Editors note: From our good friend Matt, Grizzlies convert. Read and weep, with joy.
Well, then. That makes it eleven (IT GOES TO ELEVEN). Every time we think we have faced the insurmountable beast at home, the Boys in Blue manage to stab their way back into it. That's the best word I can use for it. Especially last night, they stabbed their way back into it. Orlando builds an eleven point lead? Mayo stabs in a three to get a run going. The Magic close on Conley in the paint? He stabs a pass to Gasol for the and-one. All the while, Zach Randolph is stabbing, stabbing, stabbing his way to 19 rebounds,
So here we are, on January 26th, 2010, in the eighth spot of the Western Conference playoffs, winners of 11 straight at home. It may all go to hell from here on out, but we've got this moment to look at. So let's look at it. What's working well, what's not?
Zach Randolph, Nightcrawler: Zach Randolph doesn't jump. He just doesn't. His feet almost never leave the ground on a rebound. And he doesn't run. Think about it, can you remember the image of Randolph running? I can't. And yet, every time, there he is, in position for a rebound, often an offensive one. Not jumping, just out-positioning, grabbing, and going back up. Randolph's has a 14.3 ORR, good for third best in the league among players playing at least 30 minutes. Think about what that means. Randolph alone is capturing 15% of all offensive misses when he's on the floor. That's 15% extra possessions, often in easy position for a putback at the rim, where he shoots 61%. You've heard of a volume shooter? Randolph is a volume possession creator.
OJAM, Stone Cold Killer: Here's OJ's three point percentages by month: 20, 34, 38, 45. And he's taking more of them than ever. If Randolph and Gay are the two that break open runs, it's usually Mayo that starts them. His on-ball defense has improved by leaps and bounds, and it seems like he's added top-end speed this season, too. Get him in open space and no one's catching him. It's given him an advantage in transition because his vertical explosion isn't quite where he needs it to be to be elite. The speed allows him to be in position for layups ahead of the trailing blocker, which often results in fouls, a reason the Grizzlies are a league leader in FT/FR ratio differential.
Mike Conley, Spot-Up Shooter: There are a multitude of things which Conley does not do well. But spot up shooting isn't one of them. He's shooting at a 65% eFG from the arc this season, up 5% from last season. He and Mayo make up the whole of the Grizzlies' three point threat.
Marc Gasol, Han-D-Man: Gasol's just a handy guy to have around. Need a big to come out for a high pick and pop, then use the high pivot to open the offense off curl screens? Marc can do it. Need a big defender to work his tail off for 40 minutes against a bigger opponent, muscling, cajoling, and constantly tweaking the opponent to limit his effectiveness? Marc can do it (I cannot stress enough how helpful having Marc be able to go 1 on 1 with Howard last night was). Need a big to crash the lane with a soft touch for a layup? You get the idea. Gasol works tirelessly, and he's consistently faced with the tougher matchups. He can defend the pick and roll, he fouls when appropriate, and manages to do so without allowing and-ones very often and creates a ton himself. He's fifth in And-One % among players playing 30 minutes. Gasol's often overshadowed by Zach's 20 and 10 12 campaign this season, but Gasol may be the most important player for the Grizzlies because of everything else he does. At one point last night, Gasol blocked a shot, ran out, saved it, got back in bounds, then took the trap pass from his teammate to get the offense into open floor. He's the first to congratulate teammates and he and Randolph have a very "brothers in arms who no one believes in" thing going. He'd be my pick for MVP of the team.
Maximizing Defensive Advantages: The defense is bad, there's no question. But there are things it does well, which is what helps this team win a lot. Conley, for example, lacks defensive awareness to manage the pick and roll, or to recover off screens. But his length and athleticism helps to funnel defenders to the bigs. Mayo couldn't hang with VC at all last night, but matched up on Nelson, he made life hell for him in his brief stint. Gasol is tough, but not tough enough to bang with Dwight Howard. So in the fourth quarter, Gasol switched his approach, furiously attacking the inlet pass, generating two steals. DeMarre Carroll does things like saving the ball under his own basket, which is an absolute can-not play. But he also creates great pressure in full court and half court press situations and recovers amazingly well. Hasheem Thabeet can't understand rotations, is suckered in all the time, can't body up anyone, and generally sucks. But his weak-side timing is flawless. It's these small defensive plays which have helped the Grizzlies hold their last two opponents to a combined 30 points in the fourth.
Rudy Gay, Always Be Closing: As long as we're not throwing alley-oops to him with enough time for an actual shot, into three defenders, Gay's been incredible in closing out games. The game winner against Oklahoma City was as big a shot as you're going to see in this lead and he absolutely drained it. Having his athleticism and range in close situations which we find ourselves in a lot is invaluable.
The Elephant of Suck In The Room: This is the worst bench in the NBA. It's not close. Carroll can't hit 18 footers, the only shot he seems intent on trying to make. Sam Young has brief flashes of brilliance followed by vanishing acts. Jamal Tinsley is scared, downright scared to shoot, and can't get dribble penetration on anyone. Thabeet is like having 1/8 of an All-Star out there, which still translates to 1/4 your average NBA player. The rest barely get time. Ronnie Brewer can't get here soon enough.
Getting Consistent Stops: The defense isn't Golden State. It's not completely incapable of creating stops. It just gives up runs every once in a while that give the impression. The effort's there. The awareness and focus are not.
Down In A Hole: Here's a list of first quarter runs given up over the last five games: 11-4, 7-1, 5-1, 12-2, 6-0, 6-0, 10-4, 9-2, 7-1, 7-1. Now, the Grizzlies have responded to those runs with runs of their own. But if they were to stop the bloodletting early on, there wouldn't be the need for the five minute-mark timeout, nor the inevitable cardiac moments down the stretch. The Grizzlies need to start coming out and executing to develop leads. It's okay to battle with a team for 48 minutes when you have no bench, but there's no reason to put yourself in such a hole to start.