In the closing minutes of the Memphis Grizzlies’ first game since their one-point victory over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, 108-107, their wily veteran savvy was no match for an epic fourth-quarter parade to the free throw line for the Milwaukee Bucks. They are now winless on the road and their record falls to 4-5, after getting thoroughly out-hustled by Jason Kidd’s 5-4 Bucks, 106-96.
Memphis trailed for most of the game, and even scrapped their way back to a respectable margin at the end, but were unable to close down the stretch when it counted. A lot of this can be attributed to Milwaukee’s relentless fast-break game, and their scoring touch in the post, where they had 50 points (18 of which came in the 4th quarter). Coach Kidd’s MO is long-limbed multi-positional monsters who can switch all over the floor (with the notable exception being Matthew Dellavedova, although even that heavily caffeinated Australian can play both guard positions). Milwaukee was very good (significantly better than Memphis) in scoring off forced turnovers, thanks in no small part to those fast legs and long arms. They converted 13 Grizzlies turnovers into 24 points (source: NBA.com).
Memphis’s 3-point shooting continues to be another big issue: they shot 12 more 3-point attempts than the Bucks on the night, but they made one fewer. The Grizzlies went 6-for-30 from deep against a much-more efficient 7-of-18 long-range shooting night for the Bucks (three of those shots came from recent swingman acquisition Tony Snell, who has been hot-and-cold since coming into the league as a Bull in 2013). For the game, the Bucks outpaced Memphis with 27 free throws made on 36 free throw attempts; Memphis, by contrast, made a higher percentage, but got to the charity stripe 15 times less (they went 20-for-21).
Memphis could only get into a rhythm if it was chipping away at a lead. They kicked things off with some bad three-point shooting, but stayed chippy and aggressive in their half-court sets, and that more or less set the tone for the game. Giannis Antetokoumpo was aggressive early on in finding his shot; gone are the days when all he could do was penetrate, he’s developed a scary jumper, which was on full display in the game’s early minutes. He also got it done on the other end, too. The 6’11” Antetokoumpo (with a much-lauded 7’3” wingspan) and the 6’11” starting center John Henson (with a 7’5” wingspan) used their length to dissuade Memphis from penetrating early on, nabbing four rebounds in the first six minutes of game action. On the other side, young bloods JaMychal Green and James Ennis contributed early, but would fade as the game went on. Memphis was down 24-19 by the end of the first quarter, then 44-39 in the second despite a nice little mini-run from Vince Carter, where he scored six angry points in just a few minutes. Milwaukee’s new starting two-guard Tony Snell made all three of his seven 3-point attempts in the first half.
After a rough first half for Memphis’s own Spanish mountain man (he made just two field goals), Marc Gasol started doing Marc Gasol things for the first nine minutes of the third quarter, thank goodness — turnaround hook shots, floaters, a three-pointer, aggressive rebounding — Zach Randolph and Vince Carter made some nice plays off the bench, and Mike Conley’s shots finally started going down.
It was Superhero Night at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, but all the late-game heroics rested squarely with the locals, specifically the Greek Freak in an aggressive procession to the free throw line (several of those looks courtesy of Vince Carter fouls). After the lead had been cut to just 99-96 thanks to a clutch Chandler Parsons 3-pointer with just 2:56 left in the proceedings, the Grizzlies would not score again, and Memphis would pull away thanks to a pair of Giannis Antetokoumpo made free throws (2-of-4 in the last stretch), and penetrating buckets from Greg Monroe and Antetokoumpo (plus a great block from the Greek Freak on Mike Conley to crush the Grizz’s dreams of any last-minute momentum).
A few other takeaways:
Maybe Vinsanity Really Is BACK
Vince Carter’s scoring total: 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, after scoring 20 points on Tuesday against Denver (that game, by the way, made him the oldest player ever to score 20 points off the bench). Despite posting a -7 plus-minus in the contest, Carter earned Bass Pro Shop’s Trophy Game with a terrific two-way performance. Man, the Grizzlies should always have three days off between games! The 39 year-old’s little tear peaked in the second quarter with a catch on the right wing; Vince Carter followed that up by pump-faking probable 2017 first-year All Star Giannis Antetokoumpo out of his sneakers, then bursting past him for a silky dunk. Next up on his immediate agenda? A little well-deserved chirping at old New Jersey Nets teammate Jason Kidd on the Bucks’ bench. You get it, VC.
How long can Vince Carter keep doing this? He is having, by far, his best season as a Grizzly. Right now, he’s averaging 9.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists, and shooting a terrific 46.3% from the field, and giving them some rugged defense across 27.2 minutes a night. That’s a big improvement from last year (itself an improvement from Carter’s first season with Memphis), where he averaged 38.8% from the field, 6.6 points, 2.4 boards and 0.9 dimes in just 16.8 minutes. If he can play like this all season, maybe this isn’t going to be his last year in the league after all? One of the big me-first superstars of the NBA’s post-Jordan wilderness years has mutated into a consummate teammate today, one of the NBA’s most entertaining role players. Love him.
Carter was not the only bench player putting in work for the Grizzlies: Zach Randolph, continuing his quest for that Sixth Man Of The Year hardware, had 12 points and 7 rebounds (and some surprisingly quick-footed defensive acuity in the paint, including 3 credited steals). Unfortunately, Milwaukee’s reserves had some efficient scoring nights of their own. Michael Beasley had his best game in a Bucks uniform to date, notching one point per each of his 19 minutes on the hardwood. Rookie second-rounder Malcolm Brogdan had a great night too, scoring 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including two made triples (only one Grizzly, Chandler Parsons, converted two shots beyond the arc, and it took Parsons twice as many attempts — six — to do that). Brogdan and Tony Snell appear to be Kidd’s preferred options for piecemeal Khris Middleton wing replacements (Middleton is out for at least six months with a ruptured left hamstring — I know he’s a Buck, but that sounds pretty grizzly). Memphis’s bench actually scored 37 points to 35 for Milwaukee’s reserves, but their starters (plus Z-Bo) couldn’t get the job done by game’s end. Memphis’s starters, though, had a miserable shooting night, making just 19 of 46 field goal attempts for the game (41%).
In other depressing Grizz bench news, it’s only game nine, but $10 million man Troy Daniels has now fallen completely out of David Fizdale’s wing rotation, supplanted by starting shooting guard James Ennis (on a similar deal, but for one fewer year) and bench off-guard Andrew Harrison (rookie minimum). And Tony Allen isn’t even playing right now!
The Greek Freak
Giannis Antetokoumpo is a tough cover. He goaded all comers (James Ennis, Marc Gasol — who fouled out at the end of the 4th, Vince Carter) into quick fouls with his octopus arms; the 6’11” mutant point forward had 27 points (on 9-of-13 shooting from the field and 9-of-13 shooting from the free throw line), 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 blocks (!) in 37 minutes. No other player in the game had more than 8 free throws.
The Grizzlies next face the Utah Jazz tomorrow in Salt Lake, the LA Clippers on Wednesday at the Staples Center, and the Dallas Mavericks Friday at American Airlines Center, before hosting the Minnesota Timberwolves at the FedEx Forum the very next night. When will the good vibes of the David Fizdale era start to wear off, if they haven’t already? What if Memphis is 5-8 this time next week? It’s all in play now.