The Memphis Grizzlies fan base has dealt with them enough over the past couple of years, but the pain will have to rage on (literally).
Tonight, the Grizzlies played their first game in the wake of the heartbreaking news about Mike Conley’s back injury, and there were some positives and negatives.
The nine men who took the floor for the Grizz tonight fought their hearts out, and some had some really good performances. But deficiencies in depth and on the defensive end killed Memphis against a team that might be more talented than them, even when at full strength.
The Toronto Raptors exploded on their home floor and wore down Memphis in the second half to capture a 120-105 victory, improving their record to 12-6. The Grizzlies fell to 11-8.
It wasn’t as bad as the score looks...
Given the circumstances, the Grizzlies did fairly well.
The name that stood out the most for Memphis was Andrew Harrison. Harrison, who had firmly entrenched himself as Conley’s backup, stepped into the starting lineup and had a good game against a good defensive point guard in Kyle Lowry.
Harrison tallied 21 points, on 7-of-12 shooting, 4 assists, and 3 steals. He also drained 4-of-5 attempts from three-point range. Harrison was one of six Grizzlies who scored in double figures.
The second leading scorer also comes as a surprise. Troy Daniels lit it up for 19 points off of the bench, his best outing of the year. In 21 minutes, he shot 6-of-12 from the floor, including 4-of-8 from three, and provided crucial floor spacing.
The Grizzlies still have their typical starters at the 4 and 5 (for now), and they both registered solid games. Marc Gasol had 18 points, 8 boards, and 3 assists in a textbook game for one of the league’s best centers. JaMychal Green scored 16 points of his own and also added 5 steals on the defensive end.
Troy Williams and Tony Allen were the final two Grizzlies in double figures, scoring 10 and 12 points, respectively.
The Memphis offense looked solid for the most part. They shot 40% from three and 44% overall. Putting up 105 points with this many guys out is a nice feat, and perhaps this new starting unit can develop more chemistry together with time, but hopefully not too much time.
...But there were still some very bad things.
The Grizzly defense was absolutely atrocious in this game, especially in the second half.
The Raptors shot 55% from the floor and 50% from deep in this game. Also, both members of their All-Star backcourt erupted.
Lowry and DeMar Derozan were both terrific. Lowry scored 29 points, on 8-of-13 shooting, and dished out 8 assists. Harrison played well on offense, but he no answer for Lowry on the other end. Derozan had one of his most efficient games of the year. He scored 24 points, while taking only 9 shots, while also grabbing 9 rebounds and tallying 6 assists.
The Raptors are most dangerous when their supporting cast heats up, though. And many of them looked great against the turn-style defense that the Grizz played in this game.
Along with their stars exploding, DeMarre Carroll had 17 points, Patrick Patterson had a big double-double (14 points and 13 boards), and Cory Joseph was also great off of the bench (16 points, 8 boards, 3 assists).
That is due, largely, in part to the thin Grizzlies bench being so over matched. Daniels scored well, but Wade Baldwin, Deyonta Davis, and Jarell Martin all looked flustered in their minutes as the second unit.
These problems are not indicative of the full roster that is assembled in Memphis, but it is the roster that they have to deal with for now. The defense must improve and the young guys off the bench have to step up in order to keep the ship afloat.
Memphis needs a shot in the arm.
But with Conley, James Ennis, Chandler Parsons, Brandan Wright, and Vince Carter all injured, that is going to be hard to find. Zach Randolph is also out in the wake of his mother’s death.
The guys that played showed some promising signs against a good team on the road, but improvements are necessary if they want to win until the cavalry arrives.
Memphis needs better defense from Harrison at the point, something that Conley always provides. They also need much better minutes from their bench if they ant to avoid disaster.
Maybe the Grizzlies just caught a red-hot team in this game, which is possible seeing how well they shot the ball, and this level of play may be good enough to win some games until help returns.
But the team must strive for better, and coach David Fizdale has a big job on his hands to keep his team chugging along through this adversity.
And that is what the Grizzlies have always done. Grit-N-Grind. It’s time to dig in and do that right now.