The entirety of the Grizzlies basketball season thus far was summed up in their performance Friday night in Denver as they fell 111-108. They were shorthanded, the rotations were questionable at best, they had no backup point guard, they couldn't get stops when it mattered most, and they refused to play 48 minutes of basketball. Despite 48 combined points from Zach Randolph (25 points, 13 rebounds, 2 assists) and Mike Conley (23 points, 8 assists, 4 steals) Memphis couldn't pull out a win in the Mile High. It truly was marvelous how well this game highlighted all the problems the Grizzlies have had this season.
Short-handed: The injuries that this team has had to endure so far have been well documented, and it is without question that the injuries and the reduced number of warm bodies on this squad have played a large role in the Grizzlies supremely disappointing record to this point in the season. Friday night, Memphis again sorely missed the presence of reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol as Timofey Mosgov dominated the smaller, weaker, less Spanish bigs the Grizzlies put on them, but they had no one to turn to when they needed stops the most. Jamaal Franklin and Seth Curry each got DNP-CD's tonight, and while it isn't their fault they are young and inexperienced, something they'll always be if they never play, if Quincy Pondexter wasn't down for the year, the lack of quality players wouldn't have been as tough to deal with.
Questionable Rotations: Throughout the season, Dave Joerger has been widely criticized for his terrible wardrobe, and some other things he does while actually coaching. One of the main knocks on Joerger is that he rides his bench too long, and runs out some of the weirdest, least productive lineups imaginable. Tonight, it appeared as if James Johnson, the Grizzlies largest spark of energy, was benched for throwing down a wide-open windmill dunk. It also appeared as if Jerryd Bayless was held out of the second half. Even if those two have different and logical explainations (Johnson was subbed for a shooter, JB was injured) it still doesn't explain why Nick Calathes, a guy who has received a DNP-CD in each of the last two games, and a total of 2:42 worth of playing time since December 18th, was sent into the game when the Grizzlies were at the apex of their run in the third quarter. Nick entered the game with a 3-point Memphis lead, and by the time he left, Nate Robinson had caught fire and the Grizzlies were down 7.
I understand giving Mike a breather, he has to have them, and playing as hard as he was in Denver had to be a daunting task, but Joerger should have been checked for a massive head injury for allowing Calathes to start the fourth quarter after his piss-poor performance in the final three minutes of the third. I don't think you can ever really pin a loss on one player in basketball, but this might be as close as you can come to doing so. Nick Calathes single-handedly killed the Grizzlies run while also allowing a guy who hadn't scored in three nights to get going to help spark the Nuggets en-route to a 34-point quarter. Yikes.
No Back-Up Point Guard: I hate to just run a train on Calathes here, but Nate Robinson, Randy Foye and the rest of the Nuggets did, so we might as well. This has been a spot that has plagued the Grizzlies since the Vasquez/Pondexter swap. No one on the team is upset with having Pondexter, but the inability for Mike Conley to get quality rest on a nightly basis is devastating. Whether it be Jerryd Bayless attempting to play hero ball with foot-on-the-line twos or shot clock violations or Nick Calathes giving everyone watching him attempt to run an offense an ulcer, the Grizzlies simply have no clear answer for this conundrum. The two back-up point guards combined for 16 minutes of game play, 2 points on 0-5 shooting, and 3 assists.
Inability to Get Stops: It obviously hurts not having Marc Gasol on the court, but basketball is a team sport, and the Memphis Grizzlies of last year played team defense. Stingy, suffocating defense. Last year, if the Grizzlies needed a few stops at the end of the game to win, I'd double down in a heartbeat, because the way they played inspired confidence in me to do so. This year, relying on a Grizzlies stop is about the same as a guaranteed loss. Aside from the third quarter, the Grizzlies surrendered an average of 30 points per quarter tonight.
You won't beat anyone in the NBA playing that poorly on defense. Tony Allen has spent the majority of the season struggling to turn the knob on the faucet, much less shut anyone's water off. I tweeted tonight, and I stand by it, that I would hold my tongue for the rest of my life about the Grizzlies offensive deficiencies and their lack of shooting if someone would just return their world-class defense. I'd much rather lose a game because a shot didn't go in than because we gave up nine points on four straight possessions to end the game.
Not Playing 48 Minutes: Tonight was a winnable game, make no mistake about it. This one was up for grabs; the Grizzlies simply couldn't secure it. That tends to happen when you get outscored in every quarter but one, and spend the entire night playing from behind. I have very little doubt the guys were gassed tonight, and there was really no evident apathy on anyone's part, but you can't expect to win games when you play grade school defense for three quarters.
This wasn't the ugliest loss of the season, and the Grizzlies fought hard, as hard as you can ask playing in Denver on the second night of a back to back, but boy was it frustrating. Tonight quite simply was not their night. They'll need to shake this one from their minds with great swiftness, as a physical Pistons team will be waiting for them Sunday afternoon in Detroit. If you're looking for positives, Zach Randolph abused any and everyone the Nuggets through at him, Mike Conley looks to be rounding back into form after his leg injury, and Tayshaun Prince, playing the most minutes he has since the signing of James Johnson, responded with arguably his best offensive game of the season. Let's hope they continue to see more of this going forward, as they are still at least two weeks away from having Marc Gasol back on the court.
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