Coming off of an emotional game in which a tremendous amount of energy was expended in the 26-point-come-from-behind-win on Thursday night against the Kings, the Memphis Grizzlies had to quickly regroup to take on the Detroit Pistons who were coming off of an overtime loss at Oklahoma City.
The Grizzlies came out looking far more energetic than they had in their previous game, grabbing a 25-16 first quarter lead behind a combined 15 points from Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
In the second quarter, Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger gave his starters a rest by playing his bench lineup which consisted of Beno Udrih, Kosta Koufos, Vince Carter, Jon Leuer, and Courtney Lee, who came off of the bench for the second straight game. Defensively, the Grizzlies struggled in the second quarter, surrendering 34 points to bring the halftime score to a 51-50 Grizzly lead.
Zach Randolph played the entire third quarter and scored just four points on eight shot attempts, but in true ZBo fashion, he grabbed ten rebounds, six offensively.
The third quarter was played at a pace to the liking of the Grizzlies. There were only 32 combined points scored by both teams, and Randolph and Gasol, again, dominated, combining for 10 points and 14 rebounds.
Taking a five point lead into the fourth quarter, the Grizzlies went with a mixture of starters and bench guys to begin the quarter. As time ticked down and the Grizzlies' lead hung around five points, Coach Joerger elected to go with a closing group of Mike Conley, Courtney Lee, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and a mixture of Tony Allen in defensive situations and Beno Udrih for offense.
"We hit free throws down the stretch," Tony Allen said after the game
in his bathrobe when asked how the team was able to get the win. "That was big."
The Grizzlies were able to hold of the Pistons by a final score of 95-88, improving their overall record to 9-1 and extending their win streak at the FedEx Forum to 19 games, which dates back to February.
Some general thoughts on the game and the season thus far:
Starting 5: For the second game in a row, Coach Joerger inserted Tayshaun Prince into the starting lineup and elected to bring Thursday night's hero, Courtney Lee, off of the bench. Coach Joerger, when I asked him about it in the post-game press conference said, "Tayshaun, analytically, before the last game was our best defender......He is our longest guy. He is one of our most, I think, athletic wings with his size at 6'9". It just gives us one look to start with against teams that play big threes like we have seen the last two nights. It may or may not continue."
I, for one, do not think this lineup will continue to start. It's really, really bad. Joerger is an incredibly smart guy. I mean, he will forget more about the game of basketball than anyone reading this, including me, will ever know. But Joerger did say post-game that it was more about who finished than who starts, but he recognized that everyone, generally speaking, wants to start.
It has become evident that the best lineup is Conley, Gasol, and Randolph with some wing combination of Carter, Lee, and Allen. While it may matter who closes more than who starts, it sure would be nice to get off to fast starts, and Tayshaun being in the starting lineup is not going to allow fast starts to happen very often - just look at Thursday's game.
Courtney Lee: Raise your hand if you saw this start to the season coming. If you have your hand up, you're lying. Even the most optimistic of people did not think that Courtney Lee was going to be playing at THIS high of a level.
The guy is shooting 63.6 percent from three while making just over two threes per game. And his per 36 minutes stats look like this: 16.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.5 steals.
Is it sustainable? Probably not. There will be something of a regression to the respective means, especially in the shooting percentages. But I do believe that Lee can continue to average double figures and continue to be an effective floor spacing scorer who plays above average defense.
I know Jordan Adams a comin' but just not right now, at least, not in place of Courtney Lee's minutes.
Two Point Guard Lineups: One thing that Joerger has continually talked about is the fact that he really likes two point guard lineups. He likes them so much that he even used a Beno Udrih/Mike Conley back-court in the closing minutes of Saturday night's game.
Let's face it: Mike Conley is really good playing off of the ball. His spot-up shooting and slashing abilities are too good not to be utilized properly. And with Nick Calathes just three games away from returning to action after serving a 20-game suspension, two point guard lineups should be expected even more often.
Nick Calathes: Speaking of Nick Calathes returning in just three games, one's mind cannot help but wonder what that will do to the rotation. It will, undoubtedly, cut into Beno Udrih's backup point guard minutes, but it will also take away wing minutes.
The rotation seems to be stabilizing just a bit, but the addition of Calathes - which will help the team immensely in the long run - may initially throw a wrench into things as the Grizzlies and Joerger get used having their playmaking point guard back. Calathes should help initiate the offense for the second unit, and he is a huge upgrade - like going from a Geo to a Lambo - defensively.
Quincy Pondexter: Ugh. I don't really even know where to start.
First of all, let me say this: Quincy is a good basketball player. His effort has been fantastic when he has played, but his offense has left a lot to be desired to say the least. He is forcing things offensively instead of simply picking his spots within the flow of the offense.
In the nine games in which he has played, Pondexter has had a positive +/- rating just twice. His per 36 minutes stats are the worst of his career, and his field goal percentage is currently at a career low by 15 percentage points.
Now, let's be fair. Quincy Pondexter is coming off of a major injury which caused him to miss 68 games last season. To expect him to be back at 100 percent after just ten games is simply irrational thinking. It takes time to regain not only your physical tools, such as shooting form, conditioning, etc., but it also will take a while for the mental aspect of basketball to be where it was before.
Pondexter has played a total of ten minutes over the last three games, and that includes a DNP (Did Not Play) - Coach's Decision against the Pistons. Pondexter did not speak to the media when asked to after the Lakers' game, and he quickly ducked out of the locker room after the Kings' game.
It is no secret that Pondexter and Joerger had a disagreement last season, and while it would be poor form to think there is some sort of underlying grudge being held from the incident, something seems to have gone awry the last three games. It could be something as simple as bad match-ups or poor performance or Pondexter having some sort of injury, but something is not right.
On a team that is constantly in need of shooting, defense, and athleticism on the wing, Pondexter, at his best checks all three of those boxes, and yet he cannot seem to find minutes.
Jon Leuer and Kosta Koufos: Patience is a virtue, and when it comes to back-up big men, Dave Joerger is virtuous. Jon Leuer, while still not shooting the ball as well as he has shown the ability to, is playing some good basketball. His defense, rebounding, and high energy have been really good so far this season. And over the last 4 games, Leuer has averaged 11.5 minutes per game and shot 8 of 12 (66.6 percent) from the field while grabbing 12 rebounds and only turning the ball over three time.
A 12 minute per game average for Jon Leuer seems about perfect going forward. In small doses, Leuer has proven to be effective.
As for Kosta Koufos, he has settled into the back center/third big man role nicely. Over the last three games, Koufos has scored 29 points, grabbed eight rebounds, blocked four shots, and shot 78.6 percent from the field while getting just over 16 minutes per game.
When things do not go well for a few games, just remember: it's an 82 game season.