Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Recap: Spurs 110, Grizzlies 108: Signs of Life

Posted By on Wed, Jan 8, 2014 at 8:09 AM

Mike Conley was incredible against San Antonio last night.

Yes, it was a loss. The Grizzlies did not get a victory at home Tuesday night against the San Antonio Spurs. There were stretches in the game—especially through the fourth quarter—where the Grizzlies looked completely overmatched and outclassed by San Antonio on both ends of the floor, and Tim Duncan was able to do pretty much whatever he wanted on either end of the floor. There were times when the lineups on the floor didn't work well, and times when the players in the lineups weren't making smart decisions.


The Grizzlies, and their fans, have to feel pretty good after last night's overtime loss. Results aside, last night's game finally gave Grizzlies fans something to cheer for, something to be excited about, something that melted away (even if only for the last ten minutes) all the injuries, all the talk about tanking, the lingering bitterness and factionalism about personnel and coaching changes. During last night's game, it was the same as it ever was, with the Grizzlies going out and fighting, scratching, and clawing their way into overtime, and then dueling the Spurs to the very last possession in overtime, coming up short by one missed Mike Conley three from that much too far out.

Coming back from down 12 with 1:30 left in the game to tie it and send it to overtime was mostly carried out by a lineup of Mike Conley, Courtney Lee, James Johnson, Ed Davis, and Zach Randolph, and they made it happen. The whole thing hinged on an improbable James Johnson steal-in-to-pull-up-three that went in, and a Mike Conley layup that bounced around on the rim for what felt like ten minutes after the buzzer. Meanwhile, on the Spurs' bench, Gregg Popovich sat in his chair staring holes in the opposite wall of FedExForum, the remaining crowd—the fans who hadn't left when the Grizzlies were down 12+ points with a few minutes to go—going crazy around him.

It was nice to have a break from the drama and the torture that has been this Grizzlies season and watch an exciting basketball game being played. The sense of relief was palpable afterward in the media room—that was more like it. That's why we go to all these endless basketball games. That's why we watch, win or lose.

Three Things I Liked

• Mike Conley was incredible last night. With injuries to Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook, Conley has quietly been making his case for the All-Star team, picking up every aspect of his game in the absence of Marc Gasol (and he was playing at an incredible level even before the Gasol injury) and carrying this Grizzlies team sometimes by himself. Last night he had 30 points, six rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and hit the layup to send it to overtime, and as previously mentioned, almost hit another buzzer-beater from long range to win it. Mike Conley is playing the best basketball of his career, hands down.

James Johnson came up big at the end of last nights game.

• After struggling a little in the first half and generally falling off a little bit in the past two or three games, James Johnson came back out and reminded the home crowd why they loved him so much. Blocking two three-point attempts on the same possession, challenging Tony Allen for the Lord of Basketball Chaos crown, hitting shots when it mattered, getting to the rim like his life depended on it. Johnson's energy and his drive are invaluable to this team, along with his athleticism and his refusal to give up on a play.

• Courtney Lee played almost 26 minutes despite getting to town on Monday. He was 2 of 5 from three, including one during the Grizzlies' charge back to tie it at the end, and generally looked comfortable and confident on the floor, and reminded Grizzlies fans what it's like to have a 2-guard who can shoot. Once Lee gets comfortable and starts figuring out how to capitalize on the open shots the Grizzlies' interior-oriented offense can create for him, I think he's going to be a very solid addition to the roster.

• Bonus thing: Ed Davis gets better at basketball every two games or so. He's still learning things, and still occasionally getting punked by Tim Duncan, but he's turning into a beast. When Marc Gasol returns to the lineup, the Grizzlies have some serious questions to answer about what to do with the frontcourt logjam.

Three Things I Didn't Like

• Nick Calathes didn't do much in his 11 minutes. He didn't turn the ball over, but he didn't do much with it, either. Part of that is that Patty Mills is the anti-Calathes, short and speedy where Calathes is long and slow. But part of it is shooting 0-3 from the floor (inspiring a fan behind me to call him "Brick Calathes," which, I'm sorry, is hilarious). I said Calathes needs minutes to develop if he's going to get any better. The path is cleared for him now. The minutes, for the moment, are his. Now it's up to Calathes to capitalize on this opportunity and prove he can handle the job.

• I'm not sure the personnel groups on the floor for the Grizzlies made much sense at times last night. Conley-Johnson-Prince-Davis-Randolph is interesting, for sure, but I'm not sure that should be a lineup that we see in the second quarter of every game. If there's one main complaint I have with the Joerger Era so far, it's that his rotation patterns are never settled. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to who is on the court and when, outside of the starters playing the first seven minutes of the third quarter together. A settled rotation makes everyone more comfortable. Once the roster is set, assuming the Grizzlies can stay relatively injury-free, Joerger has to start settling down his rotations and being consistent with who plays win. Right now, it's still a problem.

• Some Twitter chatter started up during the game that Tony Allen had a fractured hand, which is bad, but I talked to Griz Media Relations about it in the locker room and got the official story: Allen has a ligament injury in his hand. The ligament has pulled away from the bone, and sometimes when that happens, it takes a little chip of bone with it, hence Allen's hard hand brace thing. His official status is "day to day," but the word from the team is that they think it'll be about two weeks. "Just until it feels good enough for him to play," was the direct quote. So, not great news, but certainly not as bad as a fractured hand. Don't be surprised if Courtney Lee is starting in Allen's spot while he's out, new to town or not.


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