Monday, February 23, 2015

Next Day Notes: Grizzlies 98, Trail Blazers 92

Posted By on Mon, Feb 23, 2015 at 8:46 AM

click to enlarge Courtney Lee was aggressive last night,  with 19 points on 6-8 shooting. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Courtney Lee was aggressive last night, with 19 points on 6-8 shooting.

It was an interesting return to action for the Grizzlies last night after the new (much) longer All-Star Break, and for the first two and a half quarters, it looked like som

e of them were still on vacation. When the Portland Trail Blazers got on a big run in the third quarter to push their lead out to 13, I wondered whether the time off meant the Griz were a little too rusty to get it together and pull off a win—but the defense (led by Tony Allen and Nick Calathes—yes, that Nick Calathes) clamped down, and when it did the offense got going, and the Griz posted a 34–15 fourth quarter that stole the game back from the Blazers.

You can see the change happening in the quarter splits: 19 points in the first quarter, 19 points in the second, then 26 in the third (while allowing 39 to Portland, who was moving the ball really well all night) and then the final come-from-behind fourth. I think I’m just still not used to the idea that this Grizzlies team is like every other good veteran team we’ve seen: they are never out of a game until it’s over, even when it looks like they’re stumbling around without much of a plan or a rhythm for the first thirty minutes of basketball. They hardly ever blow teams out because they (let’s be honest) only exert enough effort to win by 10 or so, and by the same token, they can pull off wins like last night’s because they know how to buckle down and play a brilliant final 12 minutes when they have to. No Portland player scored more than 5 in the 4th.

Is there an asterisk over last night’s game because the Blazers were without their star big man LaMarcus Aldridge? Sure. Aldridge is a great player, and a very tough (and also very fun-to-watch) matchup for Gasol and Randolph to guard. But that doesn’t diminish what the Grizzlies were able to do last night, in a big way. If they keep this up, some day I’ll actually start expecting them to win games like this.

Game Notes

➭ Nick Calathes continues to be an outright terror on defense. Check out this tweet from Peter Edmiston:

Calathes may have only scored 2 points, but his 4 steals in 14 minutes—including one for which he had to dive into the courtside seats and take a beer bath—were a huge factor in the Grizzlies’ turnaround. I’m not sure what the change in Calathes is this year. Maybe he’s figured out that if he can be an exceptional defensive player, he’ll still get consistent minutes despite Beno Udrih’s being “The Backup Point Guard”. Maybe he’s been hanging out with Tony Allen enough that he’s converted to TA’s strange syncretic cult of Basketball Chaos. (Tony Allen’s Church of Basketball Chaos seems like the kind of group that would build pyramids and mazes out in the woods, yes?) Whatever the reason for Calathes’ marked improvement on the defensive side of the ball, it’s been a big boost to the Grizzlies’ second unit to be able to put two guys (Calathes and Allen) who can make life miserable for opposing scorers and ballhandlers.

➭ With Aldridge out, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph combined for 36 points and 15 rebounds. Even without Aldridge, Portland’s frontcourt is no slouch, with Robin Lopez and Chris Kaman still capable of defending and rebounding even if their scoring output doesn’t match that of LMA. One thing I didn’t like last night: Gasol’s repeated insistence on taking Dirk Nowitzki one-legged fadeaway jumpers when he didn’t have to. He’s been doing it all year in spots, but last night was especially frustrating because they weren’t falling. Gasol’s shot is always better when he’s not fading away, so seeing him do it when it’s not necessary is a little frustrating. I’m sure the “back to school” atmosphere of last night’s game—especially the first half—means that Gasol was probably playing a little looser than he usually does, but still.

➭ The rest looked like it really helped some guys: Mike Conley, in particular, looked like he was moving much better than he was two weeks ago, and was attacking with reckless abandon, playing a beautiful two-man game with Gasol much of the night. On the flip side, it looked like it’s going to take some guys a little longer to get back into the swing of things. Kosta Koufos and Beno Udrih, who had both been in really good rhythms before the break, both struggled last night with things that they were nailing before the week off: Koufos’ hook shot wasn’t falling, and Udrih actually missed a shot or two from midrange, which back in January I wouldn’t have believed was possible.

Tweet of the Night

Up Next

This is a busy week, with the Grizzlies returning to action with five games in seven nights, three of them on the West Coast. Tonight they’re in LA playing the Clippers on a SEGABABA, on Wednesday night they’re in Sacramento to take on the newly be-Karled Kings, and then the week ends with another back to back: Friday at home against the Clippers (at which game the Grizzlies are giving away flip flops, which is hilarious) and Saturday at Minnesota looking for revenge.

The whole rest of the season is like this. Lots of back-to-backs, lots of road games, not much rest, a flat-out sprint through the end of the regular season. From here on out, the season is intense, and the Grizzlies are going to have to buckle down to hold on to their 2nd seed.


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