The Grizzlies last win on opening night came so long ago that Michael Heisley had not even moved the team from Vancouver yet. A lot has changed for the franchise since then, but the unfortunate tradition of losing on opening night has not. The Grizzlies run continued against the Spurs in San Antonio, where they lost 101-94.
Despite what the final score would indicate, the Spurs were never really in danger of losing, and the Grizzlies struggled to find a rhythm on either end of the floor for much of the night. The Grizzlies starting five was Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol. After this exact lineup was repetitively exploited in the Western Conference Finals by this same Spurs team, one might think that Joerger would shy away from playing this group together more than any other lineup.
After a strong first quarter where the Grizzlies finished with a 20-18 lead, Memphis' fans began to chalk up the Grizzlies putrid preseason performance to just not caring. However, after the second quarter where Memphis scored just seven points, the team looked, again, every bit as disjointed as they did during the preseason.
The Grizzlies struggled to execute David Joerger's offense, particularly in the aforementioned second quarter. Memphis went on a severe scoreless drought that started with 1:23 left in the first quarter and stretched all the way to the 3:45 mark in the second quarter. Much of that can be attributed to the ball being glued to guys' hands, no movement off the ball, and no sets being run at all. It's tough to place the blame on Joerger for the team's offensive woes, given that it's first game at the helm that actually counts and that the Grizzlies couldn't sink any of the open shots they were able to create. Additionally, Joerger's offense is still very much a work in progress, and for all the speculation about what that is supposed to entail, it is still unknown exactly what the final product will look like.
At times, the Grizzlies offense looked no different than last year, as evidenced by the first half. Guys were standing around, and the team was not getting into its offense until really late in the shot clock, which is something Joerger has harped on. The second half was a different story. Joerger had the team ready, and they came out of the locker room oozing with energy that helped them eventually trim the Spurs' twenty-one point lead to just five midway through the fourth quarter. However, mistakes continued to riddle the Grizzlies late and ultimately kept them at arm's length long enough for San Antonio to close out the game. Given the flashes this offense showed in the second half, it will be interesting to see how Joerger has this offense performing after twenty games.
The high point of the night had to be the performance of Tony Allen. On top of his typically tireless defense, the Grindfather scored fifteen points on 6-8 from the field, and the two misses, not surprisingly, came on layups (one was air-balled). What's even more impressive is that Allen somehow made all three of his shots from beyond the arc, tying his total from the 2012-13 season. That's right, Allen has already made as many threes in one game as he did all last season. While that's nice, it isn't something Grizzlies fans can expect him to keep up. As a matter of fact, he might not hit another three for the rest of the year, but it was fun while it lasted.
On the other hand, the low point has to be Z-Bo's performance. The big fella scored just 2 points in 25:44 on 1-6 shooting. Yikes. To view that awful performance in the context of Randolph's career, check out this tweet by Peter Edmiston:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>Before tonight, Zach Randolph had never started a game and played at least 20 minutes while scoring fewer than 3 points.</p>— Peter Edmiston (@peteredmiston) <a href="https://twitter.com/peteredmiston/statuses/395746786234470400">October 31, 2013</a></blockquote>
<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
While Randolph's continuous decline is a huge concern, he shouldn't be counted out yet. The Spurs have had his number for quite some time. If he is still playing this bad after another five or ten games, then it might be time to panic.
Two guys that are set to be key bench players this year, Nick Calathes and Jon Leuer, didn't enter the game until the second quarter. Calathes' performance just reiterated what is already known. He's an exceptional passer, but he can't shoot. As for Leuer, he might never have a big night in the box score, but you can count on the fact that he will always have a great floor night, meaning he will always set good, hard screens, scrap for boards, and do all of the little things that don't show up in the next morning's paper.
Another new addition, Kosta Koufos, had a great game. He filled his role perfectly, spelling Marc Gasol enough so the Spaniard wasn't gassed at the end of the game and scoring enough to really help the second unit thrive.
Youngster Ed Davis is another guy that struggled on opening night. He was never able to establish himself in the flow of the game, and his brick hands didn't help that. At one point, he cut to the basket and received a perfect pass right on his hands that would have led to an easy bucket. Instead, Davis' brick hands let him down as they so frequently do, and the ball went careening out of bounds. If Davis' can't raise his level of play, Leuer will continue to take more of his minutes.
Also of note, Prince started hot in his first action of the season, including preseason. He scored seven of his nine total points in the first quarter, and then his performance tapered off from there. Prince's usefulness has certainly diminished as he's aged, but he can still help this team out in certain situations. If he can hit shots consistently like he did in the first quarter, Grizzlies fans will be a lot more receptive to keeping him around.
Other things of note include the Grizzlies help defense being absolutely terrible. That played a big part in tonight's loss. Nobody was talking, and the rotations were all off. That's a bit concerning, given that the defense has a lot of continuity since Joerger ran it last season as well, but give it time. A defensive-minded team like the Grizzlies won't be that bad every night.
All in all, opening night could have gone better. However, not many teams would walk into San Antonio on opening night and come away with a win. Between the coaching transition and figuring out how all the new pieces fit, it will take a little bit for the dust to settle. Hopefully when it does, this Grizzlies team will be the best one yet.