New Orleans 95, Memphis 89
A tired Grizzlies squad fell into their old habits in a 95-89 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. The loss moved the Grizzlies to 44-18 and allowed Houston to gain a game on the Grizzlies in the playoff race. The Pelicans have always given the Grizzlies problems, but this game was different. It magnified the Grizzlies' struggles more than any other loss they have suffered since the All-Star break.
The first half was the best basketball the Grizzlies have played in a while. We saw 18 point lead and a Zach Randolph dunk. Marc Gasol was doing his best impression of a 7-1 Magic Johnson. Mike Conley didn't look like he had just been hit by a car. Jeff Green finally - FINALLY - looked like he'd figured out his role, and he was playing hard. Everything was clicking just the way the Grizzlies needed it to.
The defense had avoided a big Anthony Davis half and was creating turnovers. The Pelicans guards only found themselves open for a few threes so they couldn't put a huge dent in the lead. It was the best half of basketball the Grizzlies had played since the All-Star break.
That all changed in the second half.
Memphis led at halftime, but completely fell apart in the second half. Everything completely slowed down on the offensive end while the defense was torn apart by Tyreke Evans and Anthony Davis. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol couldn't get it together on offense so the burden fell on Jeff Green and....well, you don't want the burden falling on Jeff Green.
The Grizzlies looked too tired, too slow to fight through the bouts of bad offense. The "Grit and Grind" style of basketball is taxing and it caught up to the Grizzlies. Playing 5 games in 7 nights is hard for any team, but when each game is down to the wire or pretty much a playoff game, everyone is going to be spent. And when the Grizzlies are spent, they fall back into their old habits.
A few days ago, before the Houston Rockets game, Coach Joerger was on the pregame show "Grizzlies Live!". He talked about how the Grizzlies had been moving too slow and not getting into their sets until there were 13 or 14 seconds left on the shot clock. It has become a problem since Zach Randolph's return from injury, but it worked because Gasol and Conley were playing so well right beside him. The team had the ability and stamina to power through the rough patches and win games before the All-Star break. The offense breaks down and they can't recover.
That's exactly what happened in the second half against the Pelicans. Instead of going with the faster offense that made them so successful before, the Grizzlies fell into their old ways. Zach Randolph was iso-ing against Anthony Davis. Yes, the same Anthony Davis that is the best shot blocker in the league while also being one of the most athletic power forwards. When the Grizzlies needed a bucket to stop a run they would give it to Randolph, but he was stifled by Davis.
Many Grizzly fans (myself included) have fallen to using Jeff Green as a scapegoat for the team's struggles. It's not right to blame the new guy just because he's new. Don't get it twisted: He's not playing well. He was 8-18 from the floor and had 4 turnovers against the Pelicans. It was great that he was being aggressive, but he was going towards a rim with Anthony Davis under it, so not a lot was working out for him. He wasn't the only one that didn't play well, though. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are not playing up to their usual standards.
Mike Conley is clearly playing hurt. He had 17 points and 3 assists, but it was a tough 17 points. Conley only took 2 shots at the rim, while also taking 6 three pointers. On defense, the Grizzlies couldn't use Conley at the point of attack. He was mostly guarding Quincy Pondexter in the corner. Near the end of the fourth quarter, he couldn't get a vital stop against Norris Cole. It's time for Conley to rest some or he isn't going to make it to the end of the season.
The aggressive Gasol that we have come to know has made fleeting appearances since the All-Star break. Gasol has always been intent on getting others involved, and he did. He had 5 assists in the first half against the Pelicans, but he took it to another level in the second half. He only had 7 shots throughout the game. That's only the second time this season he's played 30+ minutes and took less than 10 shots. The Grizzlies need aggressive Gasol back.
The solution to most of the Grizzlies' problems is rest. The schedule has been brutal since the All-Star break and they needed rest before then. Coach Joerger has to find games that Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Zach Randolph can take off that won't cost the Grizzlies in the win column. The players seem resistant to this idea, but it doesn't matter. They need it rest now more than ever.