On a night where we leave our normal personalities behind and dress up as superheroes, the cast of Gilligan's Island, Garth, and whatever this was supposed to be, the Grizzlies donned the costume of an athletic, triple-digit scoring basketball club, capable of sinking threes at a rate above the league average. We also had first quarter Gasolean self-buttslaps, Clutch Conley, and what appears to be one of the most exciting benches in the league.
Memphis got off to a hot start, scoring 31 points in the first quarter. Off-ball movement was crisp, and the Grizzlies made some nice backdoor cuts for easy buckets early on. Tony Allen missed an uncontested alley oop layup just thirteen seconds into the game in an aggressive, early scoring attempt that reminded me of how the Spurs often find a quick and easy buckets off won tips. Conley got to the line early, notching the Grizzlies’ first points, and set a precedent for decisive slashes, drives, and backdowns that resulted in high-percentage shots and frequent free throws (where Memphis went 24 of 28 to Brooklyn’s 12 for 18).
The second quarter started with impressive bench play, fueled by excellent spacing and bounding attacks at the rim. Matt Barnes, JaMychel Green, and Beno Udrih mostly camped above the arc and allowed Jeff Green and Brandan Wright to run snappy, bouncy pick-and-rolls the likes of which I’ve never seen during my tenure as a Grizzlies fan. I visualize this lineup’s offensive strategy as: we’re going to put a big paint-sized trampolinie under the hoop, but only Jeff and Brandan get to play on it. Ok, maybe JaMychel occasionally gets to climb aboard for a sweet double-bounce backflip, but otherwise everyone stands on the perimeter and immediately shoots anything dished their way.
Speaking of JaMychel, how awesome has this dude been for an undrafted player with little NBA experience? His aggressive, hands-out defense on the perimeter wreaks a bit of Grindfatheresque havoc, yet he appears capable of defending the post and rebounding with the bigs. He takes decisive corner-threes and makes strong cuts to the rim, and generally injects life into our team on both ends of the court. He’s starting to look like the confident 3-and-D player we wanted from Quincy Pondexter, with all the violent athleticism Quincy wishes he had. In a bench that swapped Tony for Jeff, JaMychel supplies a much-needed hellish ferocity to compliment Barns’ toughness that helps cover up the holes left by Jeff and Beno. Also, to be fair, I think Jeff Green had a deflection somewhere in the second quarter (which is the Jeff Green defensive equivalent to Tony hitting a half-court shot).
Quick aside: Tony actually hit a pull-up jumper early in the first half, and the crowd went nuts. Please stop that, Grizzlies fans. The only thing worse than the fans cheering these shots are the fans who know better, but decide to let it happen anyway. The only thing uglier than any Tony jumper is Jeff Green’s perimeter defense; a Jehovah's witness upon which you may simply shut the door.
In the second half, the Nets played better and even cut it close in the fourth quarter, but the Grizzlies sustained their lead with shooting and strong bench play that spelled the starters enough for Mike Conley to take over the game down the stretch. Conley sank three of his four made threes in the second half, and the Grizzlies tallied nine three point makes overall (and at a rate of 39.1%). Even Beno went 2 for 3 from deep. That’s probably the best we can hope for on a team whose core structure makes it inherently difficult to set up shooters for success (something Commercial Appeal writer Chris Herrington has been hinting at for years). Despite these lovely threes, I was more impressed with the bench in the second half.
I loved watching the Barnes-Wright-Green² lineup crash the boards. There were stretches of time where it seemed like missed shots never hit the ground, between all the leaping rebounds, tips, and battings off the backboard. It was some truly unbelievable, jaw-dropping stuff, and I’m not used to it as a Grizzlies fan.
Another thing I’m not used to seeing? Jeff Green using his athleticism to get to the rim and the charity stripe. Green made five trips to the line and cashed in for a team-high eight free throws. That’s not exactly an eye-popping stat, but definitely a step in the right direction for a player whose athleticism we so desperately need. Again, Jeff and Wright had plenty of room to bounce around, and Beno had plenty of space to probe with good spacing. The bench unit settled into a nice offensive rhythm that nearly sealed the game before the starters came back in to close.
The starters almost threw the game away before Conley took matters into his own hands. Conley showed true grit as the game wound down, persisting despite throwing a couple daggers that the Nets caught and threw back. With just under three minutes left to play, Conley seemingly sealed the game with a three-point make out of a 20 second timeout only to have Joe Johnson answer on the other end. Conley responded by finally connecting on one of his patented floaters, but Thaddeus Young immediately answered with a floater of his own. Ultimately the Grizzlies clamped down in the final minute of play, and Conley kept everything under control to close out the game.
There are still deep, structural flaws with the Grizzlies’ ability to score. We haven’t resolved paint-clogging defensive schemes against the starters, and as Chris Herrington has hinted for years: simply "adding the right shooters" isn’t as elegant a solution as it sounds for a starting lineup that features two post-monsters and a wing who can’t shoot. We’ve yet to maximize the athleticism on our bench as well, and as Andrew Ford and Matt Hrdlicka have pointed out, we still lack a reliable ball-handler who can set up the offense off the bench, and that’s something we’re going to need in the playoffs. There’s a lot of work to be done and glaring problems that still haven’t been fixed, but at least we’re seeing a dynamism previously not afforded to these grit-and-grind Grizzlies.
Please let Marc Gasol hit running hook shots like he used to when he was fat.
Close whatever door opened whenever Matt Barnes launched a three in this game.