If you haven’t heard the news yet—which is probably only possible if you didn’t look at the internet, Twitter, or the TV news last night—Marc Gasol has been named a starter for the Western Conference team in the upcoming NBA All-Star game.
It’s Gasol’s second time appearing in the game, the first coming in the 2011–12 season. The only other Grizzly to appear twice in an All-Star Game is Zach Randolph, who did it in 2009–10 (his first season in Memphis) and 2012–13. Of course, his brother Pau was the Grizzlies’ first-ever All-Star selection in the 2005–06 season, which means that Gasol brothers have now made up 60% of all Memphis All-Star selections throughout history.
Gasol has certainly earned the honor, but it’s still sort of surprising to me that he actually collected enough fan votes to be a starter instead of a reserve (Gasol shares “frontcourt” duties—the league did away with the “Center” distinction in the 2012–13 season). The other two starting frontcourt players are Anthony Davis and Blake Griffin. The two backcourt positions are filled (for now) by Stephen Curry (who got more votes than LeBron James) and Kobe Bryant, but Bryant is apparently facing a rotator cuff injury that could be season-ending, meaning a replacement player will have to be named.
…which, since we’re talking about Griz All-Stars, may open up some room for Mike Conley to be named to the team in a crowded West field of guards. Conley’s game has elevated to yet another level this year, and he’s been getting quite a bit of press attention lately (with great profiles running on both NBA.com and Grantland), but the Western Conference is home to so many great point guards that it might still be hard for Conley to crack the team.
If Conley is named to the team, and we get to see the world-famous Conley/Gasol high pick & roll in the All-Star Game, well, that will be a genuine Moment in Grizzlies franchise history. Having Gasol be named a starter already is.
Last night, the Grizzlies beat the Toronto Raptors 92–86 in one of the ugliest games we’ve seen out of the Grizzlies at least since the Charlotte Hornets last came to town. Everything was out of sync on both ends: offense, defense, shooting, rotations, rebounding, everything–but somehow the Griz were able to pull together a big fourth quarter (mostly on the backs of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol) and close out the Raptors in a sweet revenge game for the last time these two played, when the Grizzlies were missing five rotation players to a stomach virus that ravaged the whole team.
It wasn’t just that it was ugly: it was that the ugliness threatened to cost the Grizzlies the game. Rebounding—especially allowing Toronto to get offensive rebounds and second-chance points—was a particular area of struggle. The Grizzlies lost the overall rebound battle 50–45, but 21 of the Raptors’ rebounds were OREBs, while the Griz only pulled down 9. The game was played at a glacial pace (88.7 according to Basketball Reference), and if it had been faster, Toronto would’ve gained even more extra possessions.
Of course, the other reason the Raptors got so many offensive rebounds is that they just flat-out couldn’t hit a shot. Overall they shot 31.8% from the field, and 17.9% from 3. DeMar DeRozan was 2–11 on the night, and former Griz Greivis Vasquez was 1–8.
The Grizzlies of this season are different than the ones of years past, even the good ones: they find a way to win games when it looks like they’re done for. In seasons past, when the Griz were down 1 after the third quarter and neither team could get anything going, it would’ve been time to brace for the inevitable Raptors run and the Grizzlies’ inability to catch up with it (basically, exactly what happened to the Grizzlies Monday against Dallas). But this year is a little different. This team can close an opponent out, especially at home. As the gap between the Griz and Raps widened, it occurred to me that I expected the home team to give up the lead until the last minute. Too much time being a New Orleans Saints fan? Maybe. But it’s nice to see a team that defies my own expectations—not that this Grizzlies team is new to defying expectations in general.
➭ For the first time all season, the Grizzlies experimented with a new starting lineup: Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Jeff Green, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol. It didn’t go as well as one would hope. I think the idea behind the switch was twofold: for one, Green brings length and athleticism in a scoring capacity to the starting group that hasn’t really been there (not on offense, anyway). Lee’s shooting and defense are both welcome additions to the bench, where he’s probably going to be expected to fill some of the “shooter” role that Vince Carter has been filling (sort of—he’s got the “shooting” down but not necessarily the “making”).
I don’t think it worked out for either group. With Green on the floor with the starters, things started off well but quickly the Grizzlies ran into spacing issues, with the Raptors packing the paint and, well, the same thing that always happens to the Griz happened to the Griz: everything became more difficult.
Meanwhile, Lee only had 2 FG attempts in the first half, and ended up 0–3 on the night in 30 minutes. Which is a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad way to use the best 3-point shooter on your team. I don’t know how much of Lee’s struggles were just a bad night and how much he was affected by the move to the bench, but having Courtney Lee play 28 minutes only to go 0–3 from the floor for 1 point is pretty much a disaster. If Lee can only play well as a starter (and that’s not a knock on him—lots of guys have trouble getting into a rhythm off the bench) then he needs to start, pretty much without regard for match-ups.
➭ Giving up offensive rebounds was still a thing. As I mentioned above, the Grizzlies allowed Toronto to pull down 21 offensive rebounds out of a total of 50, which is too many, especially off the heels of the Dallas game. It was worse in the first half than in the second; in the first, the Griz lost the OREB battle 10–2. Clearly they made an effort to clean that up in the second half, and to be more active on the Toronto glass, but allowing a team as good as the Raps to get that many second chances at a basket is not going to end well 9 times out of 10.
➭ Can we just have Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph team up to solve all of the world’s problems? Gasol went for 26 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists, while Randolph had 19 points and 13 rebounds, moving him to 5th on the list of active players with the most double doubles. They work so well together. The idea of seeing a Grizzlies team without the two of them on it—the idea that if Gasol leaves, Randolph will just be here by himself—is one of the more heartbreaking things I’ve had to consider as a basketball watcher. I still think it’s very likely that Gasol returns. But if he doesn’t, the Gasol/Z-Bo two-man game will be a thing that I miss forever.
➭ Hey, remember Jon Leuer? Turns out he’s (1) still on the team and (2) still capable of playing well. Leuer came in to start the fourth quarter last night, playing with Udrih, Calathes, Koufos, and Lee (in other words, 80% of the fabled “Whitewash” lineup that some of us have been daring Joerger to play since the beginning of last season), and Leuer made his presence felt. In six minutes, he only had 1 rebound, 1 assist, and 2 points, but his physical presence was a net positive (if you’re into +/-, Leuer was +5) and he made some plays that helped the Grizzlies build a lead and keep it. Leuer will probably remain out of the rotation while Green soaks up backup PF minutes—well, I say that, but Tyrus Thomas is headed to the Bluff City on a 10-day contract—but it was good to see his number be called last night and to see that he’s still capable of playing well.
Tweet of the Night
Ah, a tribute to the long-lost days of yesteryear when playing James Johnson more minutes would:
it's about time Joerger put in James Johnson.— Beno Fuego (@tab027) January 22, 2015
Saturday night, the Grizzlies face the Philadelphia 76ers at home. The Sixers are terrible, but they’re very, very good at making the team they’re playing look terrible too—so much so that when these two teams played in Philadelphia the Grizzlies needed overtime to get past them. In the Grindhouse, things should be a little easier for the Griz, but the Sixers’ defense is a lot better than it should be for a crap team with so many young and/or undrafted guys on it. I won’t call it a “trap game,” exactly, but I do think it’ll be a little tougher than folks are expecting.
I did think it was funny that on the same day that Jonathan Abrams’ masterful profile of Mike Conley and his career came out, the Grizzlies played (1) the team they traded Rudy Gay to and (2) a team that featured both Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez in the starting lineup (not to mention bringing James “Bloodsport” Johnson off the bench). ↩
Yesterday afternoon’s game did not go the way the Grizzlies wanted it to, but it could’ve been worse. At several points, the Griz had the ability to let it get away from them and coast to a blowout loss, but they never did, always reeling the Mavs back in from a 10- or 12-point lead. It was a game where Dallas took all kinds of advantage of weaknesses in the Grizzlies’ pick and roll defense, and the Grizzlies obliged by switching more often than normal, which led to all kinds of foul trouble and all kinds of restricted area scoring for Dallas.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom. For one, Mike Conley played after missing two games with ankle issues. Maybe he should’ve sat out again, because his minutes were somewhat limited and both Beno Udrih and Nick Calathes got a good deal of playing time, but Conley’s presence was a stabilizing force during a game that could’ve very easily gotten out of hand. (Speaking of Mike Conley, if you haven’t read yesterday’s Ian Thomsen feature on Conley, go read that now before you finish this. Required reading for any Grizzlies fan.)
Overall, it was one of those games where they were pushing a rock up a hill the whole time—to the point that many of us were making the same Sisyphus jokes on Twitter. The MLK Day game is always a shining occasion for the Grizzlies franchise, with the symposium before the game, the halftime performances (this year’s Sam Moore performance was just as great as Charley Pride was last year), and a whole lot of time and energy spent to make the day about more than “just” basketball, with the organization being very intentional about discussing the civil rights movement alongside whatever else is going on. You can have a discussion about whether co-opting a day to remember Martin Luther King, Jr. to promote a big slate of basketball games is the right thing or not—I certainly have my opinions on the topic—but you can’t deny that in Memphis, the Grizzlies do everything within their power to make it mean more than that.
But. The game is nice, too. And it would’ve been nice for the Grizzlies to get a win on NBATV and grab another win away from the Mavericks, because that tiebreaker could be really important at the end of the year. The day was about more than basketball, but the basketball could’ve been better.
➭ The Mavs weren’t even guarding Vince Carter. There were several possessions where everyone in a Dallas jersey just sagged off and let him do his thing from beyond the 3-point line. Carter was 0–2 in ten minutes, so you know how that went. If Carter’s shooting has gotten so bad that he doesn’t even really take them anymore—causing the same “not enough attempts from outside” issues that Mike Miller had last year and everyone in that position had before Miller already—then I’m not really sure what his utility is. I wrote a piece suggesting that maybe Carter wasn’t going to be what he was cracked up to be this season, and he immediately started playing well, and I issued a mea culpa for doubting him… but maybe I wasn’t as wrong as had been hoped. Carter’s struggles are magnified by the lack of Pondexter and Prince out there to play small forward; it’s really just him and Jeff Green off the bench. It’s worth paying attention to going forward.
Now that the Jeff Green trade has happened, and Quincy Pondexter and Tayshaun Prince are both “former Grizzlies,” the Grizzlies find themselves in an interesting situation: they could ride out the rest of the season just like they are, or they could try to keep making deals to shore up the roster.
Chris Wallace almost never carries a full 15 players on a roster. There’s always room for somebody on a 10-day, or for some random last-minute veteran minimum signing (hey, remember the Gilbert Arenas Experiment?). But this year feels a little bit different. For one, we still don’t really know what the decision-making structure of the Grizzlies’ reconstituted front office looks like. It’s clear that Dave Joerger has a lot of input into the process. Chris Wallace has been doing Chris Wallace-y things since being put back in charge—taking a flyer on Michael Beasley and sitting in the lower bowl with Kenyon Martin among them—and it’s still not really certain how much pull VP of Basketball Operations John Hollinger has outside of drafting, which (as far as we can tell from the outside) is a major area of his focus. Beyond all of that, Robert Pera himself obviously has a voice in any personnel decisions being made, Ed Stefanski, Executive VP of Player Personnel, is in the mix, and who knows who else in the scouting and player development ranks is involved. Because it’s hard to tell who’s making the decisions, it’s hard to guess what decisions will be made.
The Grizzlies certainly have areas of need—I still think they’re going to need some kind of veteran big man to bring off the bench against teams with really big, post-oriented bench players. Tayshaun Prince and Jon Leuer struggled to guard bigger guys, and there’s no reason to think Jeff Green won’t have that same issue. There are veteran bigs available as free agents—Jermaine O’Neal and Emeka Okafor are two names I’ve heard a lot—so I don’t think a trade is necessary if that’s really the direction they’re looking to go.
The other issue, of course, is outside shooting, which I think I’ve been writing articles about as long as I’ve been writing about the Grizzlies, which is not an inconsequential amount of time. But again, this is an area that can be shored up without a trade. I’m not sure Ray Allen will be coming to Memphis, but it’s not impossible, and there are D-League callups that could be made, too, especially for 10-day contract purposes.
Beyond that, there are only two guys on the roster who I think could be involved in a trade that is yet to come:
When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one team to dissolve the contractual (emotional?) bonds which have connected them with a player, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and of the Collective Bargaining Agreement’s Commissioner entitle them, and trade somebody to another team so, y’know, title runs and stuff, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare some things about the player(s) who are outgoing, especially when said player has been a bit of a muse/white whale around these parts for a while now.
Tayshaun Prince did not ask to be a Memphis Grizzly. He was in Detroit for the first 10½ seasons of his career, and it appeared, even as Joe Dumars imploded (first intentionally and then accidentally) the franchise around him, that he was content to stay there forever—a fixture there, a legend, The Last Guy from the 2004 title team, the last connection to the Sheed Pistons. Gold medalist, etc. Prince seemed to be totally content to stay in his lane—driving the guys over at Detroit Bad Boys crazy with his “Isotayshauns”—and do his thing in Detroit.
But the Pistons had other ideas, and when the Rudy Gay trade went down—Gay to Toronto for Ed Davis and Jose Calderon, who was then traded to Detroit for Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye—Tayshaun found himself in Memphis, on a team headed for a deep playoff run in need of a small forward who wouldn’t have a 30% usage rate and who could handle the ball and pass instead of contributing to what I used to not-quite-affectionately refer to as the Lionel Hollins Clogged Toilet Effect.
Prince filled that role, and filled it well, facilitating instead of shooting and scoring, not trying to take over the game the way Gay did, and (most importantly) not making anywhere near as much money as Gay did—which was always the real reason Gay had to be dealt. At the time, of course, the Grizzlies were offered Jeff Green for Gay straight up and turned it down, which is especially ironic now that Prince and a first are headed to Boston for Green. But that’s not really the point of what we’re doing here: let’s talk about Tayshaun.
He never shot as well as anyone expected him to, and to be honest, the bar was pretty low. But the Grizzlies asked Prince, a career postup guy, to try to space the floor—to stop taking 19-footers and step back into 3-pointers, essentially—and (1) it was and is probably far too late into Prince’s basketball career for him to change the way he plays to that extent and (2) even if that weren’t the case, it didn’t really ever work out. Ultimately it was that that doomed him to be traded again—he was making the shots, sure, but he still wasn’t taking or making enough of them to justify keeping him over a guy like Jeff Green, who—even if his percentages aren’t great—is at least a little bit better offensive player. That much is hard to argue with.
I’m sure I’ve said it pretty often, but I’ve always been a fan of Tayshaun Prince. Watching his slow decline into “veteran locker room presence” was tough, and illustrative of the way NBA careers usually end: not with a bang, but with a whimper. These guys aren’t around forever, and their gifts always leave them before they expect them to. I’m not sure Prince is completely done for as an NBA player—he’s still an above-average defender, and could be useful on a team like the Clippers (or, most poetically, the Pistons) who need a wing defender on the cheap to make a playoff run. But there’s no denying that he’s not the player he used to be. In hindsight, I don’t think the Grizzlies made a mistake in trading for him. The run to the Western Conference Finals was in part made possible by Prince, who had a great playoffs until he got injured during the Oklahoma City series that year. But he and Tony Allen together couldn’t get it done against the Spurs (in the playoffs and, really, ever again as long as they were both on the Grizzlies). It’s tough to say.
But, at any rate, I’m glad we got to watch Tayshaun Prince. I like the guy. I’m not necessarily going to miss his line-drive jumpshots hitting off the back iron, but it’s hard to completely remove the “fan” in me from this equation, and I’m a fan of his. Whether or not the Prince Era in Memphis was really the right move in getting rid of Rudy Gay (and I still think it was), it brought the Grizzlies farther than they’d ever been before, and Prince’s role in that wasn’t conincidental. This is a guy who was a starter on that team. That’s history. That’s Grizzlies history, and the Grizzlies don’t have a whole lot of history that isn’t jokes about currency exchange, Pau Gasol trades, and Big Country getting fat. Whether or not the Jeff Green trade pushes the Grizzlies over the hump to an NBA title—it might, it might not; the West is so wide open we won’t know it’s going to happen until it’s already happened—sometimes it’s nice to stop and say, “this is history. This has happened.” And sometimes things have to change before we reflect on them; that’s human nature. So, just know this: we are all now watching a different team. The Tayshaun Prince Era of the Memphis Grizzlies is over, to the extent that it was ever “his” era to begin with.
That is, NBA World Champion Austin Daye because Spurs. ↩
If I were to start writing that joke today, I’d probably say “turlet” instead of “toilet,” because that’s just so much funnier. ↩
I had a surprisingly candid conversation about this with Prince at Media Day before the season started. He was talking about how at Kentucky, he was primarily a scorer, but when he got to the Pistons, they had scorers. They didn’t need him to be a scorer—he needed to be a faclilator, a defender, a glue guy. He said he played that way for so long that even after the Pistons did need him to be a scorer, he couldn’t really change the way he played. The same thing, he said, applied to the Grizzlies: they needed him to space the floor, and it just wasn’t really how his brain processed the game. It was a big adjustment for him, one he never fully made. ↩
I, for one, welcome our new Jeff Green overlords. ↩
Author’s note: The Grizzlies actually played a game last night, in which they beat the Suns 122–110 in double overtime, in which Zach Randolph had 27 and 17, in which Tony Allen was the most turned-up he’s been all season, in which Marc Gasol scored 5 points in the first 53 minutes of play and then scored 7 in the final overtime period, and in which all kinds of crazy and insane things happened, and yet: the whole thing was overshadowed by what we all know is coming: the Grizzlies have been working on this trade with Boston and New Orleans since some time Friday. So, that’s what today’s piece focuses on. It’s a shame that such a great game has to be overshadowed by bigger-picture stuff going on, but… it is what it is.
As you know by now unless you haven’t been anywhere near a source of Grizzlies information since the middle of the day on Friday, the Grizzlies have been active on the trade market, with a deal in place to part ways with Tayshaun Prince and Quincy Pondexter in exchange for Boston’s Jeff Green and New Orleans’ Russ Smith. That’s not all that’s involved in the three-team, five-player trade:
New Orleans gets:
According to Adrian Wojnarowski, the Celtics are also involved in a side deal to send Rivers to the L.A. Clippers to play for his father, Clips coach Doc Rivers. (My assumption is that Rivers knows the Celtics are going to waive his kid if he sticks around in Boston, but maybe I’m just being cynical about it.)
This is a trade that, in some ways, feels like it’s been coming for a long time. The Grizzlies have been starved for playmaking and athleticism at the wing since the Rudy Gay trade. It’s only now that the circumstances have aligned in a way that makes it make sense for the Grizzlies to look to make a move.
Tayshaun Prince—even though his minutes have been mostly valuable this season, especially when he was used as a smallball power forward—had a $7 million expiring contract (Prince is a free agent next season) that made him valuable to the Celtics, who are looking to tear down and rebuild after this season, having traded Rajon Rondo, Brandan Wright, and now Jeff Green as well. With the Grizzlies’ pick, the Celtics now have something like 11 first round picks in the next three drafts. Even if the Celtics buy Prince out (something that’s been mentioned in some of the rumors), a team like the Pistons or Clippers who needs a wing could pick him up on a minimum deal and use him in the playoffs. (Obviously, the Pistons would be my preferential landing spot for Prince, for sentimental reasons.)
Yesterday, word started to trickle out (mostly from ESPN’s Marc Stein) that the Grizzlies had reached out to the Heat and Celtics about forwards Luol Deng and Jeff Green. Deng was named as the “top candidate”, but reports quickly emerged from Miami that the Grizzlies had merely called to ask about Deng’s availability and were rebuffed.
Things appear to have gotten a little more serious with the Boston Celtics this afternoon:
Hearing that the Jeff Green-to-Memphis trade talks are heating up. Discussions between the Celts and Grizz, I'm told, getting more serious— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) January 9, 2015
Still hurdles to clear, I'm told, for Boston to consummate Jeff Green deal. But Grizz, at present, are most serious suitor for Celts forward— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) January 9, 2015
Reports are that the Grizzlies have offered Tayshaun Prince (whose $7 million contract expires after this season) and a pick (but no word whether it’s a first or not.) There was this from Chris Mannix yesterday:
Boston has made it known they want a first round pick for Jeff Green, but belief around the league is they will eventually settle for less.— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) January 8, 2015
So one hopes that if this deal does go down, the Griz can pull it off without giving up a first round pick to the Celtics for essentially taking back a player whose deal expires this year anyway.
I’m not crazy about this deal. Deng, I would’ve loved, but I just don’t think Green is that calibre of player. He seems to score in bursts, and then have long droughts of poor shooting performances—like another Grizzlies SF, Rudy Gay, but not as athletic. If the trade requires sending Tayshaun Prince to Boston (you guys just wait until you see that requiem appear in these pages) the Grizzlies will be down another capable backup power forward, without Celtics player Brandan Wright to show for it since Wright can’t be packaged in a deal with another player (since he was recently traded from Dallas to Boston in the Rondo deal).
Does this trade move the needle for the Grizzlies this year, and get them closer to an NBA championship? Maybe. Not by much, though. That Green would instantly be the most athletic wing on the team says more about the state of the Grizzlies’ wing rotation than it does about Green. But, there are ways in which it could work. Green is a good player. I just echo the sentiments of others, who think he might be better-served in a more free-flowing offensive system, not the Grizzlies’ bruising, methodical half-court style.
We’ll see. Green was offered to the Grizzlies way back in the Rudy Gay trade, but Levien & Co. turned the offer down. Chris Wallace seems to have his fingerprints on this one, and whether it happens or not, it’s clear that the Grizzlies are trying to make moves to shore up their title hopes this year. More as it develops.
Some sources have reported that the pick going to Boston would now be a New Orleans pick, while others have reported that it would a 2018 or 2019 Memphis first round pick going to Boston. Either way, it sounds like things are starting to shake loose and a deal continues to evolve.
Yahoo Sources: Boston, Memphis and New Orleans working framework of Green to Grizz, Pondexter to Pelicans, Prince/Salmons/pick to Celtics.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) January 10, 2015
Boston is nearing an agreement to send Jeff Green to Memphis for Tayshaun Prince and a first-round pick, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) January 9, 2015
Last night, the Grizzlies beat the New York Knicks, 105–83, in an under-attended game that felt like the basketball equivalent of getting one’s driver’s license renewed: a necessary evil, requiring just enough attention and effort to make it annoying rather than something to be endured, passed over blankly.
For starters, there was what happened before the game: about twelve minutes before tipoff, the Knicks traded J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to the Cavaliers and waived Samuel Dalembert in a salary-dump move that makes it pretty clear they’re bailing on the “win now” strategy (the Knicks’ over/under win number was 41, remember? Hope you took the under. I hope there was a bet for “under the under” and you took that, too.) So, with teammates traded away, the Knicks came back out for warmups with nine guys in uniform: Tim Hardaway, Jr., Jason Smith, Cole Aldrich, Shane Larkin, Jose Calderon, Quincy Acy, Pablo Prigioni, Cleanthony Early, and Travis Wear. Not exactly a murderer’s row.
As a sidebar, I can’t really get my head around how weird that must’ve been for a guy like J.R. Smith (though he’s not exactly known for being the most contemplative guy around). Imagine: you play for the Knicks and you’ve lived in New York for a couple of years now. The team is bad, but that’s okay. You’re on a routine road trip to Memphis, one you make once a season, and you’re warming up for the game. And then—literally twelve minutes before the tip—you’re back in the locker room, and now you play for the Cavaliers. Which means you live in Cleveland. You only packed for the road trip you’re on, not to move. But now you’re in Cleveland. Somebody’s going to have to FedEx everything you own to you, probably, or at least enough clothes to make it through the next couple of weeks.
The NBA (and pro sports in general, really) is a weird thing. The kinds of things that can happen to these guys are not normal things that normal people have to do on a regular basis.
With their teammates gone (and Amare Stoudamire and Carmelo Anthony not even on the trip [UPDATE: I'm hearing that Melo did make the trip, and the broadcast last night showed him on the bench. I didn't see him, but I was admittedly not very close to the Knicks' bench], and Andrea Bargnani on the bench in a suit, which, let’s be honest, is probably where he belongs) the Knicks came out and had to play. And it didn’t go well—they got down 11–2 within the first three and a half minutes. But then Derek Fisher called a timeout… and they fought back.
The Grizzlies, meanwhile, were playing like they were on a plane to Cleveland—disinterested, wondering what kind of life choices they’d made, pondering the meaning of the Pioneer Anomaly, but certainly not really worried about basketball—and by the end of the first quarter they were only up 21–14, shooting 35% to the Knicks’ 26.1%, and the ugliest basketball game we’ve watched this season—by a hefty margin, even over those Hornets games—got even uglier.
In the second quarter, the bench continued what it’s been doing lately: not playing defense at all. Halfway through, the Knicks were winning. It was 27–26, sure, but the Knicks were winning, and the Grizzlies had made something like four field goals in ten minutes. Until the end of the quarter, when Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Vince Carter, Tayshaun Prince, and Marc Gasol came back in to take care of business, it looked like the Grizzlies weren’t just in the mud—it looked like the Knicks had managed to drag them through the mud and into whatever chamber of horrors (thinking of the mask they put on the witch in Mario Bava’s Black Sunday here) the Knicks have been dwelling in this year.
The rest of the game was straightforward: the Grizzlies starters (with Tayshaun at the 4) played really well for about 15 minutes, Tony Allen racked up 4 steals in the third quarter, and then suddenly the Grizzlies were up 22 headed into the final frame, which was some of the garbagest garbage time I’ve ever seen. Jordan Adams and Jarnell Stokes were playing the whole time, which was great, because it meant they got to make all kinds of crazy mistakes against a team so bad it couldn’t possibly hurt the Grizzlies. They played like what they are—rookies who don’t play a lot. It was great. Stokes got to bang bodies with Quincy Acy, a really physical big, and get some experience getting pummeled under the basket, which is crucial for anybody who wants to play the 4 or 5 in the NBA. Adams made some defensive mistakes, got to the line a couple of times, but didn’t make a single basket. (“But he looked good doing it!” is accurate, but, I mean, he was still 0–5.)
After the game, the press conference was mostly about how the Grizzlies really ratcheted up their defensive intensity, how they executed really well in the paint, and so on, and so forth, and Chris Herrington summed the postgame presser perfectly:
Pretty sure Dave Joerger's post-game presser was a group performance piece where everyone pretended the Knicks aren't terrible.— Chris Herrington (@HerringtonNBA) January 6, 2015
The Knicks are terrible. Herrington said at one point they’re the worst team he’s ever seen—I won’t go that far. But the Grizzlies, for the most part, played terrible basketball except for one 15 to 18 minute stretch, and they won by 22 points, and it felt like it could’ve been 30 or 40. It was not a contest last night, it was a fight between nine guys who would all be the sixth-to-ninth best player on a contender, and a contender sleepwalking without their starting power forward already thinking about having to play the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night.
But, y’know, at least they won, and the rookies got to play, and nobody played more than 30 minutes. Sometimes these nights happen. There are always interesting things, even in games like this, but we shouldn’t pretend that last night proves much of anything about either team involved.
Ed Davis is mad.
Anger led to twenty points—
Did not lead to win.
On one posession:
City falls into the sea,
Tony missed four shots.
A leaking vessel,
A gate missing its padlock,
Griz bench defense.
Lin needed to foul.
The rage that filled Kobe’s heart
Could burn down forests.
Vince plays well sometimes.
Consistency fades with age;
0 for 5 last night.
Author’s note: I haven’t done one of these yet this season, and the last game between these two teams turned into maybe the greatest regular season game in franchise history, a 3OT Griz win in San Antonio, so I figured it was time.
I settle into my courtside seat right next to a laser printer and a Cisco phone that I’ve never actually seen anyone use. I have a migraine so everything is sort of hazy, not literally but thoughts are muddled, like I’ve been hit in the head, because that’s sort of what has happened.
As ever, the NBA injury train rolls on, which means no Tony Parker or Kawhi Leonard for the Spurs, and no Zach Randolph for the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies have not been great without Randolph—and, not coincidentally, he scored all 6 of the Grizzlies’ points in the 3rd overtime in San Antonio—but tonight it seems like both teams are down a man or two and so it’s even.
There are other elements of intrigue, of course: I just wrote a piece saying Quincy Pondexter might need a change of scenery and part of me hopes I’m right (credibility being an important thing) and the other part hopes he proves me wrong. I was worried about Vince Carter earlier and he came around, but the Quincy thing feels different to me. Time will tell. Maybe the Pondexter revival will start tonight.
➭ 12:00 - Tony Allen wins the tip, and immediately gets his layup blocked by Danny Green. The guy sitting behind me is already yelling at the ref using his first name. I don’t feel like this is as effective as the guy behind me does.
➭ 11:00 - Tiago Splitter backs down Leuer for a pretty easy basket, which is going to be a problem for the Grizzlies all night. Starting Leuer in place of Randolph is basically the only option that the Grizzlies have, because power forward is the weakest spot on the roster depth-wise. They really need somebody else in that spot. Leuer can’t carry the load by himself with Randolph out and Tayshaun is too small to be a consistent option (example being the Houston game last week when Josh Smith got the better of him simply by virtue of being bigger. I’m not sure what the answer is—it could be a small trade for another big, it could be signing somebody like Kenyon Martin or Emeka Okafor for the veteran minimum, or it could be the currently-underdeveloped Jarnell Stokes.
➭ 9:15 - Speaking of Jarnell Stokes, he checks into the game as the first Grizzlies player off the bench, subbing in for Jon Leuer to guard Splitter and maybe try scoring some (dare I say it) Randolph-style garbageman baskets under the rim. I was surprised by this—Joerger has shown that he doesn’t like playing rookies, and here he is playing one as the first sub against the Spurs—but given Z-Bo’s injury, the pickings are slim at that position, and unless something proves otherwise, Stokes is probably The Future there.
Quincy Pondexter needed to make a statement this season—needed to prove himself as a valuable part of the Grizzlies’ crowded wing rotation. After playing extremely well in the 2013 Western Conference Finals, Pondexter entered last season with all eyes on him, and raised expectations for his performance. He didn’t meet them, struggling to find his game in the first few games of Dave Joerger’s first season as head coach, and then he got injured and missed the rest of the season.
Missing the season, right after being signed to a 4-year contract, only raised the stakes of this season for Pondexter. Courtney Lee came after QPon was already out for the season, Jordan Adams was drafted this summer, Vince Carter was signed, Tayshaun Prince looked to finally be healthy, and suddenly the rotations at the 2 and 3 looked a lot more crowded than they did when Pondexter went down. He was going to have to consistently prove that he could contribute at a high level this year to get a shot.
Through the first third of the season, he hasn’t really done that. Pondexter has played in all but five games, but he’s shooting 32.5% from the floor, including 22.7% from 3, after filling Griz fans’ hearts with hope that he could be the 3-and-D Battier replacement the Grizzlies have been looking for since 2011. He’s grabbing 1.9 rebounds a game, and 0.9 assists.
Looking into the more advanced numbers, his offensive rating on the season so far is 99 points per 100 possessions, and his defensive rating is 110 points per hundred, for a net rating of –11. I’m not a huge fan of PER (sorry Hollinger) but Pondexter’s is 6.5, and that… ain’t good. Going by the good old “eye test,” Pondexter plays well with the starters when he’s forced to be a fourth or fifth option, making effort plays and camping out in the corners, but when he’s playing with other reserves, he tries to become a ball-handler and playmaker, and it almost never goes well for him.
Couple what’s happening on the court with the constant murmurs that his attitude is a problem (murmurs that started last year when he played well against Brooklyn and proceeded to cuss out Joerger on the sideline, a move that was not well-received by his teammates), and it adds up to a picture of a guy who (1) isn’t contributing much to his current team despite being given the opportunity and (2) doesn’t seem to understand how to play to his strengths and help the team that he’s on, instead of trying to be an All Star.
It comes down to this: if Pondexter isn’t contributing, there’s really not any reason for him to be getting minutes, and if he’s not getting minutes, there’s not much reason for him to be on the roster. I said in my season preview piece that of the trio of Tony Allen, Courtney Lee, and QPon, the Grizzlies only needed two. Lee started off playing at an All-NBA level and has plummeted back to earth, but even when he’s not making threes (or even taking them) he’s a decent defender, and most of the time even a good one. Pondexter doesn’t have defense to fall back on, even though he’s got that reputation. He’s done well in certain matchups (Friday night’s Houston game, he played fairly well against James Harden) but on the whole, he’s just not getting it done on that end of the floor either.
All that said: I still think that Quincy Pondexter can be a valuable player on an NBA team. He can be a rotation player on a good team—if he figures out how to play to his strengths. I feel like a broken record, but that lack of self-awareness is a big part of what has hurt him here. With Jordan Adams coming up behind him (playing in the Utah Jazz game and doing quite well for himself) and Tayshaun Prince able to help the team in a utility role, there’s just not that much room for Pondexter to be able to play his way back from whatever funk he’s in.
I think he can be good, still, but I think he might need a change of scenery to do it. Which is tough to admit, because I was one of the people who had high hopes for him last season. But that’s how the NBA works. Sometimes guys just need a fresh start on a different team to realize their potential, and I think Quincy Pondexter might be rapidly approaching that point.
Note: Holiday duties intervene, so this will be a shorter rant than usual—whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is entirely up to you.
The Grizzlies lost to the Utah Jazz last night, 97–91. The Grizzlies were without Zach Randolph (out with a sore right knee) and Tony Allen (still out with a corneal abrasion suffered when he took a finger to the eye in the Golden State game a week ago), but that wasn’t why they lost, at least, not in total.
To be sure, Randolph’s absence was felt, especially, as the Jazz have several quality big men in Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, and Enes Kanter, and that (along with some effort/positioning issues) led the Griz to get out-rebounded 39–29. It was especially noticeable on the Jazz’s offensive glass, where Utah racked up extra possession after extra possession, allowing them to hang around in the game and eventually take and keep the lead.
It would be naïve to think that fatigue didn’t play a part in last night’s performance—the Griz were finishing up a set of five games in seven nights, and seven games in eleven nights. But more than physical fatigue, it seemed like mental fatigue—the Grizzlies looked like a team that was about to get three days off for Christmas and knew it. With any luck they’ll return to action against Houston on Friday (at home) and be back on the same page and ready to execute.
Three Things from Last Night
➭ Jordan Adams played during the first quarter for the first time ever last night, and ended up playing ten minutes in which he scored 5 points, grabbed 2 rebounds, and blocked 1 shot. Adams played well, matched up against fellow rookie Rodney Hood on both ends of the court, including one really nifty layup. More importantly, he looked like he knew what he was doing. I’m sure he’s nowhere near as ready as Dave Joerger would like for him to be, but if he’s going to be able to contribute in spot minutes, there’s no reason not to play him. The Grizzlies have a lot riding on Adams’ development, and it was encouraging to see him do well last night.
➭ Quincy Pondexter got another DNP-CD, something he’s been doing sporadically as of late. Pondexter played big minutes against Cleveland, Chicago, and San Antonio—presumably because of Tony Allen’s absence—but he’s been struggling to hit open shots and has generally looked out of sorts on offense all season long. If Vince Carter is getting his offensive game going (more on that in a minute) and Jordan Adams can play 10–15 minutes without screwing anything up, Pondexter may find himself on the end of the bench sooner rather than later. It’s worth keeping an eye on as the trade deadline starts to loom large in NBA consciousness.
➭ Speaking of Vince Carter: he’s been hitting a lot more shots recently, and he looks like he can run again. I’m glad I spent so much time working on that piece about how it might be time to start worrying about whether he was going to be better this season. Vince must’ve read it before last night’s game and then been inspired to demolish Rudy Gobert:
I don’t think I need to say anything else. Just watch that a few times.
I am an English major and I still don’t really know what the possessive form of “Jazz” is. Which, really, is one of the weirdest problems that arises when you name teams with singular proper nouns. ↩
The Grizzlies had played 5 games in 8 nights, including six overtime periods spread across three games, and it finally caught up to them last night at home against the Chicago Bulls. In Tony Allen’s absence, the perimeter defense struggled to keep Jimmy Butler from essentially scoring at will, and Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Mike Conley all had rough shooting nights. Nobody played with much energy, and guys were getting good looks that didn’t fall because there were dead legs and tired arms behind them.
Given that the last three games the Grizzlies played were against the Warriors, Spurs, and Bulls, and that they’d already won the two against the other best teams in the Western Conference, last night’s loss against the Eastern Conference Bulls doesn’t sting quite so badly. It doesn’t have as much of an effect on the playoff standings, and even on such a bad night, the Griz were still competitive. I don’t think there’s too much on the team level to be upset about from last night’s loss—that’s just the way the NBA schedule works sometimes.
➭ Not strictly Grizzlies related, but Jimmy Butler was really good last night, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he gets a max deal from somebody. In the absence of the ill Derrick Rose, Butler stepped in and scored 31 points on 11 of 21 shooting, he had 10 rebounds, and also had two steals. He’s a really good young player, who has developed into something special under Tom Thibodeau, and last night he carved the Grizzlies up six ways to Sunday. I’m not sure whether having Tony Allen in the game would’ve mattered that much, to be honest. Butler was just on last night.
Last night’s triple-overtime victory over the San Antonio Spurs, 117 to 116, on the second night of a back to back, less than 24 hours after beating the best team in the NBA (the Golden State Warriors) on ESPN at FedExForum, felt like the kind of thing that only happens once in a while: a regular season game that rises to the level of a playoff, that everyone is watching and talking about, where the whole fate of the season, the team—even all of us, the city—hangs in the balance on a Wednesday night in December crowded around televisions watching men play basketball in a building in San Antonio, Texas.
It would’ve been noteworthy if it had been a game against any team in the league, but it wasn’t: it was against the Spurs, the all-consuming Other against which the Grizzlies have been fighting since knocking them out of the 2011 playoffs. The suffocators of joy. The annihilators of hope.
The Grizzlies hadn’t beaten the Spurs in a regular season game since April 1, 2013. We all know how the Grizzlies-Spurs Western Conference Finals went, so really, the Grizzlies hadn’t beaten the Spurs at all since then, in any game, regular season or playoff, road or home. They’d only beaten the Spurs two times out of 17 games since the Spurs were eliminated in 2011. Even with last night’s win, the record since 2011 only improves to 3–15.
This Grizzlies team is special. I, along with everyone else who watches the team, professionally or otherwise, had been talking about this back-to-back against Golden State and San Antonio for a long time now. Tempering expectations. Hoping for the best, expecting the worst—expecting to be disappointed, or at least to be shown the flaws in this Grizzlies team. They went out and topped my expectations, and shocked the basketball world—or, the corners of it who haven’t been paying attention to what’s been happening in Memphis so far this season. Last night, giving up a 23-point lead and still managing to hang on through fifteen minutes—more than a whole quarter—worth of extra basketball, the Grizzlies showed what they’re made of.
Not that we didn’t already know.
There will be time to break down the X’s and O’s, the rotations and the offensive strategies, who played well and who didn’t, and whether this success is repeateable given that Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard were both out (though Tony Allen was out for the Grizzlies, too, so neither team had their normal starting lineup). There will be time to break down our favorite plays, to talk about the fact that Zach Randolph had 21 points and 21 rebounds and single-handedly outscored the Spurs 6–5 in the third overtime to get the Grizzlies the win.
For today, just… let it wash over you. The Grizzlies beat the Spurs last night in triple overtime. Marc Gasol banked in a stepthrough 3-pointer to send it to overtime in the first place. Tim Duncan hit a bankshot of his own to send it to triple OT.
I will have more thoughts on this game once I’ve been able to process it as a basketball game instead of as a singular moment. It might have been the biggest regular season win in franchise history; I’m not sure I’m the person to pass that judgment.
This how it be.
The Grizzlies play all of their home games at FedExForum, but during the regular season, it doesn’t always feel like The Grindhouse. Crowds come and go, and sometimes it’s not life or death; the fate of the city and our civic reputation and pride doesn’t always feel like it’s what’s being played for.
Last night, as the Grizzlies beat the league-leading Golden State Warriors 105–98, everything was on the line, and the 3rd sellout crowd of the season made everything feel more intense, more important, more electric. The top two teams in the NBA played each other last night, and the game looked like it, and the arena sounded like it. It was a beautiful night to be a basketball fan. This is going to be a little more recap-y than the normal Next Day Notes installment, but this game contained multitudes, and I think the flow of the game was worth diving into.
It started out like a lot of great games: two good teams feeling each other out, checking out who was matched up on who, running sets trying to build up a catalog of advantages to be exploited later. Neither team got out to a big lead, but by the end of the first frame the Warriors were up six and it felt like the Grizzlies needed to stop that run before they fell any further behind.
Fortunately, in the second quarter, Vince Carter happened. Carter was subbed in for the last three minutes of the first, but only took one shot (and it missed). The second, though, was different: Carter went 4–5 from the field, including 3–4 from 3, for 11 points in a short amount of time. Meanwhile Jon Leuer was doing Jon Leuer things—including a really nice reverse layup in traffic (giving more credence to the fact that he’s not just a “stretch” 4; he can do things around the rim when he needs to). Behind Carter’s 11, Leuer’s 7, and 4 from Beno Udrih (along with the 6 assists he had in the 2nd), the Grizzlies reserves put together a 20–0 run and had a sizeable (if short-lived) lead over Golden State. The way things go with the Warriors, though, is that no lead is safe. They’re a high-scoring team, and even though the Grizzlies D was playing really well, it’s inevitable that they’re going on a run. The amazing second quarter from the Griz bench meant the Griz didn’t have to play uphill the rest of the game, and was a big factor in the Grizzlies win.
Udrih, in particular, was great. I have been on the Nick Calathes bandwagon since it rolled into town last summer, but let’s be honest: it doesn’t really matter what advantages Calathes offers over Udrih right now—they’re hypothetical, and Udrih’s passing and scoring is very, very concrete. With Udrih playing this way, he’s got the backup point guard spot sewn up for the forseeable future, and that’s just the way it’s going to be. He’s really come into his own with the Grizzlies’ second unit (and with the starters as a secondary ball-handler), and he provides a true backup at the point that the Grizzlies haven’t ever had (with the exception of Calathes down the stretch of last season).
The second half was sort of a blur, for the most part. The crowd was into it; Zach Randolph and Draymond Green started having an epic battle on the left block, with Green blocking 5 shots in the third quarter only to see Randolph rack up 7 points and 6 rebounds. The Randolph/Green battle—no doubt with a lot of Michigan State-related mutual admiration sprinkled in—was one of the more exciting parts of the second half, as the Grizzlies offense slowed to a halt as Joerger matched lineups with an extra-small Warriors set, with Vince Carter chucking up wild shots trying to get something going since no one else was doing anything or running anything.
Finally the starters came back into the game—including a Mike Conley who had really struggled the whole evening with foul trouble and a bad shooting night—and the Grizzlies managed to get two technical fouls (one on Steve Kerr, and one on Andre Igoudala) on a Conley layup that turned it into a 4-point play.
The Warriors never led again after the Griz bench’s second quarter explosion, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t close. The Griz hung on by single digits for the last 8 minutes of the game, with Golden State—a very good team on both ends of the floor—trying furiously to make a comeback, but the comeback never came. The last five minutes of the game were all Randolph, Gasol, and Conley, who was incredible in crunch time last night after struggling to get anything going for the first three and a half quarters. On the last play of the game, Stephen Curry missed a three, got a rebound from Green, took another three and missed it to, and then Tayshaun Prince grabbed the board and sent it ahead to Tony Allen for a fast break dunk, his only made basket of the night. It felt like an appropriate exclamation mark on a great win over a great team.
I came away from last night’s game convinced that Grizzlies/Warriors is the most fun possible Western Conference Finals this year. Two very different teams playing two very different styles, but they’re both excellent. Both teams have exploitable weaknesses, very smart coaches, players who can take over a game for stretches, shooting (well, sorta, for the Grizzlies), and awesome arenas with loud, passionate fanbases. I fear that the Spurs are lying in wait to spoil that dream by preventing one or the other team from reaching that point of the playoffs, but I can dream, right?
On paper, the Warriors are probably “better” than the Grizzlies. Bogut gives them something they needed last night: someone who can defend Marc Gasol better than Marreese Speights (remember him?). I think David Lee’s injury helps Golden State more than it hurts them—against Memphis and Z-Bo anyway, who always plays like he’s mad at Lee for being on the Knicks with him—but Bogut’s absence, while certainly not making the Warriors a bad team, did probably have an impact on the way they would’ve liked to play the Grizzlies. Even then, though, when has "better" ever mattered against this Griz squad? Not often.
Either way, the best team in the NBA came into town last night and lost to the Grizzlies, who are the second best team in the NBA. This is why we have a basketball team in this city: to get to watch games like this, with players like this, in a setting like this. If the Warriors had managed to squeak out a win last night, it still would’ve been a magnificent night of basketball, and I have just updated my Christmas list to include “a seven-game Warriors/Grizzlies playoff series.”
Tweet of the Night
Try not to watch Beno’s pivot foot, but he actually pulled off a Dream Shake(ish) thing last night:
UDREAM SHAKE!!! https://t.co/MH57X5XbDP— Matt Hrdlicka (@theRealHrdlicka) December 17, 2014
Seriously, though, the Grizzlies got on a plane at 11PM last night and flew to San Antonio, where the Spurs were waiting and rested (minus Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard, too, but when has that ever mattered?). With Parker and Leonard out, it’s a great opportunity for the Grizzlies to steal a game from the Spurs, and even though they’re probably exhausted from last night’s big game, the confidence gained from the Warriors victory should help offset that, at least by a little bit. I’m curious to see what Joerger learned during the first matchup between these two teams that he’s going to deploy tonight, especially given the injury situations (Tony Allen is questionable with an eye abrasion, the same injury he got in the playoffs when KD poked him in the eye).
If the Grizzlies can avoid falling behind early, as they did the last time these two teams played, they’re in an excellent position to grab a win from the Spurs even though they’re on the road on the second night of a back-to-back. That would be sweet.
Normally I’d be critical of Carter’s poor shot selection—something he’s 100% struggled with all season long, but in this case, there really wasn’t anything else happening offensively. It was either Vince Carter trying to sink a long three or create something off the dribble, or four other guys standing around. The Griz offense had seized up like an unoiled machine. ↩
Conley definitely took three steps on the drive, but that almost never gets called in the NBA. After Kerr had already gotten the T, Igoudala decided to show up the refs with this (admittedly hilarious) travel dance, which was just dumb. If the refs are already in the mood to call technical fouls, you have to know this is a bad idea. I was kind of surprised by Igoudala’s lack of awareness in that situation. ↩
The Grizzlies actually have a higher 3-point percentage on the season than the Warriors, but they’re averaging 10 fewer attempts a game than GSW. They attempted 14 last night, but made 35% of them, whereas the Warriors attempted 31 and only made 9 (29%). The Griz could probably stand to be attempting 17 or 18 threes a game, because if they’re connecting at a 35% rate, that’d leave them with six or seven three point makes a game—an instant scoring boost. ↩