Playing Without Any Urgency, the Memphis Grizzlies Fall to the Portland Trail Blazers

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Spo
Grizzlies 98 - Blazers 105

In the previous two games, the Grizzlies have had their way with the Blazers.    While visiting Portland back in January, the Grizzlies took the lead and never looked back.  They built a 24 pt lead in the 3rd quarter and never looked close to losing it for the rest of the game.  Two weeks ago in Memphis, the Grizzlies were just as good.  Despite the questionable foul calling (by Marc Davis’s crew) the Grizzlies looked completely in control.  For both games, the team’s all-stars showed up.  The difference in the game was the supporting cast, where the Grizzlies bench outscored the Blazers (25 to 6;30 to 22). 

So how did the Grizzlies do tonight? Not too fantastic.  Continuing the unfortunate trend of performing like a team not worried about making the playoffs, the Grizzlies fell behind early in the 2nd quarter and never recovered.

In Pete Pranica and Brevin Knight’s "Keys to the Game", they said that the Grizzlies would have to play every game like it was a playoff game, make sure they rebound, and get a big effort out of the Big 3.  For the first quarter, those keys seemed to be noticed.  Randolph started off hot hitting 4 of his first 5 shots, while Conley racked up 6 assists and recorded his 2nd dunk of the year off a fast break from a steal.  Those stats alone would have been impressive except that Lamarcus Aldridge matched ZBO shot for shot, and fresh out of hibernation from the first two games, Wesley Matthews scored 7 to lead the Blazers.  The only minor victory for the Grizzlies was that Damien Lillard finished the quarter with 0 pts and 0 assists.  The exciting back and forth quarter ended with the Grizz down 24 to 26.

Then things began to take a turn for the worse.  Maybe it was the time difference, but tonight the Grizzlies decided to start their 3rd quarter slump a quarter early.  Though they clearly had a size advantage, the Grizzlies could not make any easy buckets in the paint.   On the other end of the floor, the Blazers built their lead by driving through a porous Grizzly defense to do lay up drills.   The aggressive driving attack by the Blazers allowed them to start getting foul calls and get to the line.  Despite having zero free throws in the first quarter, the Grizzlies allowed the Blazers to attempt 14 free throws in the quarter, where they made 12.  With 4 minutes left in the quarter, Gasol had been removed for a smaller lineup, and the only positive offense set that the Grizzlies could muster was a desperation 3 by Conley .   With the added free throws and hot shooting by Mo Williams, the Blazers pushed the lead to 15 and ended the half up by 12 with a score 57 to 45.

The beginning of the 2nd half was more of the same from the 2nd quarter.  With the Grizzlies offense stuck in neutral, the Blazers and Aldridge continued to score at will.  The lack of defense pushed the deficit as high as 17, and the quarter ended with the Blazers up by 16.   The only Grizz highlight was a hustle play by Mike Miller blocking a Nicolas Batum breakaway layup.

Mo Williams started the 4th quarter with a 3pt shot, and Batum added an easy dunk to push the lead to 21.   The Grizzlies made a few mini runs that never gained much momentum until there was 5 minutes left in the game.  Things then got somewhat interesting as the Grizzlies bench went on a 7-0 run to get the lead down to 10.  Unfortunately the Grizzlies starters couldn’t capitalize on the minor shooting slump by the Blazers.  Missed 3’s and a big turnover by Conley sealed the loss and helped push the Grizzlies closer to missing out on the playoffs.

Player of the Game: Lamarcus Aldridge.  On his third game back from his back injury, Aldridge was unstoppable.  Randolph had one good defensive set against him but that was it.  Whatever shot he wanted, he got and usually made.  I thought Joerger should have tried Gasol on him for most of the game (since it seems like a waste defending Lopez), but Aldridge seemed to score even in those limited opportunities.

Golden Growl Towel for Grizz MVP:  Conley, Gasol, and Randolph all had decent numbers, but I’m giving it to Mike Miller.  To me, he was the only Grizzly that looked like he wanted to win.  His hustle on not giving up an easy 2 to Batum showed the effort I want to see out of all the Grizzlies.

Hating to state the obvious, but this loss was huge.  The players have to know that each game from this point forward is a playoff game, and the Grizzlies on this road trip are playing like they have early vacation plans.  If they do in fact miss the playoffs, you can use the excuse about the early season injuries and the adjustment period, but there are no excuses for how they are playing now.  Everyone is (relatively) healthy, and at this point in the season, there shouldn’t be any confusion of who this team is and how they are supposed to play.  There are no excuses for not rebounding and dominating in the paint.  There are no excuses for the missed free throws, and there are certainly no excuses for the lackluster defense of late.  There is no time for excuses.  Go out and do what you do.  Grit and Grind.

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