Sunday, November 10, 2013

Game Diary: Grizzlies 108, Warriors 90

Posted By on Sun, Nov 10, 2013 at 4:17 PM

Nick Calathes came up big off the bench for the Grizzlies Saturday night.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Nick Calathes came up big off the bench for the Grizzlies Saturday night.

6:10pm, Pregame Down in the bowels of FedExForum eating chicken tenders and fries that I assume were leftovers from the Tigers game the night before, calculating how much barbecue sauce would make the startlingly pale fries taste OK, the mood was one of muted anxiety. The conversations ran along lines of "what happens if they don't get it together?" and "how bad will it get over the next couple of weeks if the Warriors win by 25?" and even the most optimistic observers couched everything with "If they do _____" or "If they can only get it together." The sixth game of the season, and already a fanbase on the edge, and a growing sense among the media that this particular team, this front office, is perfectly willing to blow the whole thing up if they continue to flounder into December, into January.

Peter Edmiston had us go around the table and make predictions, winner and point spread. Warriors by 18, Warriors by single digits, Grizzlies by 5, Warriors by 10. The conversation was quiet, a little apprehensive. Even the folks with nothing at stake knew the game was important as a statement, as a correction, a return to the mean.

12:00, 1Q The Grizzlies win the tip, and Zach Randolph scores a bucket isolated on David Lee. Randolph seems to have a list of players he keeps in his head (or maybe in his locker) and whenever he comes up against a player on his list, it's like he makes it a point to embarrass that player. Blake Griffin. Kevin Love. Kendrick Perkins (although usually Marc Gasol seems to handle that). David Lee is on the list, and Lee would have his hands full with Randolph for the whole game.

10:04, 1Q Andre Igoudala makes a three-pointer over Tayshaun Prince, and all I can think about is how much I wanted the Grizzlies to make a trade with the 76ers that sent Rudy Gay to Philly in exchange for Igoudala. I think his skillset—good at defense, and occasinoally a hot long-range shooter who can also slash to the basket—is what Gay's should be but isn't, and his abilities would have meshed well with this Grizzlies roster. But alas, obviously that wasn't meant to be. Seeing him making those shots recalled all those Trade Machine sessions, though.

7:46, 1Q Marc Gasol makes a jumper, turns around, and as he jogs back down the court to play defense he shakes his head like he's clearing out cobwebs, and then he crosses himself. Gasol's poor play early was a major factor in the Grizzlies 2-3 start, and his lack of rotation and communication on defense had many wondering what was wrong with him. One prevailing thought is that he managed to fatigue himself playing Eurobasket without actually improving his conditioning any. Whatever the case, the relief on his face, the way he only crosses himself ever so often, signaled that even if Gasol wasn't back to 100% Gasol status, he was headed there.

1:55, 1Q The Grizzlies go with a Calathes-Miller-Prince-Randolph-Koufos lineup, one which (sometimes with Gasol in the place of Randolph) would have a huge impact on the game. Joerger shortened the rotation mightily for this one, with Jerryd Bayless out with a knee injury, and Quincy Pondexter and Ed Davis barely seeing the floor.

:01.9, 1Q Marreese Speights, former Grizzly, starter in the place of Zach Randolph while he was out with a knee injury during the 2012 lockout season, is not very good at defense. Tony Allen apparently enjoyed reminding him of this:

The Grizzlies lead 32-29 after the first quarter, and the Warriors have turned the ball over 6 times while the Grizzlies have turned it over once. To everyone in attendance, this feels like the key statistic of the game.

7:05, 2Q The Warriors are forced to bring back Andrew Bogut for Marreese Speights, since Speights and The Corpse of Jermaine O'Neal have been getting abused inside, first by Randolph and Koufos and then by Gasol and Koufos. The Warriors clearly don't have the bigs to defend Memphis effectively when the Grizzlies have the post game working. The post game was working Saturday night for the first time all season. Entry passes were being made; Gasol, Randolph, and Koufos were able to get to the rim seemingly at will; everything felt right with the universe.

3:36, 2Q Z-Bo loses his headband while fighting with David Lee—and winning—for a rebound. Tony Allen picks the headband up off the floor, creeps up behind Z-Bo, and sticks it to the back of his neck. I'm not sure how many people in the building even noticed this, but I took it as a sign: a sign that the Grizzlies were playing within themselves, staying relaxed, comfortable. It was these little goofy touches—Tony Allen jumping up off the bench and wagging his finger Dikembe Mutombo-style when Koufos blocked a shot, Z-Bo mean-mugging his way back up the court after taking it to Draymond Green—that felt like the Grizzlies were being themselves, something they hadn't been at all through the first five games.

1:16, 2Q Quincy Pondexter enters the game. Pondexter, let's be honest, was pretty terrible through the first five games, managing to rack up a +/- of -21 in 17 minutes against the Pelicans somehow. Pondexter playing out the end of the half while Randolph turned the ball over and let the Warriors get a 3-pointer from Steph Curry at the end of the half. The Grizzlies led 54-50 going into the break, and everyone in the building felt like we'd witnessed a miracle: we'd seen the return of the Memphis Grizzlies from the brink. Of course, it wasn't really ever that serious, and it's still only November, but the way the Grizzlies came out and played on Saturday night sent a clear message: they're going to be fine, even if they have some kinks to work out.

9:38, 3Q The Warriors take the lead for the final time on a Klay Thompson 3-pointer. From here on out, the Grizzlies asserted their will offensively and managed to score 36 in the quarter. The Warriors scored 27, which is a lot for the traditional Griz defense to allow, but Golden State had no answer whatsoever for the Grizzlies' bludgeoning inside game, especially the shortened frontcourt rotation of Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Kosta Koufos. One gets the sense that this is closer to how the Grizzlies will roll in the playoffs, and it's a trio that doesn't promise to be easy for anyone to stop.

:27.7, 3Q Nick Calathes does this:

Calathes was, to me, a revelation against the Warriors. His defense wasn't as much of a problem against Golden State as it will be on other nights against other offenses because his length allowed him to stay on Curry. But his passing—his passing. Sometimes he whips one across the court without looking and it ends up in the expensive seats, but other times he does stuff like this:

...and you wonder why this guy isn't the backup point guard more often. To my eyes, it's clear that Jerryd Bayless is more comfortable and more effective—and less of a liability—at the 2 spot, and having Calathes, who can orchestrate the offense and seems especially adept at hitting a wide-open Mike Miller in the corner from the opposite side of the lane, making plays makes the Grizzlies' second unit much less predictable and a much different look for defenses than Jerryd Bayless who, love him or hate him, just isn't as good as a primary ball handler as he is as a 2-guard.

Of course, Calathes comes with some baggage. He turns the ball over too much. He can't really shoot, although he has a mostly-serviceable floater. But I think what he adds to the team—that court vision and playmaking ability—makes up for it. Shooting can be taught. Calathes' natural gifts are harder to come by. I think he earned more burn Saturday night. We'll see if the coaching staff agrees.

8:59, 4Q David Lee fouls out, and it's clear to everyone in attendance that this game is over. The Warriors, in the "grit and grind era," just haven't really been able to beat the Grizzlies—it's a bad matchup. They don't have enough solid interior defenders to keep up with the Grizzlies' post-oriented offense, and the Griz defense is one of the few in the league equipped to slow the normally white-hot Curry and Thompson (especially considering the Grizzlies aren't especially good at limiting 3-point opportunities). This game was never really in doubt by halfway through the third quarter.

It's clear that the Grizzlies aren't perfectly "fixed." Joerger said as much in the postgame, noting that the Griz are neither as bad as the panicky elements of Grizz Nation said they were after the Pelicans game nor as good as others may be tempted to argue after Saturday night's big win. They're very much a work in progress—any team with a new coach and several new players is at this point in the season. But now they're .500, and they're starting to look like themselves.

We still don't know what the end of the season holds for this team, but we do know that they're working out the kinks still. Rotations and lineups will evolve, relationships will change, offensive schemes will transmogrify over time, but what we saw on Saturday night was definitive proof that there's no need to run around calling for Robert Pera's head on a pike, or wishing for the immediate reinstatement of Lionel Hollins as head coach.

Grit and Grind isn't dead, but it never really was, even though this year's model of Memphis Grizzlies squad is still unfinished. Saturday night was a welcome reminder that they still retain those essential qualities that made us fall in love with this Grizzlies team to begin with.


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