Thursday, October 29, 2015

Next Day Notes: Cavaliers 106, Grizzlies 76

Posted By on Thu, Oct 29, 2015 at 7:46 AM

click to enlarge As you can see, there were a lot of Cleveland jerseys in the paint. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • As you can see, there were a lot of Cleveland jerseys in the paint.

Let's just get this out of the way: last night was not a fluke loss, not entirely. In the grueling course of an NBA season, there are always going to be nights where it's just not happening—nights where shots just aren't falling and nobody seems to be on the same page. Some of that was happening last night, and it certainly didn't help that it was Cleveland's second game of the season and the night before they'd lost a close game to the Bulls on a Pau Gasol block of LeBron James.

But "one of those nights" doesn't cover the whole truth about why the Grizzlies dropped their sold-out home opener 106-76 last night. The Cavaliers exposed some real chinks in the Grizzlies' armor, and showed some real problems with the way the Grizzlies played basketball on Night 1 of what is supposed to be Yet Another Dark Horse Run At The Title.

For starters: well, the starters. Jeff Green started at the small forward spot, and while the whole team played so badly that there's no possible way his presence in the starting lineup was responsible for the Grizzlies' problems last night, it wasn't helping. The starters came out flat and stayed flat for the whole 7 minutes Green was in the game. When he was finally subbed for Tony Allen after that, things didn't really get better, but they didn't get worse, and that was their trajectory before that point.

Let's not put it all on the feet of the starters, though: the bench was also garbage. (Surprising, I'm sure, that everyone was garbage in a game where the Griz made 4 field goals in the first quarter and lost by 30.) Beno Udrih was dribbling instead of passing, waiting until someone came open for a shot to get the ball out of his hands. (He wasn't the only one not moving the ball, but as the point guard, those distribution duties fall at his feet.) When Russ Smith finally got into the game at the end, once there was no chance he and Jordan Adams might influence the outcome of the game one way or the other, he wasn't much better, still holding the ball too much, still not making the right passes, still clogging everything up.

click to enlarge :( - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • :(

The Grizzlies have a lot of guys who haven't played together before. Matt Barnes was still atrocious in the offense. Brandan Wright still isn't used to where he's going to get the ball, and the rest of the Griz still aren't sure where he wants them to pass it to him. Tony Allen made a lot of energy plays and defended LeBron pretty successfully and yet managed to just flat-out lose the ball on two (2) different fast break scoring opportunities—one by falling over and losing it out of bounds, and once by swerving out of his way to run into James and draw a foul and getting called for an (obvious) offensive foul instead.

It was not a good night. And Joerger didn't seem to have a handle on it either. Chris Herrington, who was sitting next to me, remarked at one point that it looked like the Grizzlies were about to be eliminated from the playoffs and he was just throwing random combinations of guys out on the floor trying to find something that worked. Which is a bad sign on opening night of the season when you've theoretically been practicing the same plays and actions for a month getting ready for the first game, right?

Instead, there didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to what was happening, although later he'd defend his no point guard Courtney Lee/Jeff Green/Tony Allen/Zach Randolph/Marc Gasol lineup by saying it "gives us more playmakers" and "allows us to move the ball and get the ball into the post without dribbling" (which mostly just read as an indictment of the poor backup PG play, either that or he's got a really bad idea about how to move the ball that of which last night somehow failed to disabuse him).

click to enlarge Tony Allen played very good defense on LeBron, but that wasn't enough to matter in the outcome of the game. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Tony Allen played very good defense on LeBron, but that wasn't enough to matter in the outcome of the game.

The cool thing about last night was that even if the Grizzlies hadn't been playing like a tribute to the Pau Trade Leftovers Grizzlies of 2008, they still would've had problems last night. The Cavaliers are one of the teams that can really expose the Grizzlies' defensive schemes. Kevin Love pulls whichever man is guarding him (and really only Marc Gasol can guard him, but Z-Bo usually has to try) so far away from the paint to the three point line that it opens up a big gap right in the middle of the floor behind him. Randolph has always been a credible-to-decent defender, nothing more, but he's always struggled to guard floor-stretching 4's, and as he gets older, that's only going to get harder for him. When a team can distort the Grizzlies' defensive scheme like that (and what is LeBron but the ultimate Defensive Scheme Distortion), they're usually going to win, or at least make things difficult, and that's exactly what happened.

I wouldn't be concerned about last night—I'd just write it off as "bad first night against angry Cleveland team"—except (1) the Grizzlies are headed to Indiana tonight, to play on the second night of a back to back against another team who plays small and could potentially cause problems for the defense, and that's a trend that's only going to continue to get worse as the league evolves that direction and (2) they can't afford to have very many bad nights in the first six weeks of the season. Given the West Coast road trip that's looming, if the Griz don't take care of business in the next two games against Indiana and Brooklyn, they're going to have a hole to dig out of if they can manage to go .500 on this road trip.

They've got to figure out these issues quickly, because this season, they don't have time to play themselves into shape. And if last night really was about structural issues and offensive problems as much as it was about "just a bad night," they're going to have some catching up to do. Last night was not a good start to the season. But hey, it can only get better from here, right?


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