Sunday, December 10, 2017

Thunder 102, Grizzlies 101: Five Extremely Dumb Overtime Thoughts

Posted By on Sun, Dec 10, 2017 at 9:28 AM

click to enlarge LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

The Grizzlies lost in spectacular fashion on Saturday night after leading by as many as 20 points, before turning in a 9-point third quarter and one of the most mystifyingly mindless fourth quarters I've ever seen from a Memphis team. Then, after Marc Gasol, Tyreke Evans, and JaMychal Green each missed at least one free throw, the game went to overtime, where the Grizzlies again played bad basketball—and make no mistake, the Thunder were every bit as bad, if not worse—and lost in overtime.

Defensively, the Thunder are very good this year—second in the NBA coming into last night. That's certainly part of why the Grizzlies struggled so mightily on offense, but it's not the whole story. As ever, the Grizzlies made things hard for themselves as much or more than the opponent did, and so yet again they lost a game they should've won. Dallas, Brooklyn, and now this; when they miss the playoff by three wins, this particular encounter will seem even more frustrating than it did as it happened.

But I have five thoughts on what happened, which is all I could think to do in response.

Five Thoughts

It doesn't matter who the coach is if the players make dumb plays. At some level, a lot of the Grizzlies' mistakes last night Have to do with low basketball IQ. Making a bad pass. Shooting bad shots. Making poor decisions in the flow of the offense. Some of this is coaching: guys have to know the scheme so they can fall back on it when times get tough. The coaching flux has made some of that harder than it should be, but it's not the whole explanation. You only have to look as far as Ben McLemore's abysmal missed 360 dunk against Toronto: it's one thing if he's wide open on a break and tries that and misses, but there were two (2) Toronto defenders closing in on him. He didn't even have time to attempt that dunk in the first place. That's a sign of a player who makes bad decisions.

The Grizzlies are a young team, and most of that youth is made up of guys who weren't highly-ranked first round guys. They're guys the Grizzlies have taken a flier on, and while they all seem to show some sort of promise, they're not players who are great at improvising on the fly, falling back on the scheme or the system to know what to do. When things go wrong, they improvise, and they're just not good at it. That's not a good sign for the Grizzlies going forward, because these guys need to play in a more cohesive way, but they're learning it all on the fly without any time to practice under a new coach. Unless they start playing both smarter and harder, they're still not going to win many more games, especially against teams able to take away the first and second options of the pretty simplistic offensive sets they're running right now.

click to enlarge LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Tyreke Evans is a good starting point guard. Part of this is a comparison to the other alternatives on the Grizzlies. But the other part is Evans stepping up to a challenge. After being a ball-stopper when he was coming off the bench, Evans has actually passed the ball well upon being moved to the starting lineup. Last night he finished with 29 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists. I think he'll probably get a triple double at some point this season. Evans is a massively talented player when things are going right for him. And while I still think he could do more to get other guys more involved, his transition into being the facilitator the Grizzlies need him to be at this point in the season has been encouraging, and if he can keep growing into the role and developing his chemistry with Gasol (we saw some of this in their two-man game in overtime), he may end up putting up exactly the same kinds of numbers Mike Conley would.

click to enlarge LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

★ Speaking of point guards, Mario Chalmers is really bad. It comes from a good place—he's trying to help the team win—but Chalmers' play has been disastrous. He's taking bad shots, he's not running pick and roll cleanly, he's making bad passes, he's not finishing at the rim at all, he's not defending, and he shows no signs of getting better at any of those things. He's been struggling all year long, and Fizdale no doubt felt a special connection to Chalmers because of the time the two of them spent together in Miami, but... it's bad. Several people said this to me on Twitter last night and I agree: Toney Douglas last year was better. That's not a typo: Toney Douglas.

The Grizzlies' third quarter struggles are mystifying. It's like they've yet to make a halftime adjustment all season, while the other team always makes the right one. Last night, the Thunder held the Griz to NINE POINTS in the entire third quarter. The whole time, the Grizzlies had no answers, no options. They'd been totally strangled by the Thunder's halftime adjustment. It happens every game. No lead is too big for the Grizzlies to choke away in the third quarter by coming out of the break totally lax and unfocused. I don't know if they all need to be rendered to some kind of intelligence agency black site and deafened by heavy metal music until they've been reprogrammed to play hard after halftime, or what. If I were Robert Pera, that option would be on the table.

As bad as both of these teams are, neither is really out of the hunt yet. The second half of last night's game was one of the dumbest, worst things I've seen in all my time covering the Grizzlies. Both teams tried to choke away the game on several occasions, and neither team could manage to lose until the very, very end of overtime. But. As crappy as it looked, both of these teams could still make the West playoffs. It's less likely for the Grizzlies than it is for Oklahoma City, but both of these teams have gotten off to significantly worse starts than expected, and such is the state of the Western Conference that neither has fallen so far that the season can't be salvaged. Give the Grizzlies another couple of weeks, and my 44-win prediction for the season may become totally impossible to reach instead of just very unlikely. But for two potential playoff teams, the Grizzlies and Thunder sure both looked like two lottery teams last night.

Tweet of the Night

It's probably not the solution to the Grizzlies' backup point guard problem, but it's hard to imagine he'd be worse, and they've barely put a dent in the number of days he can be called up to the big club, so I fully endorse this hashtag from Caleb McNiece:

Up Next

The Heat are here on Monday, they travel to DC to play the Wizards on Wednesday, and then it's another Friday/Saturday home back to back against the Hawks and Celtics. At this point, I'd call the Hawks game the only one they should win, but "should" is mostly meaningless in the context of this year's Grizzlies. They've only won one game since breaking an 11-game losing streak, and they've got a new 3-game streak going. I'm not to "tank the season" territory yet, because I'm not sure what that even looks like on a team with Conley and Gasol on it, but it would appear that they're tanking the season quite by accident all on their own.



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