Happy Thanksgiving, sports fans! Grizz appreciators have much to be thankful for right now. After a frustrating 4-5 start to their season, David Fizdale’s Memphis Grizzlies ride into Turkey Day with a 6-game winning streak, thanks to a bounce-back start from the man they call Big Spain and what looks like an All-Star leap for Mike Conley (though one could argue Kobe Bryant stole his spot in 2015).
A depleted Memphis Grizzlies squad (now 10-5) struggled against a much-improved-but-still-bad Philadelphia 76ers squad (now 4-11; still better than the 0-15 they were at this same point in the season last year), featuring old friend Jerryd Bayless, in the Wells Fargo Center. Memphis was again sans $94 million man Chandler Parsons, who is still out nursing a left knee bone bruise and is scheduled to be re-evaluated in two weeks (he has played just 126 total minutes in just 6 of 15 games so far).
They were also without starting 2-guard James Ennis for the first time. Ennis, too, will be out for at least two weeks with a calf strain. Back-up big Brandan Wright continues to recover from an arthroscopic ankle scope and is out for at least two months — he has played in just 12 official (i.e. non-preseason) games, including playoffs (out of a possible 101), since signing with Memphis in the summer of 2015. First-round rookie pick Wade Baldwin IV remained with the Iowa Energy, Memphis’s D-League affiliate, despite their two perimeter roster absences. Memphis had led by at least 20 in its last three straight games, all wins of course, they would never have anything approaching such a comfortable margin last night. They were out-rebounded, 56-46, by one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA to this point.
They looked their age in a lackluster first half (down 51-43), as the chippy younger Sixers played a ruthless full-court style, generating turnovers in the first half and raining in 3-pointers with aggressive passing. They gave up 12 second-chance scoring opportunities in the first half alone. They didn’t even log an offensive rebound until the second quarter (and boasted a scant 9 for the game). Both teams shot below 39% from the field.
But none of this mattered. Memphis won in double-overtime, 104-99. It was their 8th straight road victory over Philadelphia. A win is a win, even if it takes 58 minutes to achieve and it comes against a lottery-bound Sixers team. So who was ultimately responsible for this? And who didn’t help much? Let’s investigate.
Marc Gasol: A-
After a rough first half (Gasol was 2-of-8 from the field), and a tough start to the third quarter (logging two fouls and a turnover in the first 3:12), Big Spain went to work last night in Philly. It felt like things swung for the better with Playing 45 minutes, Gasol was 10-for-20 for the night (i.e. 8-for-12 after the first half), including 2-of-5 from deep, and scored 27 points (he also went 5-for-6 from the charity stripe) with 4 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks; his net plus-minus for the evening was a great +15.
Yes, Gasol had a fairly pedestrian 4 rebounds, an unfortunate 4 personal fouls and a totally awful 5 turnovers, but let’s look at the big picture. Gasol’s cover, Joel Embiid, was just 4-of-10 from the field, with 5 fouls, for an underwhelming (for him) sum of 12 points in 27 minutes. Gasol also shone late in the game, giving the Grizz his best stuff when they needed it most. That kind of stuff matters. It was cool to see him not give up on himself even after a disappointing start, playing through the bad shooting, the turnovers and the fouls to grit and grind his way to a thoroughly impressive night. La Tanqueta is back, baby!
Mike Conley: B+
Though Conley shot horribly from the field overall (7-for-20, although he was 3-for-7 from beyond the 3-point line), his leadership on the floor (not just demonstrated through his passing, but also through his savviness in both facets of the pick-and-roll, his frequent group huddles and just an abundance of pep in his step), his defensive awareness, and his aggressive parade to the free-throw line (where he was 8-of-10). In 45 minutes, Conley had a near-triple double, grabbing 25 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assistants, to go along with 2 steals, for a +11 on the night. He’s going to be an All-Star this season.
Assuming he stays healthy, of course: he was icing his right knee during some breaks. His awful shooting, coupled with some late-game situation turnovers (both at the end of regulation and the first over time) and a dumb foul in the first OT, keeps him squarely in B+ territory.
JaMychal Green: B
Green continues to remind us why he’s starting ahead of 2017 Sixth Man Of The Year Zach Randolph, who remains the pride of Memphis. He showed off his exciting pogo-stick athleticism several times, including excellent cutting dunk from within the paint in the first quarter. He posted his double-double of the season, scoring 10 points (on 4-of-6 shooting) and pulling down 11 boards, to go along with an assist and a block. Just to keep us on our tows, he also knocked down a 3.
On the other hand, Green was the third victim of Embiid’s cruel blocking last night, falling prey in the third quarter. His defense, too, was a bit erratic — he played a roving style, nominally covering Ersan Ilyasova but occasionally wandering too far into the paint, where he would pick up Embiid and Covington. Ilsayova had a great night, scoring 22 points (on 8-of-15 shooting) and pulling down 12 boards.
Tony Allen: C
Trick-or-Treat Tony... missed two layups in one sequence. Tricky. He only played 22 minutes and is clearly not 100% yet as he recovers from a groin injury (yeesh). Or maybe he’s just old. Fizdale did some defense-for-offense switching late into the game, so Allen was relied upon late to box dudes out when it counted. He’s obviously healthy enough to earn his coach’s trust, and that’s good news. But he’s not quite ready for that First Team All-Defense consideration yet this year.
Troy Daniels: C
Inserted into the starting line-up for Ennis, Troy Daniels scored his first two triples as a Memphis Grizzly tonight, shooting 2-of-5 overall from long range. Those were his only points of the evening, though, as he finished with just 2-of-7 field goals converted (28.6%) and no free-throws attempted over 23 minutes. The Grizzlies’ bench was insanely excited when he scored those buckets.
That should not happen to a guy who was brought aboard this summer with the expectation that he was an outside-shooting threat, and the fact that it did just goes to show how disappointing Daniels has been to this point overall. When it comes to advanced stats, Daniels had an underwhelming -6, 4 rebounds and just one assist in his first start for the Beale Street ballers.
Vince Carter: B-
Carter had a few nice moments early in the game, including a ruthless slam dunk sliding across the baseline in the first quarter, and a pretty 3-pointer in the second quarter. But his scoring touch cooled down considerably in the second half and overtime periods, as he wound up with just 7 points on 3-for-11 shooting. He played 38 minutes because he continues to be a crafty defender (he’s great at reading angles when it comes to moving defensive covers out of position for rebounds, though he himself just had 2 on the night, to go along with a block) and a big team leader (he’s proving to be one of the great Grizz bench yellers this season). He boasted a +7 plus-minus for the game.
Andrew Harrison: B
Though most of the slash line might not look pretty (7 points on 2-of-6 shooting, 1-of-4 from outside, 4 rebounds, 2 turnovers), Harrison played smart, capable defense, making the opposition pay whenever a Sixer got lackadaisical dribbling the rock, registering 4 steals (he also had a block). His pesky hands came in very handy for five personal fouls, more a sign of his aggression than one of dumb mental errors. That wingspan is finally paying off! Harrison’s 6 dimes also spoke to his developing handle. Overall, Harrison was +7 on the night (third-best on the team behind Gasol and Conley).
The Bass Pro Shop Trophy Game winner played 41 minutes on the floor (third-most on the team) because of his defense, and despite his sparse and ineffective shooting, he made an impact in a slog of a game. One of his biggest contributions to the team tonight, though, could have been an intangible — as the result of his smothering defense, he suffered a hard foul at the hands of Jerryd Bayless near the top of the fourth quarter. But he himself was whistled for a technical foul on that same play, and that may have been the spark that ignited the flame, galvanizing his teammates (particularly Marc Gasol, who had a triple and a sweet back-to-the-basket floater) to a 7-0 run and a 1-point deficit, 71-70, still early in the fourth.
Zach Randolph: B-
Despite being on a minutes restriction, rookie Sixers sensation Joel Embiid had Zach Randolph’s number a few times tonight, coming out of nowhere to record a ruthless block against the slow-as-molasses trajectory of Randolph down the lane in the first quarter, and working hard to push him out of the paint or keep him out of his preferred position whenever Embiid covered Randolph. Z-Bo handily put the hurt on last season’s #3 overall pick, Jahlil Okafor, though, at one point nabbing a hilariously easy steal in the second quarter.
Still, he struggled getting inside, which hurt his normal prowess. Randolph was just 5-of-14 from the field (although two of those field goals came in the second overtime, and thus are weighted heavier in his favor than they otherwise would be) and split his two free throw attempts for a total of 11 points, to go along with 6 rebounds, 2 blocks and a crucial late-game assist to Marc Gasol for a huge and-1 play with 2:53 left in the deciding second overtime to put the Grizzlies up by 5. Randolph was just a +1 on the night.
Jarrell Martin: C-
Martin, too, fell victim to Joel Embiid’s vicious block party tonight; now granted, Embiid only had three, not an insane sum, but they were vicious, demoralizing, Memphis momentum-stalling, crowd-rallying blocks. And his stuff of Martin was no exception. Martin had his chances early, getting the bulk of his 11 minutes in the first two quarters. He had 2 steals and a block, but was just 1-of-5 from the field for 2 points. But like Harrison and Green, Martin is in there for his athleticism and his length more than anything else, and he showed that in spades with his lone field goal of the game, a lofty dunk.
Martin is raw, and prone to mistakes. At the bottom of the third quarter, for instance, Martin stole an errant mid-air pass from a high-flying Jerryd Bayless, who was positioned beneath the basket. An awesome, athletic play, right? But then, invariably, he stepped out of bounds almost as soon as he recovered the rock, contributing a turnover to the Grizzlies’ 15. Martin was a -10 on the night.
Deyonta Davis: D-
I know what you’re thinking: did Deyonta play at all? Actually, yes, in the final second (well, 1.1 seconds if you want to get technical) of regulation, employed for his length to disrupt Dario Saric’s inbounds pass, which he did. Unfortunately, Davis was in a position to take away a pass to Stauskas at the top of the key, enabling a pocket of space for Saric had to inbound the bucket to Joel Embiid in the paint. Fortunately for all Memphis parties involved, Embiid caught the ball at an awkward angle, and Gasol was in his jersey enough to force Embiid into an overthrown miss.
So Davis doesn’t totally fail, since I’m grading on a curve weighted towards clutch importance, but considering the Grizzlies’ deficit on the boards tonight, they really could have used him for more than 1.1 seconds. Not sure what Davis did to piss off Fizdale into benching him for so much of the game, to the point where he has become such a situationally specific player, but it ain’t good.
Troy Williams: F
The rookie preseason darling has fallen out of head coach David Fizdale’s rotation, and didn’t log one second in a 58-minute contest.
David Fizdale: B
Fizdale elected to start Troy Daniels over Harrison, Carter and Williams, and while it may have been a boon for Daniels’s confidence in his 3-point shooting stroke, it’s clear that the hyper-athletic Harrison has by far the most upside. Daniels was probably a spacing decision, but, again, he had not made a single trey all season for the Grizzlies, and it’s almost December. Harrison or Carter should have started (yes, Carter was ice-cold after the first-half, but defenses will still respect the heck out of his shooting because of what he’s done the rest of this year). That being said, Fizdale was good at controlling the shot clock with clever time-out calls, sagely distributed minutes among his perimeter players, and was nice and chippy during that galvanizing Harrison-Bayless double-technical situation.
I’m also not the first GBB scribe to mention that I don’t love the minutes Fizdale plays his two stars, but really, those were the only two high-volume scorers who could get anything going. And it was a struggle even for those two.