The Memphis Grizzlies seventh game of the season, on the road, against the Indiana Pacers was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Well, no, it was just the worst of times. The Grizzlies were beaten handily throughout the game by a dominant Pacers team that is seemingly impenetrable right now. Not only were the Grizzlies beaten physically, but their mental will was broken as well after a barrage of buckets from budding superstar Paul George in the third quarter.
The Grizzlies did do some things well. The offense turned the ball over a season low ten times, the defense held Roy Hibbert to only three points, Nick Calathes demonstrated once again that he can handle a backup point guard role in this league if he cuts down on turnovers and/or learns to shoot, and they shot their best percentage of the year from three-point range. However, there are no moral victories for a team coming off a season where they dominated the opposition on a nightly basis before finally being bounced in the Western Conference Finals. A team that good should not take solace in anything but wins.
Not a single Grizzlies player played great, but the most surprising performance came from Mike Conley. Through these dark times early in the season, Conley has consistently been the Grizzlies beacon in the night attempting to guide the team through the rough passage towards becoming a more stable team, and hopefully a championship contender. Somewhere along Conley's ascent to the top tier of point guards in the NBA, he picked up newfound, loftier expectations, and it's hard to swallow when he has a bad game, even though every NBA player takes their lumps.
Conley was bad on both ends of the floor. On offense, he posted a line of 11 points on an inefficient 4-11 from the field coupled with a meager 2 assists. Any time Conley finishes a game with only 2 assists, the Grizzlies likely lost as was the case tonight. On the defensive end, Conley, one of the best defensive guards in the league, constantly allowed George Hill to blow past him and get to the rim whenever he pleased. Hill finished with 13 points on 6-9 shooting.
The big boys in the mud didn't play particularly well either. Neither Marc Gasol nor Zach Randolph finished with double digit rebounds (Both had 6), and the Pacers destroyed the Grizzlies all night on the boards, finishing with 45 compared to the Grizzlies 22.
Ed Davis led the team in rebounds with 7, and he brought excellent energy to the floor off the bench. Throw in two blocks as well. However, energy coupled with rebounds and blocks weren't enough to make up for his putrid offensive performance. Davis was weak with the ball in the paint, and until he makes his shooting form on his post up hook shots consistent, he will never be a good post player. He's too skinny to barrel into his defender right now, so the hook shot is what he's limited to in the post right now. When he tries to go down low and bang with the big boys, things typically don't end well. Just check out several of his misses from the Pacers game below.
The best bench contributions came from Nick Calathes and Mike Miller. By now, it's a mystery to everyone as to why Coach David Joerger hasn't decided to start Mike Miller. Miller finished with 8 points and shot 2-3 from beyond the arc. He could really help the spacing of the starting unit, which Joerger really needs to be squeezing more points out of anyways. The move only makes logical sense, and it's one that could be made without throwing off the whole balance of the rotation, not that it would necessarily be a bad thing at this point. As for Calathes, he demonstrated superb court vision, finishing with 6 assists while only turning the ball over once. He also tacked on 4 points. It's hard to see how he will ever become a good shooter, or even a consistent one, but his passing ability makes him incredibly valuable to the Grizzlies backup unit.
Joerger continues to tinker with the rotation, which at this point seems like too much meddling. He's trying to find the right mix, but the best solution might simply be trimming the rotation, thus establishing some cohesiveness amongst units on the floor. When Joerger continues to change out a player or two every couple minutes, that makes it incredibly hard for the players to get in a groove. The Grizzlies have thrived when they've gotten some consistency in the lineups from their coach, and hopefully that's something Joerger picks up on sooner rather than later. Also, Joerger needs to stop playing the all bench lineup of Calathes, Quincy Pondexter, Miller, Davis, and Kosta Koufos. Seriously, burn that lineup. It's not working, and it isn't going to.
Speaking of Pondexter, he continues to slump. He finished with a goose egg in the scoring column on 0-4 shooting. He needs to stay in the lineup because he does too much well that the Grizzlies need like shoot the three ball and play defense, but it's hard to justify keeping him in the rotation with him hurting more than he's helping right now. His confidence seems fragile right now though, and taking him out of the lineup for good could just put him in a deeper hole, which Joerger can't afford.
As for the Pacers, Paul George continued his reign of terror in the third quarter of games. He was averaging 12 points per third quarter entering this game, and he did much of the same against the Grizzlies, scoring 13 in the third. He posted 23 points, the most on the Pacers. It didn't help that Joerger had the decrepit Tayshaun Prince guarding him frequently.
The most shocking performance on the Pacers came from guard Lance Stephenson, who finished with a triple-double, the first of his career. He finished with a well-rounded line of 13 points, 11 rebounds, and 12 assists. He dominated the Grizzlies beloved Tony Allen and whoever else was thrown at him all night long.
Roy Hibbert didn't have much of an impact in the box score offensively, but his impact was felt in every facet of the game. Although he only scored three points, he has to be accounted for on every play, making it harder for the Grizzlies to double a player that's going off e.g. Stephenson or George. He pulled down seven rebounds and also blocked five shots. Five shots seems like a lot, but for Hibbert, that has become the norm. He disrupted shots all night long, and that really affected the psyche of Grizzlies players, making them more timid when driving to the rim.
Just from watching the game and before even looking at a box score that possesses all the glitzy, aforementioned stats, it was obvious that the Grizzlies were just outclassed tonight. That's fine. The Pacers are, after all, the league's only remaining undefeated team at 9-0. However, the Grizzlies being completely dominated hasn't been a rarity this season.
Through seven games of the 2013-14 season, the Grizzlies have fallen behind by 20+ points in four of those games. They lost all four of the aforementioned games and showed very little fight after falling behind by such a wide margin, only showing life in garbage time when the other team had the game well in hand. Bad losses are going to happen. That's just part of the circle of life in the grueling, unforgiving NBA. But four losses in seven games where the Grizzlies trailed by at least twenty in all four losses? Not to mention that two of these bad losses came at the hands of teams that many would place a class below this Memphis team. That screams a lack of effort, an abundance of botched execution, and misuse of personnel.
Right now, the Grizzlies are being smacked in the face by adversity, and they are backing down rather than typifying their mascot and clawing back. This is not the Grit 'N Grind team everybody in the Bluff City has grown to love and fear over the last couple of years. No, this team has a look of entitlement plastered across their collective face when they have not gained anybody's respect yet. This team expects to waltz out there and win games based on past achievements. Nothing is handed to you on a silver platter in the NBA. You have to fight for every inch, and right now other teams are just fighting harder than the Grizzlies. The good news is that a team this tough can't be expected to remain in this funk forever, but the longer it takes for them to wake up, the worse they are making things for themselves when the playoffs roll around. They don't want to finish game 82 and wonder why they have to go on the road in round one because they didn't secure a top four seed in the Western Conference. We all know this team is capable of such a feat. Now they just have to go out and get the job done.
The Grizzlies season is not over by any stretch. It would be foolish to write a team off with this much talent so early in the season, so do so at your own peril. This early in the season, it's not inconceivable that this team will turn things around in a big way. At least that's the hope.
It's human nature to panic, and many Grizzlies fans are doing just that. However, try your damnedest to refrain. This Grizzlies team hasn't shown it yet, but we all have seen the beast that lies within the burly, persistent Marc Gasol, the rough as hell Zach Randolph, the little engine that could in Mike Conley, and the embodiment of this entire team's persona in Tony Allen. They always do best when they are in a hole and nobody believes in them. You better believe those four are going to will this team out of their seemingly bottomless hole. Their season only depends on it.