Thursday, November 23, 2017

Mavericks 95, Grizzlies 94: Five Grumpy Thanksgiving Thoughts

Posted By on Thu, Nov 23, 2017 at 9:57 AM

click to enlarge LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

The Grizzlies' losing streak continues, as last night they lost (on a gut-punch of a banked-in buzzer beater 3 by Harrison Barnes) to the Dallas Mavericks. Dallas is now 4-15 on the season, which means fully half of their victories have come against the Grizzlies. After running up a 17-point lead at halftime (mostly on the strength of a 27-12 first quarter), the Grizzlies then seemed to lose all interest in (1) playing defense and (2) actually running plays, instead attempting to trade 3-point baskets with the Mavs by shooting over the defense early in the shot clock.

That strategy might work for, say, Houston, but it was clear that after the half the Griz found themselves wide open from long range by design (they're 29th in the league in 3PT%), and they fell right into the trap laid for them, giving up 35 points to Dallas while only scoring 16 of their own.

There's a lot to take away from this game that's emblematic of the Grizzlies' bigger problems during this losing streak, and on this Turkey Day I have, of course, Five Thoughts about them:

The end of the game should never have mattered. JaMychal Green had a great putback to put the Grizzlies up 94-92 with .5 seconds left, but even though Dillon Brooks had a great closeout on Barnes, Barnes banked in a gamewinner over him. Granted, the Griz should've kept Barnes from being able to get to that spot, but that's not really the issue. If the Grizzlies had even pretended to play well in the third quarter, the game's a blowout and none of it happens. So, sure, for fans, the end of the game was exciting and then it was extremely not exciting. But to chalk up the Grizzlies' loss to a last second "Hail Mary" (Fizdale's words in the postgame presser) instead of the 12 minutes where they played completely disorganized, garbage basketball and let an inferior opponent rack up 35 on them. It wasn't the last play that lost them the game, period.

Mario Chalmers was bad. He was one of the chief offenders settling for bad shots after halftime (as was Marc Gasol), and even though he's got an impossible role to play as "replacement Mike Conley," his willingness to shoot first and run the offense second has hampered the Grizzlies more than it's helped. It's like he knows at the start of the game whether he'll be able to get to the rim or not, and if he can't, he's content to just never venture inside the 3-point line. Chalmers is an OK backup at this point, but mostly that's only the case because Andrew Harrison has been a disaster and they determined Wade Baldwin was so hopeless they had to cut him. Chalmers won by default, and his limitations are such that he's not able to carry the Grizzlies in Conley's absense in the same way he did in 2015-16.

Marc Gasol cannot be that passive for three quarters against a bad team. With Conley out, Gasol's got to be willing to carry the team and not just facilitate. I've said this so often over the last seven years of writing about this team that I'm sick of it, but that doesn't make it any less true. Through the first three quarters last night, Gasol was 2-9 with 4 points, which is unacceptable. When he sees that the team is settling for bad shots, he should be going to the rim and trying to get to the line, and instead, he did not attempt a single free throw until the final frame, in which he also scored 10 points. That's too little, too late. And he's right that the Grizzlies' defense has been lacking, but to call out what the team is doing as "embarrasing and sad" and then not be willing to put in the work on the offensive end to keep a lead over a crappy team is yet another example of Gasol's peculiar basketball philosophy getting in his (and the Grizzlies') way. He's just got to be better in these games. There's no one else to do it.

click to enlarge David Fizdale, as the game slipped away, probably pondering why he didn't play Deyonta more in the second half - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • David Fizdale, as the game slipped away, probably pondering why he didn't play Deyonta more in the second half

Deyonta Davis had a great first half and should have played more in the second. Davis had 14 point in 11:53 in the first half, played great defense, and altered the game in the Grizzlies' favor. There's no reason for him to play 3 minutes in the second half—that's on Fizdale. When a young guy is doing that well against a bad team you leave him out there. Maybe he would've provided some of the defensive intensity that the Griz were lacking in the third quarter?

At any rate, if Davis keeps playing like this—and he plays noticeably better when he gets involved in the offense early, which keeps him engaged—he's going to make the Grizzlies forget about Brandan Wright and capitalize on some of his untapped potential. Some of that relies on having a coach who recognizes when he's playing out of his mind and lets him get more run. His absence when things were going wrong, after the first half he had, was inexplicable.

The Grizzlies cannot settle for bad shots or they will lose. Period. You remember when Tony Allen would be wide open in the corner because teams weren't guarding him, and Gasol would kick it to him anyway because it was the "right" play? Teams are starting to leave the entire Griz roster open like that, and they don't have many guys who can capitalize on it right now. If they aren't smarter about it—if they try to shoot through the slump instead of getting better shots—they're going to keep losing games.

Tweet of the Night

Dennis Hopper was equally baffling in this film, but the tweet still works:

Up Next

The Grizzlies' losing streak may not abate yet. They're traveling to Denver for a one-game road trip Friday night, at altitude, the day after a major holiday; it's a textbook "schedule loss." After that, Brooklyn comes to town on Sunday, and the Nets aren't good, but they are young and fast, and if the Griz don't play defense they'll lose to the Nets, too. (They did it last year.) Things are not looking good in Grizz-land, and conditions may continue to deteriorate in Conley's absence.



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