Without Mike Conley, the Memphis Grizzlies were taking on a Los Angeles Lakers team that was still adjusting to having Kobe Bryant back. Things started off well enough, with Kobe missing a layup and turning the ball over twice in the game's opening possession. By the end of the game, however, things reached bad quickly.
The Grizzlies came out the gate slowly in the first quarter, and it was hardly a surprise. With Conley out, the starting lineup of Jerryd Bayless/Tony Allen/Tayshaun Prince/Zach Randolph/Kosta Koufos was pretty limited in what it could do on offense. Allen and Bayless found their way to the rim a couple of times while Koufos hit the offensive boards hard, but the Grizzlies offense had to throw the ball into Zach Randolph for post-ups and isolations all too often.
On the other end, the Lakers didn't struggle much at all. Pau Gasol had a good start, making shots over Zach Randolph in the post and scoring 8 points in the quarter. Kobe Bryant sank four field goals for 8 points himself. Nick Young checked in halfway into the first quareter and proceeded to score 9 points in 6 minutes on a pair of threes and an and-one layup. The Lakers shot 63.6% in the first and ended up with a 34-24 lead, which felt both pretty bad but not as bad as it could've been at the same time. Nick Calathes hitting a buzzer-beating three and an and-one layup (though he missed the free throw) in back-to-back possessions helped with that some.
The second quarter was more fun. Dave Joerger deployed an all-bench lineup, and they were energetic from the start. Ed Davis was active on the offensive glass and around the rim, ball movement was good, and the defense got the Lakers to miss enough shots for the Grizzlies to catch up. The Calathes/Miller/Leuer/Davis combination played almost the entire quarter alongside Jamaal Franklin and James Johnson, although Joerger put Z-Bo and TA in for the last minute and a half. That was around when guys were starting to fatigue and making mental mistakes like missing a defensive rotation or losing an open shooter, setting the Grizz back from the Lakers by a few points before the quarter ended.
Unfortunately, ugly basketball reared its head again in the third, this time for both teams. Neither team shot above 40% for the quarter, and both threw the ball away four times. Zach Randolph was the only player to score more than four pointers, scoring 8 on 10 shots and nabbing 8 rebounds for what was a very strong performance relative to pretty much everyone else on the court in the quarter. He looked determined in the post and gobbled up his share of second chance points, giving the Grizzlies the extra push they needed to tie the score with the fourth upcoming.
With the game down to 12 minutes, the Lakers kicked off the fourth with some strong offense while the Grizzlies didn't. Pau Gasol had a strong fourth quarter performance in the post. The Lakers had themselves a lead as high as 11 in the first five minutes before the Grizzlies finally got to chipping away at it. Guys started attacking the rim, with Bayless, Allen and Randolph all contributing in the final comeback push.
Unfortunately, the Grizzlies couldn't show up in the pivotal moments. Bayless and Davis blew a 2-on-1 that could've cut the lead to just one point with 4:30 left to go, and Pau Gasol hit an and-one hook shot on the next possession that halted the Grizzlies' momentum pretty quickly even though he missed the free throw. Luck wasn't in the Grizzlies' favor either, as a few possessions later, Kobe hit a buzzer-beating three despite a good challenge from Tony Allen. Mike Miller twisted his ankle and left the game shortly after, and by this point, the Grizzlies had pretty much had the fight beaten out of them. TA made a silly turnover with a minute left where he tried to save the ball when it was going out of bounds off a Laker shot and realized there was no need to save it after getting a hand on the ball. That effectively sealed the game.
So yeah, you could say that spirits are down right now. Sure, it's good that this game was so close without Mike Conley in the lineup. But at the same time, the losses are really piling up. That's four straight now, and the Grizzlies have lost six of their last seven. I can't remember the last time this team looked good for a full game, and it's clear they need something to change.
The pressing concern for the short term is Mike Miller's twisted ankle. An injury is the last thing the Grizzlies need right now with so many players already out, especially when Miller is such a valuable three-point shooting presence. This offense's spacing really might go to hell without him, Conley or no Conley.
If you want a positive more tangible than that second quarter stretch which feels so long ago already, it's that the Grizzlies consistently crushed it the offensive glass tonight. They won that battle by an extreme 18-4, with 6 by Randolph, 4 by Koufos and 3 by each of Davis and Allen. However, the Lakers are known to give up a lot of offensive rebounds and their best rebounder (Jordan Hill) sat through much of the game with foul trouble, so it's hard to boast of even that.
The Grizzlies get the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday and Mike Conley is questionable for that one (Miller's status is unknown). It's easy to say that it's still December 17th, but watching the games, things look pretty grim for the Grizz. Hopefully things will get better as guys start to get healthy (Marc Gasol got off his crutches today!), but we do need to see some immediate improvement too if the Grizzlies want to stay in the playoff race.
Wont need these anymore... pic.twitter.com/VaNBWlyB4G— Marc Gasol (@MarcGasol) December 18, 2013