Monday, December 3, 2012

Post-Weekend Notebook: Griz Split with Pistons and Spurs

Posted By on Mon, Dec 3, 2012 at 9:39 AM

Mike Conley: Man of the Weekend
This weekend's Grizzlies back-to-back got away from me a little bit. I was at Friday's home game with the Pistons, a 90-78 win, but as a civilian, taking my soon-to-be-three-year-old son to his first game. And I watched Saturday night's 99-95 overtime road loss to the San Antonio Spurs on DVR delay.

As a means of catching up, I'm re-purposing the Postgame Notebook format to look back on what happened in Griz World this weekend:

The Lead: The Grizzlies went 1-1 on the weekend while playing without Tony Allen, who was nursing a sore groin.

Friday's home game against the Pistons was a rough repeat of the prior home games against the Cavaliers and Raptors: The Grizzlies played down to competition in the first half and then turned up their defense in the second to secure a double-digit win.

Saturday night, the Grizzlies played a very well rested Spurs team on their own home floor, on the second night of a back to back, and built a 15-point lead in the second half before succumbing to some combination of fatigue, poor execution, and questionable calls.

On the latter: The missed shot-clock violation near the end of overtime was clearly an official's error, but one that was only harmful to the Grizzlies in retrospect. If Jerryd Bayless and Rudy Gay had connected on the subsequent long lead pass for a transition layup, the Grizzlies would have benefited from not having the violation called. As far Manu Ginobili grabbing Gay's arm on his attempted catch of that pass, it was definitely a foul, but not all actual fouls are actually called in NBA games. For the Grizzlies, that was an infuriating non-call, but it wasn't a terribly surprising one.

As it is, after 15 games the Grizzlies stand at 12-3 and still lack a bad loss: Single digits to the Clippers in their home opener. A narrow home loss to a deep, athletic Nuggets team on the final game of a three-in-four-nights set. And nip-and-tuck road overtime loss in San Antonio on the second of a back-to-back. That's it. The Grizzlies are the last team standing this NBA season that has yet to lose a game by double-digits.

If you want to be concerned about something, you could point to the team's 0-2 record in games that have come down to execution in the final couple of minutes. But two games — two! — is a pretty small sample size.

Man of the Weekend: Mike Conley was MVP of the weekend — and of the season so far. After the Pistons came back to tie the game late in the third quarter Friday, Conley led an 11-3 Grizzlies run with three consecutive three-point plays and then a halfcourt alley-oop assist to Rudy Gay. Against the Spurs, he hit the big corner three late in overtime to give the Grizzlies a chance. On the whole, Conley averaged 17.5 points, 8.5 assists, and 5 steals in the two games.

On the season, Conley is currently averaging 15.3 points, 6.7 assists, and 2.6 steals (third in the league) with shooting percentages of 50/46/83. Each of those numbers, with the exception of the 83% free-throw shooting, would be a career high. He's also recently passed Marc Gasol for the highest PER on the team at 21.1, which ranks fifth among all starting point guards, trailing only Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Phoenix's Goran Dragic, and former teammate and current Toronto Raptor Kyle Lowry.

I still don't take the notion of Conley as an All-Star very seriously, given that he plays in the same conference as Paul, Westbrook, and Tony Parker, (who hung 30 on the Grizzlies Saturday night) but I'm certainly feeling good about my pre-season prediction that Conley would be a Most Improved Player candidate.

Weekend Number: Oh, “Zoo Crew,” we hardly knew ye. The four-man bench crew that played so well early in the season — Wayne Ellington, Jerryd Bayless, Quincy Pondexter, and Marreese Speights — combined to shoot 4-23 against the Spurs, with Ellington in the starting lineup for the injured Allen. And while a particularly poor showing, it wasn't a total aberration for a bench that's come back to earth over the past couple of weeks. (And is one of the big reasons the Grizzlies team offense has tumbled from the Top 5 down to #11 as of this morning.)

Ellington shot 2-12 from the floor in Allen's stead over the weekend. Since his career day against the Heat, he's shot 2-16 from three-point range in nine games. Ellington's due for a decent game, but considering his three years in Minnesota, the explosion against the Heat is a lot less persuasive than the 14 games of overall replacement-level production he's given the team otherwise.

After connecting on a three-pointer in each of his first seven games this season, Bayless has only made one since, shooting 1-16 from long-range over the past 8 games. That slump is troubling, but Bayless' play otherwise has been pretty strong. He's less dependent on three-point shooting than Ellington is, but the Grizzlies still need to him to be a factor from beyond the arc.

I'm not concerned about Pondexter. He's remained a legit three-point threat, especially from the corners, which, in concert with this consistent defense and hustle continues to make him a solid role player. He's never going to be a scorer.

Speights is shooting a career-low 40% and has been erratic, but is rebounding well and there's no reason his offense should continue to tick back up to his career norms. Making Speights play even less of a concern is the positive return of Darrell Arthur, who totaled 21 points on 10-16 shooting across two games this weekend. Arthur's rebounding production has been pretty poor so far — and has always been pretty average — but the box scores don't reflect how helpful his overall defense has been, whether drawing charges, breaking up pick-and-rolls, or covering lots of ground as a team defender. Conditioning-wise, Arthur is clearly not at 100 percent yet, but has still been very effective. He could well be on track to again becoming the team's best bench player.

The Match-Up: Marc Gasol had a pretty formidable pair of match-ups this weekend in the Pistons' Greg Monroe and the Spurs' Tim Duncan.

In Detroit, Gasol was dominant in the first half but struggled with his shot in the second. He finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 blocks, but on 6-17 shooting. This still gave him the edge on Monroe, who had 17 and 9, but with 7 turnovers in the loss.

We tend to talk about Gasol in relation to Dwight Howard among the NBA's best current centers, but Tim Duncan has probably had the best season thus far of any center in the league. That he's not more of a factor in this discussion is partly because he's been so quietly great for so long that he's often taken for granted, but a lot of it has to do with how Duncan and the Spurs have cultivated the notion that Duncan is a power forward rather than a center, something that generally hasn't been the case since David Robinson retired.

Duncan is playing at an MVP level this season, averaging 19 points, 10 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks on 54% shooting while trailing only Lebron James and Kevin Durant in PER. Marc Gasol had a nice game against the Spurs, a 20-8-3 on 10-16 shooting. But Duncan went large with 27-15-4, and he put Gasol in the WABAC Machine on several post plays.

Arena Action: Michael Heisley boosted his seemingly insurmountable lead to 7-1 on the Heisley-Pera Game Counter Friday night, but I was more focused on the Forum debut of this guy, who constantly kept me abreast on the whereabouts of mascot Grizz and dutifully clapped whenever people around him did even though he had no idea what was happening:

My obstructed view of the Grizzlies-Pistons game.
  • My obstructed view of the Grizzlies-Pistons game.

Where They Stand: Even with the loss in San Antonio, the Grizzlies, at 12-3, remain atop the Western Conference standings, just slightly ahead of the Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder. The Griz are tied with the Miami Heat for the NBA's best record.

Looking Ahead: After a two-day break, the Grizzlies return to FedExForum to host the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night.

Announced Attendance: 16,732 for Friday night's home game with the Pistons.

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