Well, I'm sure you heard the news by now. Marc Gasol is out indefinitely due to an abdominal tear he re-aggravated against the New Orleans
No one knows how long he's going to be out. Indefinitely could mean he misses the rest of the regular season, a week, or just last night's game. For some perspective, Chris Bosh's abdominal strain caused him to miss two weeks in the playoffs last season.
But in the thick of the playoff race, there isn't time for excuses. Despite missing their best defensive player and best playmaker, this team can adjust on the fly. Last night's game against the Boston Celtics was proof of that. Instead of the "in the mud" approach, they changed the way they play. It was quite simple: They ran.
This is a slow team. Instead of running they beat teams up down low. Since the Rudy Gay trade the Grizzlies have the slowest pace (90.57) in the league and are 20th in fast break points per game (11.8). The offense that Hollins runs doesn't require speed; moreso the playmaking of Marc Gasol in the high-low. But for now, that's gone, and now this team has to run and keep the tempo up.
Last night against the Celtics, the Griz played with a relatively high pace of 95.44 according to NBA.com/stats, which is comparable to the Atlanta Hawks and San Antonio Spurs. Granted it was a Celtics team playing on the second night of a back to back after a loss to the Dallas Mavericks, but this team adjusted well without Wendigo.
With Zach Randolph not starting to do alarm clock issues, the Ed Davis/Darrell Arthur lineup allowed the Grizzlies to play at a high speed. That speed also increased once Jerryd Bayless entered the game. They won't be able to rely on Bayless scoring 30 points a game, but lately he's been the money man off the bench scoring 20.2 points on 54.4 percent in his last five contest. Once they get the offensive rebounds, instead of waiting for each big to get down the floor they'll have to force the issue with either Mike Conley or Jerryd leading the break.
Another way to take a small advantage is the small-ball lineup. Several times Hollins played with a big and Tayshaun Prince together in the front court. In seven minutes the Prince-Randolph-Bayless-Conley-Allen lineup posted a net rating of +23.3. That's a small sample size, but something that could be a trend going forward. To start the second half Hollins went with the normal starting lineup to match up with Boston's small ball. And with the league mostly trending that way, it'll come in handy now and in the future.
Prince is built perfectly to play the new stretch four position that's taking the league by storm. He can defend small or power forwards, can create from the perimeter and can create with his back to the basket. He isn't the passer that Gasol was in the post, but the idea here isn't to recreate everything that Gasol was doing. If that was the case the team wouldn't have to adjust. The team also isn't losing anything by playing small. Tony Allen's an all-class defender meaning whether it's a guard or a small forward, he's completely capable of defending them. He helped blanket Paul Pierce in the 2nd half. He's proven his like against the likes of Kevin Durant. And Bayless, despite lacking height, has the strength to go toe-to-toe with shooting guards. And if he's struggling Quincy Pondexter has the size to defend opposing two's.
But now comes the question of how do you replace Gasol's efforts on defense. And this is where I swallow some pride. Unless Hollins is going to go with the small-ball lineup I mentioned previously and simply rely on offense instead of defense, he's going to have to start Ed Davis.
If you follow me on twitter you'll know that I haven't been as impressed with Boss Davis as everyone else has. He often looks lost on offense, is far too small to defend centers, gets bullied on the boards and is a terrible free throw shooter. While most of basketball twitter raves about him, I just haven't been impressed with his play during his tenure with the Griz. And yet at 6'10, he's what the Grizzlies need in order to maintain some of the dignity when it comes to their defense. There won't be problems on the perimeter; there isn't a better defensive trio at the 1-2-3 positions than Conley-Tony Allen-Tayshaun Prince. But the lack of someone in the paint to contest shots causes those three to have to over-compensate on defense.
Davis displayed why he'll be key until Gasol returns and may set up the bench rotation from then on until the playoffs. Despite his weight, his height and athleticism will be key. In 18 minutes of play, Davis collected 5 blocks. All but one of his blocks were due to great help defense. He isn't likely to block every shot that comes his way, but if you play hoops you know that when there's a shot-blocking presence on the court it changes the way you attack the paint. Some players become passive while some hoist up erratic shots. Of course there becomes the problem of Ed Davis averaging 4.9 fouls per-36 minutes. Also whether Hollins will give him the burn he deserves.
But this teams needs someone that can defend. Even if Jerryd scores 20 a night, this team isn't built to outscore opponents every night. They struggled to defeat a broken down Celtics team, so there will be gleaming problems. The next 5 games on the schedule stand as @ Washington, @ New York, vs Houston, @ Minnesota and an important division game vs San Antonio. Being the 5th seeded team (.5 games behind LAC, 1 game behind DEN), Lionel's adjustments on the fly will be extremely crucial if they want home-court advantage going into the playoffs. If this was the Lionel Hollins from last season or during the December-January stretch of the season, I'd lose all faith in his ability to coach on the fly, but lately he's shown why he's a top coach in the season.