Monday, February 3, 2014

Monday 3-Pointer: The Nick Calathes Game and the Gauntlet Ahead

Posted By on Mon, Feb 3, 2014 at 8:37 AM

Nick Calathes had a career night against the Bucks on Saturday

Grizzlies 99, Bucks 90: The Nick Calathes Game

Saturday night's game started uneasy. No one had heard much concrete information about the ankle injury Mike Conley suffered on Friday night at Minnesota, and no one wanted to speculate how long he was going to be out. All anyone knew was that the injury looked bad, and it would be a while before Conley returned to the court.

Then the game started, and true to form this season, the Grizzlies struggled. Against teams with a below average pace of play this year, the Grizzlies have typically not done well—as evidenced by both wins over Milwaukee, which have been much closer than they needed to be. Saturday night, it was more of the same, with defensive lapse after defensive lapse, lots of physical play under the basket with the Grizzlies' bigs banging with Zaza Pachulia and Larry Sanders (hey now!) and Miroslav Raduljica.

For most of the first three quarters, the mood in the stadium was one of frustration: the problems the Grizzlies were having with the Bucks didn't seem to be a direct result of Conley's absence. Nick Calathes started at point guard and through the first part of the game was completely adequate, hitting a couple of shots and distributing the ball well. The Grizzlies' problems seemed to be on the defensive end.

And then something clicked.

In the last 15 minutes of play—from the 3-minute mark of the third quarter through the end of the game—the Grizzlies scored 46 points. Calathes started it with a layup and and-1 free throw to cut the Bucks' lead to 64-56, and by the end of the third, the Grizzlies only trailed 69-67.

The fourth quarter continued in much the same manner. Calathes hit three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter alone, winding up his long-range shot every time Milwaukee left him open. Zach Randolph got going inside. James Johnson and Jon Leuer got in on the act, too, drawing the Bucks' D away from the basket. It was a scoring outburst the likes of which are hardly ever seen on the Grizzlies' end of things.

And yes, it was "just the Bucks," but this is a team against which the Grizzlies have struggled, and considering that Calathes was getting booed by the home crowd simply for checking into the game a few weeks ago, for him to play 40 minutes and score 22 points on 8-12 shooting is a considerable achievement, one which surely will boost Calathes' confidence as the drives the offense until Conley returns from injury.

The Mike-less Week Ahead

And speaking of that injury, the Grizzlies now face an important week of the schedule without their All Star point guard.

Tonight, a road matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder and a Kevin Durant who is hopefully returning to Earth after a January spent up among the clouds with the Basketball Gods. The Thunder just lost to the Washington Wizards, ending a 10-game win streak (a streak that started immediately after the last time the Grizzlies defeated the Thunder in Marc Gasol's return).

On Wednesday, the Grizzlies play the Mavericks at home in a game of vital importance for both teams' playoff hopes. Dallas is currently behind the Grizzlies in the standings based solely on win percentage, with the Grizzlies in the 8th and final playoff spot and the Mavericks in 9th. The Griz have yet to beat Dallas this year (part of their dreadful 0-10 start against divisional opponents) and a win would be of the utmost importance for gaining some space in the standings. After those two games, the Grizzlies travel to Atlanta on Saturday for another tough one.

Overall, this is going to be a bad week to be without Mike Conley. The word on the street Saturday night was that he'll probably be out until the All Star break—seven games total—and of the seven (the first of which was Saturday night's Milwaukee game), these three are the most important. After this week, the Grizzlies face the Cavs, Wizards, Magic.

Whether or not Calathes can duplicate his Saturday night outburst against stiffer competition, the Grizzlies will have to do everything they can to win with him at the point. There's no "good week" to be without Conley, but this one seems especially rough.

Whither Darius Morris?

Ron Tillery of the Commercial Appeal tweeted last night that the Grizzlies were close to signing guard Darius Morris to a 10-day deal:

Morris is one of the guards the Grizzlies worked out back in December after the injury to Quincy Pondexter, and has just finished his second 10-day contract with the Clippers. You can look at his numbers so far this year at Basketball Reference.

It was clear that the Grizzlies would have to add a point guard after the Jerryd Bayless deal left them with only two on the roster. What wasn't clear was whether Calathes could comfortably step into the backup role or whether the team would have to shop around for veteran help. The fact that the Griz are looking for young guys on 10-day deals says to me they like what they've seen out of Calathes so far and think he can be the backup for the duration of the season. Or, at least, until the trade deadline.

As soon as more news breaks on the Morris deal, I'll update the blog.


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