, and taking major chunks out of their deficit. Scoring droughts happen all the time with this roster, and have clear back into the beginnings of the Lionel Hollins era. This just isn't a team that can keep up a scoring barrage for 48 minutes, and when they crash, they crash. I used to call it the "Lionel Hollins Clogged Toilet Offense," but now I can't tell how much Hollins had to do with it.

At any rate, the 20-point lead the Grizzlies built into the 3rd quarter evaporates completely, and the game was tied at 79-79. I wasn't panicking at that point—I knew the Thunder aren't a team one can beat by 20 in a playoff game—but the Grizzlies' repeated failure to close out quarters meant the end of this one was going to come down to whether the Griz of the first half showed up or not.

They didn't, but somehow they won anyway. Z-Bo fouled Caron Butler for the now-customary Griz/Thunder Four Point Play (GTFPP), some folks made some crazy buckets on both ends, and then as the clock ran down, Mike Conley had his pocket picked by Westbrook, who had a fast break dunk to tie the game. It was frustrating to see the Grizzlies run the clock instead of running a play late—something they've done all season that has hurt them more than once. I'm not sure what makes Joerger so fearfully conservative in late-game situations with the lead, but he is, and it led directly to the Conley turnover because Conley was just dribbling at the top of the key with no other teammates moving at all, with nowhere to go but straight at a Gasol pick, which Westbrook fought around easily.

Then, with the ball and four seconds left, Marc Gasol passed up an open shot to make a pretty bounce pass feed to Z-Bo, and the clock ran out. Gasol's passivity and lack of awareness on offense have been major issues in this series, as much as I hate to denigrate one of my favorite players. He's shown a consistent unwillingness to take shots—in a way he wasn't hesitant last postseason—and appears to have no regard for whether he's got a good matchup or not. Ibaka and Perkins can't guard him (unless he's doubled), and yet Gasol continues to pass up good looks to kick the ball out to Tayshaun "Clanks" Prince and Tony Allen, who is always wide open for a reason. His unwillingness to take shots almost cost the Griz Game 5. Whatever passive trip he's on right now, he needs to snap out of it. The Grizzlies need him to be an offensive threat, and he hasn't stepped up to that role yet this series.

At any rate, they got into overtime, hit some shots, the Thunder hit some shots, and it came down to a one point Grizzlies lead with 2.9 seconds left, and the Thunder with the ball. Guess what happened? Kevin Durant got the ball and took a contested three over Marc Gasol, which bounced off the rim to Serge Ibaka, who went up for a putback over Tayshaun Prince that rattled around the rim and fell in after the buzzer went off...

...except the ball left his hands about .000001 seconds too late, and the buzzer had already begun to sound before he took the shot, and the basket was waved off, so the Grizzlies won.

They don't come any closer than that, and the Grizzlies could not have dodged more bullets if they were Neo from The Matrix.

Lessons from Game 5

  • The Grizzlies can be an offensive juggernaut when they want to be. Last night for the first three quarters the game was played at the pace the Thunder wanted to play at: uptempo, lots of transition opportunities. The Grizzlies still managed to put up their best scoring half of the series (55 points in the first half) and the Thunder, led by their Big Two of KD and Westbrook, just couldn't hit the shots they needed to hit. That's good, except the offense ran so well for three quarters that it decided to dissipate into the aether for the last 20 minutes of play, including overtime. So while the Grizzlies can play at OKC's pace, they probably shouldn't.

  • Zach Randolph scored a lot of points on the move last night, which is exactly what he should be doing. Isolation post-ups are not where he's been effective this series, and it was good to see Joerger and the Griz recognize that and hit the big fella as he rolled to the basket last night, which makes him almost impossible to defend, especially if you're Kendrick Perkins and you move about as fast as a VW Beetle puttering up a 25% grade. More of that, please.

  • Mike Miller finally had a good playoff game in a Grizzlies uniform, the first he's had since, what, the Phoenix series in 2005? Miller was the team's leading scorer with 21, coming on 6-11 shooting (5-8 from three) in thirty minutes. This is the Mike Miller the Grizzlies signed up for: volume outside shooting, floor spacing, and the occasional rebound (Miller had 6 of those, too). In a series where Courtney Lee has struggled most of the time (he was 2-8 last night), Miller's big game couldn't have come sooner.

  • Kosta Koufos should probably be playing more. He came in for Gasol last night and did a really good job protecting the rim. What you lose in elbow touches on offense, you make up with raw effort and rim protection with Koufos. I'd like to see Joerger play him some more—Gasol is averaging something like 44 minutes in this series—to throw a different defensive look at the Thunder when they're not going small. I think Koufos has earned that shot, and it's a good way to capitalize on an under-utilized big man.

  • The Grizzlies seemed determined to let Russell Westbrook take as many shots as he wanted to last night. It worked, because Westbrook has been terrible in overtime in this series so far, but that's a level of playing with fire I'm not so sure the Griz should be comfortable with. Courtney Lee has mostly defended Westbrook very well—and that defense of Westbrook might be a clue as to why he's struggled on offense—but Westbrook is still a guy who can get hot and score a million points. Just because it hasn't happened yet doesn't mean it won't. The Grizzlies can't count on him to torpedo the Thunder all by his lonesome.

The Dumbest Thing I Tweeted Last Night


What's Next

Game 6 at the Grindhouse on Thursday is going to be one of those epic "Believe Memphis" games. I can feel it already. Maybe bring an extra Growl Towel so you can wave two of them.

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