|Final - 12.13.2013||1||2||3||4||Total|
|New Orleans Pelicans||26||29||27||22||104|
Grizzlies games recently seem to be plenty of good being undone by a brief stretch of very bad. Against the Oklahoma City Thunder, it was the 17-5 Thunder run in the last four minutes of the first half that ruined what otherwise would've been a reasonably close game, butterfly effect aside. Versus the Warriors on Saturday, the Grizzlies started 3-of-18 in the third quarter and that put them out of the running for the game. So on and so forth.
Well, it was the same thing last night against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Things were going along just fine in the first quarter. It was one of the better offensive showings for the Grizzlies all season in my own opinion. They came out of the gates on a 12-6 start before the first timeout, making six of their first seven field goals while rebounding their only miss for a second chance bucket. Players finished well at the rim, and getting those close shots (whether by dribble penetration or post up) was clearly a point of emphasis during the Grizzlies' hot start in which they led by as much as 10. For the quarter, they shot 16-of-25 (64.0%) with two threes and only one turnover to score 34 points.
On the other end, the Pelicans were shooting 50.0% themselves. After falling behind in momentum, they came back by making midrange shots and finishing well in transition. Granted, many of those looks were reasonably well-contested by the Grizzlies defense and midrange shots are the ones to give up if any at all. The victory here is just preventing Ryan Anderson from doing anything more than his 2-of-7 shooting line and 1-of-5 three-point performance.
The second quarter saw the subs for both teams come in. Ed Davis, Mike Miller and Tyreke Evans all played the entire quarter. For the Grizzlies, the Calathes-Bayless-Miller-Davis-Leuer saw 8:17 of continued use and held its ground for the most part. Both teams continued to shot the ball well, but play on both ends was noticeably sloppier.
The main event of importance in the second quarter came after the Pelicans timeout with 4:41 left in the half. In just a little over a minute and a half after that timeout, the Pelicans went on a spirited 10-2 run that cut the lead to just one. Anderson hit a short jumper and a three, Jrue Holiday hit a three and Tyreke Evans drew a shooting foul in transition while the entire team limited the Grizzlies to just one Ed Davis dunk. It forced the Grizzlies to call a timeout of their own with 3:06 left in the half.
While that run saw inspired play from the Pelicans that they built on and kept going for the rest of the game, what the Pelicans did in the rest of the half bothered me even more. That's when I saw the cracks in the ground. Of the eight points the Pelicans scored in the remainder of the first half, every single one was bred from the Pelicans getting into the paint and the Grizzlies realizing too late to stop it.
Ryan Anderson found himself with a transition layup after somehow getting by Mike Conley and Mike Miller backpedaling on defense. Eric Gordon had a reverse baseline layup that went unchallenged by a single Grizzlies big man on either side of the rim. Tyreke Evans drew a pair of shooting fouls on back-to-back possessions by driving off of the pick-and-roll and not really seeing much of an effort from any of the Grizzlies defenders in front of him before going up for the shot.
In an isolated three minute stretch, that's not so bad. The Grizzlies still came out of the first half with a 55-54 lead, so that wasn't too bad. They had a pair of bench bigs that played really well on offense. The obvious one is Jon Leuer (oh how far we've come, and there's going to be even more on him later) scored 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting, while Ed Davis scored 10 points of his own on 4-of-5 shooting and a pair of freebies in that second quarter he played all of.
It's fun to see those young bigs doing well, especially Davis with his rookie contract up after this season. On a related note, I now want to make a video compilation of Ed Davis' free throws to Danny Brown's "Dip".
When the second half started, however, things went straight downhill. The third quarter was last night's "brief stretch of very bad", and they were outscored 27-11 by the Pellies. On offense, they shot 4-of-20 and didn't even attempt a free throw until there was 2:57 left in the period. There's probably a direct correlation to that with Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince tying for the lead in field goals attempted by a Grizzly in that quarter with five each (Prince made two and TA just blew 'em all).
Put bluntly and without naming coach names, that's not going to work. We do have to credit the Pelicans for pressuring everybody not named Tayshaun Prince and Tony Allen, because they at least realized those guys can't shoot.
Defensively, the Pelicans went back to picking at the Grizzlies' inability to stop players from getting into the paint. Whether it was a straight-up dribble drive, the pick-and-roll (both ball-handler and roll man were problems consistently), the drive-and-kick to the open shooter after the help rotation was forced, or Ryan Anderson post fadeaways, none of it could be stopped by the Grizzlies. They were absolutely helpless.
The most noticeable problem is with the big men, and given that this is a frontline missing Marc Gasol, it's not surprising at all. Kosta Koufos is 7'0" tall and good at challenging shots in the post, while Ed Davis is bouncy under the rim. However, there were just too many instances where a help rotation was late or somebody was out of position. Z-Bo, Leuer and Davis are all a minus in those areas, and while Koufos isn't, he's not Marc Gasol.
Z-Bo and Leuer are constantly a step behind and leaving one side wide open against pick-and-rolls, while Davis lacks the foresight to know when he should time his rotation over to help. Koufos won't make up that difference like Gasol can.
But while the third quarter was hell, the fourth quarter was a bit more hopeful. The Grizzlies started off facing a 82-65 deficit, but the bench pulled them back into it. Jon Leuer, Jerryd Bayless and Mike Miller played all of the fourth (and right now Miler is probably dust) while Ed Davis played 8:01. In fact, the only starters to play in the fourth were Mike Conley (7:36) and Zach Randolph (3:59). On a night where Leuer and Davis both played extremely well, I can forgive the Koufos absence and I'll definitely celebrate the benching of an exploited Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince.
The key thing was having guys making outside shots. Leuer, Bayless and Miller combined for four triples in the quarter, which is basically the Grizzlies' per-game average for the season. It wasn't taking them much to get open, either. Simple pick-and-pop plays, cuts, or pindown screens were doing the trick. It was good and enjoyable Grizzlies basketball again, until they ran out of time to complete the comeback. They did manage to cut the deficit to five points, which is a minor victory in itself.
And, let's talk about Jon Leuer! A major driving force behind the fourth quarter near-comeback, he scored 19 points on 8-10 shooting (with 8 rebounds for good measure) last night to tie his second-highest scoring total in the NBA. His production has been improving rapidly, and things hit a new high for him against the Pelicans.
Like usual, they were almost all catch-and-shoot jumpers in various pick/screen-and-pop or spot-up situations. Leuer also had a dunk in the first quarter after driving on the catch and losing his unsuspecting defender behind, which is maybe the first move you want to teach a catch-and-shoot guy with limited handling skills (Leuer) how to use.
Sure, his defense was flawed tonight and hopes aren't high for him on that end, but Leuer getting better and better is an unequivocally good thing. Having a stretch big like him off of the bench (he's less inclined to post up or isolate than Z-Bo) is a fun fit with the roster, and it subtracts some of the impact from the Quincy Pondexter injury. For those of you interested in trades, Leuer's development might make Ed Davis all that more expendable. For those of you interested in Instagram, he's got that on lock too. JONNY LEUER, Y'ALL.
In the end, the final game score of 104-98 really doesn't speak to how things could've ended had it not been for that fourth quarter burst. The third quarter was bad on both ends, and you could pin guilt on just anybody from player to coach. More work will have to be done for this team to beat out its competition and make the playoffs, something fans are already worrying about.
But the rest of the game, specifically the first and the fourth quarter, showed us a glimpse of exciting Grizzlies basketball that one would imagine would be plenty successful if we could sustain it and work out the remaining flaws. Jon Leuer had a great night, and I'm sure even more are on the way.
The Grizzlies have got plenty of good things going for them. They just need to sustain them for four quarters.
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