Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Next Day Notes: Warriors Hand Grizzlies the Worst Loss in Franchise History

Posted By on Tue, Nov 3, 2015 at 8:24 AM

click to enlarge Courtney Lee had a historically bad +/- number for the evening. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Courtney Lee had a historically bad +/- number for the evening.

I didn't think the Grizzlies would win Monday night in Oakland. Golden State has started the season on a tear, and Steph Curry was off to one of the hottest starts in NBA history. The Grizzlies had struggled against Cleveland (and by "struggled" I mean lost by 30), before beating two much worse teams.

What I didn't expect was what happened: after fighting back in the first quarter to claim at 22-21 lead, the Griz proceeded to make nine field goals in the second and third quarters on their way to the worst loss in franchise history and also, of course, the worst shooting percentage in franchise history.

Historical Sidebar

The Vancouver Grizzlies were terrible. The first season or two of Memphis Grizzlies were terrible. The team after the Pau trade was terrible. And yet, the following players did not lose this badly in a Grizzlies uniform:

  • Bryant "Big Country" Reeves
  • Ike Austin
  • Javaris Crittenton
  • Darko Milicic
  • Cherokee Parks
  • Juan Carlos "La Bomba" Navarro
  • Greg Buckner
  • Cezary Trybanski
  • Cuonzo Martin (yes, that Cuonzo Martin)
  • Othella Harrington

The list continues, because even on all those 15, 14, 22, 24, and 8 (lockout year) win seasons, no Grizzlies team has ever lost by fifty points. This tweet of mine was wildly popular with Grizzlies fans in Vancouver, where the Canucks actually had "Grizzlies Night" featuring Shareef Abdur-Raheem last night, who are still retweeting and favoriting it this morning.

Warriors 119, Grizzlies 69

click to enlarge Marc Gasol was passive and looks like he's still playing his way into shape. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Marc Gasol was passive and looks like he's still playing his way into shape.

The final score doesn't even look real. What does one even say when a team gets beat this badly? It's not unprededented—teams have lost by 50 before—but it is a bad sign that this Grizzlies team, who by all accounts think they're trying to win a title, has now played both of the teams from last year's Finals and lost by a combined total of 80 points.

And credit to the Warriors: they are an efficient, terrifying basketball killing machine right now. The Clippers have done everyone a disservice (imagine that!) by continuing to insist that the Warriors "got lucky" last year and essentially didn't deserve the title. Of course they've come out on a mission to prove everyone wrong, giving an edge to what was already one of the best teams of the last 25-30 years. Thanks for nothing, Doc Rivers.

But obviously Doc Rivers has nothing to do with the ways the Grizzlies got vicisected on NBA TV last night. Everything that gave the Griz problems against Cleveland reappeared, but against an even better team playing at the top of their game (and how's this for frightening: Golden State's Andrew Bogut didn't even play).

With Zach Randolph in the game and Tony Allen being guarded ("guarded") by Festus Ezeli, every time Randolph or Marc Gasol caught the ball in the paint, he immediately ran into a wall of three tall dudes. The strategy the Warriors used so effectively to overcome the Grizzlies in last spring's playoffs? They still work. Allen was unable to convert his wide-open scoring opportunities (mostly because the only thing available to him, by design, were long-range shots) and so Dave Joerger substituted Jeff Green, who had played really well coming off the bench in the previous two games, but has struggled to find a rhythm with the starters since being traded to Memphis...

...and that didn't go much better. What finally helped the Grizzlies—and got them back into a game that was already starting to look lopsided in the first ten minutes—was when Zach Randolph went to the bench and the Griz rolled out a lineup of Mike Conley, Matt Barnes, Jeff Green, JaMychal Green, and Brandan Wright... and things looked good.

click to enlarge Tony Allen was basically unguarded on offense but couldn't convert the long shots open for him. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Tony Allen was basically unguarded on offense but couldn't convert the long shots open for him.

This is an uncomfortable truth that has already reared its head this season: Z-Bo is not in shape, and the team plays a completely different offense when he's not on the floor. It's like watching a different basketball team altogether, one that plays four out/one in and runs spread pick and rolls. Randolph, whether because as he ages he's even less mobile than he was to begin with, or because he's just not in the kind of shape he needs to be in yet, has struggled to defend and has run into walls of opposition on offense. I'm certainly not saying Randolph has outlived his usefulness—I think he's mostly just out of shape—but we knew the day would come where his age would impact his defense, and it looks like that day might be here.

And anyway, the bench unit is clearly playing a completely different style of basketball from the starters. The pace is different, the sets are different, the spacing is different, the types of baskets they're looking for are different. When I said this might be a rebuilding year, this is the kind of thing I was talking about: retooling in place to reload for the future while still trying to be good and make the playoffs this year. These changes are happening right in front of us, and it's only the first week of November.

I'm not really sure it makes any sense to nitpick aspects of last night's game. Literally everything went wrong after the first quarter. This was a game in which the Grizzlies lost by fifty points (again, fifty points!) after attempting 96 field goals to the Warriors' 84. I'm not a fan of single-game +/- stats, but some of last night's are legitimately eye-popping:

  • Zach Randolph: -30
  • Marc Gasol: -32
  • Courtney Lee: -44 (this is actually the second-worst +/- for someone playing under 25 minutes in the last fifteen years. According to Basketball Reference, only Walter McCarty's performance for the Celtics on 1/31/2003 was worse. And McCarty is actually on this particular "top" 10 list twice.)
  • Mike Conley: -41
  • Matt Barnes: -36

So... no one played well, no one looked like they knew what they were doing, everything was terrible, and I never want to watch another game like that as long as I cover the NBA.

The Griz, of course, are still .500, and they can still accomplish the bigger goal of winning 3 out of 5 on this West Coast road trip and surviving. But the fact that they clearly have problems playing the league's top-tier teams is concerning, and is worth paying attention to as they go about the rest of this early part of the season. Time will tell whether last night was really "just a bad night" or whether this team really just can't keep up with the league's top tier. I'm afraid of what the answer is, though.


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