Saturday, October 27, 2018

Grizzlies Bounce Back, Defeating Suns 117-96

Posted By on Sat, Oct 27, 2018 at 10:54 PM

Uncertainty hung in the air going into Saturday night's home game against the Phoenix Suns. After a compelling win against a scary Utah Jazz team, the Grizzlies suffered a disappointing loss in Sacramento. The Grizzlies coughed up a halftime lead when the Kings clamped down on defense and clawed their way to victory.
click to enlarge LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Worse than the loss, Marc Gasol suffered what appeared at the time to be a potentially season-altering injury when De'Aaron Fox came down on Gasol's upper back area fighting for a rebound. The good energy from the win over Utah evaporated.

Fortunately, Gasol wasn't seriously injured after all. "It was a pretty bad scare when it happened. Thankfully, everything is okay. No structural damage or anything too serious to worry about," he told The Daily Memphian.

Doubts remained elsewhere, however, regarding the team's rebounding, defense, and especially with Kyle Anderson. Anderson's length, ball-handling, and IQ portended to him quickly fitting in with the Grizzlies, but he's struggled to find his groove.

While Anderson didn't make much headway acclimating himself to the team in this one, the Grizzlies were able to hold their own on the boards, gobbling up 39 to the Suns' 35. The Grizzlies performed better on defense, as well, with Ayton being the only Phoenix player to score in the 20s, but the Suns' offensive woes were more indicative of their youth, inexperience, and lack of Devin Booker tonight.

The matchup also featured another marquee rookie matchup between number one overall pick DeAndre Ayton and fourth overall pick Jaren Jackson. With Saturday night's game, Jackson has faced off against every top-5 draft pick except Luka Doncic.

The Grizzlies built up a sizeable lead in the first half, creating a 25-point cushion behind 61 percent shooting, including 7-13 from deep.  The high shooting percentage may speak more towards the Suns' defense than the Grizzlies offense. The Grizzlies are currently rated last in the league in offense, and it shows. The offense frequently falls stagnant, and fails to generate good or easy looks for anyone.
Ayton, the lauded #1 overall pick for the Phoenix Suns, didn't impose himself at all in the first quarter. He routinely passed out of the paint despite having the physical advantage against his defender, and finished with 2 points on just one shot.
click to enlarge LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Ayton turned that around, however, in the second quarter, going 6-6 and scoring 6 straight on Jaren Jackson when Gasol sat. He would finish the game with 25 points on 12-13(!) shooting, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists.

One thing that stood out in the first half was the Grizzlies' offense not immediately going down in flames when Conley exited the game for rest. Shelvin Mack buoyed the team nicely and dished 4 assists as backup point guard, and Wayne Selden chipped in 10 points and 2 two assists.

Gasol, Conley, and Selden all finished the half in double digits, with five other Grizzlies scoring at least 5 points. Ayton was the only Suns player to finish the first half in double-digits with 14 points, with only 3 players notching at least 5 points.

Anderson continued to struggle finding his groove with the team. After starting, he got the hook with 7:46 remaining in the first quarter after missing a couple bunny shots near the rim, and going 0-3. He finished the half with 0 points on those three shots.

The Grizzlies maintained their advantage in the second half, keeping a healthy points margin over the Suns. Their solid lead late into the game allowed Yuta Watanabe to check in, and become the second Japanese player to play in the NBA in league history. Japanese NBA Twitter definitely paid attention to the moment. My two most viral tweets, by an enormous margin, were crappy handheld phone videos of Yuta dunking in the warmup line, and spinning to the hoop, missing, but drawing the foul. Virtually all of the RTs and favs were from Japanese basketball fans.
Jaren Jackson had a rough game defensively. He wasn't able to deter Ayton, got into foul trouble early, and earned the first technical of his NBA career after receiving his 5th personal foul. It's funny that his offense has come along more quickly than his defense.
Garrett Temple has absolutely locked down the starting shooting guard spot. His defense has been crucial, his ball handling on point, and he finished the game with 15 points on 4-6 shooting. It appears to be for the best, as Dillon Brooks gets to come off the bench with more freedom to impose his will as a dynamic playmaker. Brooks actually ended up playing about four more minutes than Temple, but that's partially indicative of the Grizzlies comfortable lead for most of the game.
click to enlarge LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
The Grizzlies bench contributed nicely in this win. Wayne Selden continued to impress. He finished with 16 points on 6-8 shooting, and provided a nice punch at the two spot. Marshon Brooks played his role perfectly as instant offense off the bench, pouring in 18 points in 19 minutes.
click to enlarge LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Gasol didn't look limited in his return to action. He finished with 19 points on 8-16 shooting, and hit 3-6 from deep (including a Steph-range near buzzer-beater to end the first half).
click to enlarge LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski

Mike Conley had a solid game without having to soak up super-heavy minutes. He scored 11 points and tallied 7 assists in 28 minutes. Usually when Conley leaves the game to rest, the Grizzlies offense goes down in flames. Garrett Temple and especially Shelvin Mack were able to buoy the offense when Conley exited, and to not immediately enter a tailspin without Conley is a new development.

When I asked Conley what it's meant to be able to go to the bench and the offense stay afloat, he said Mack, Temple, and Anderson have been huge. "[It] allows me to keep fresh legs longer." He also noted that their play will allow him to regain his conditioning with each game as he returns to pre-injury form. J.B. Bickerstaff understood the importance of being cautious with how much the Grizzlies lean on Conley, saying "I feel bad because there's been times where it feels like we're wearing him down, so we've got to do a better job of giving him some breaks."

The Grizzlies are now 3-2 on the season, and return to action on Tuesday when they take on the Washington Wizards at FedExForum.

Epilogue: the Grizzlies blared Kid Rock's Bawitdaba to pump up the crowd late in the fourth, and I've never seen less of a reaction. Let us pray that this trash song gets retired and forgotten sooner rather than later.

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