The first three quarters of last night's game between the Grizzlies and the Thunder were, well, great. Memphis showed strong effort on both sides of the ball, closing out on Kevin Durant, dominating the paint on offense, etc., etc., etc. But, as is the case with the 2011-12 Grizzlies, they once again fail to close out on title contending teams in the 4th quarter.
Having been outscored 32-17 in the 4th, the Grizzlies gave up a once 10-point lead on their way to losing 101-94. I can't get on the Grizzlies for all that much prior to the start of the 4th, but when you watch them lose all of their offensive prowess in the 4th, when it's needed the most, you can't help but get frustrated. And I say this knowing that Durant hit a deep, pretty well-defended 3-pointer, followed by an amazing top-of-the-key, also highly well-defended, jumper to put the game away. My beef is less with how the Grizzlies defended Durant (at least on those two plays), but how they weren't able to answer on any of the Thunder's offensive outbursts in the 4th. They went from being an inside-outside team to being an ISO, give the ball to Rudy Gay or Tony Allen and watch them create kind of offensive team. Sure, that may work against the Kings or the Pistons, but that won't cut it against a team like the Thunder.
As you can see, my frustration level is high. After two strong wins against playoff teams in the Atlanta Hawks and Denver Nuggets, I was beginning to think that we were on our way to getting something important going. Here's my analysis from prior to last night's game on why we've been so streaky lately. See if you can notice a trend here:
I think the key to look at here is the schedule. Aside from the most recent 2-game winning streak (Atlanta and Denver), we haven't really beaten any teams that we "weren't supposed to beat." Looking at our 7-game win streak, we beat the Kings, Warriors, Pistons, Hornets (twice), Knicksand the Derrick Rose-less Bulls. If you're a serious playoff team, those are the games you're "supposed to win." We then went on the road and lost four straight games to the Blazers, Clippers, Suns and Spurs -- three possible playoff teams in there. We have losses to the Thunder (twice), Lakers, Bulls (with Rose), Jazz... see a pattern here? I wish I could tell you that we can turn it on and elevate our game -- and I'm not trying to take anything away from the most recent wins -- but we tend to struggle against the true title contenders. We have the horses to compete, but often times we miss that finisher. It sounds like I'm being a bit of a downer here, but all I've ever said, since Zach Randolph went down, was just get us to the playoffs with a healthy team, including Randolph. I don't expect this team, as currently constructed, to be able to run with the Thunder and Lakers on a nightly basis. We're a good team, sometimes a very good team, but we need a complete roster to compete. We're good enough to beat the Kings and Pistons of the world without Z-Bo, but we'll struggle against you guys -- though we won't go down without a fight!
Again, this was prior to the Thunder-Grizzlies game. Our struggles have been, and will continue to be, closing out the top tier teams. Which is what keeps us from being mentioned in the same breath as the Clippers, Thunder, Lakers, etc. We just can't seem to beat them! I know there was a lot to like last night (Marc Gasol played great, Rudy Gay had three strong quarters, Tony Allen was efficient, Dante Cunningham had some nice defensive moments, etc.), but the fact is we once again couldn't close. And, as far as I can tell, we're going to continue to struggle going bucket-for-bucket in the 4th quarter, with the offensive powerhouses in the league, until we find a way to carry the offensive cohesion from the first three quarters into the 4th.