What a night it was for the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday.
There was no JaMychal Green. No Ben McLemore. They had a max contract player coming off the bench and dealing with getting booed by fans on his home floor the previous game. Even after a solid opening night victory, things felt far from settled for Memphis as the defending champion Golden State Warriors came to town for the season’s first weekend home game.
Then the game started. And the Grizzlies were once again impressive in a very good win, as their defense fed their offense and their execution on both ends of the court was efficient and focused.
Even without Mike Conley’s best game (more on that in a moment) Memphis found a way to beat the best team in basketball.
Here’s how they graded out.
Marc Gasol (34 points, 14 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal, 36 minutes) - A
The only reason it isn’t an A+ is the 7 turnovers that Marc committed, most of which came in a sometimes shaky first half for Big Spain. Otherwise, Gasol dominated the Warriors. He shot well (8-16 overall from the field, 2-4 from three) but even more impressive was his ability to get to the charity stripe and convert. 16-17 from the free throw line? Aggressive Marc is the best Marc. He also was very active defensively, helping to orchestrate a scheme that frustrated the Warriors all night long.
James Ennis III (13 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 25 minutes) - B+
You really can’t expect too much more from Ennis. A made three pointer would have been nice, but James was 6-6 from the field and showcased his athleticism, running in transition and finishing at the rim multiple times. His length and ability to switch/defend multiple positions makes him fit what head coach David Fizdale wants to do better than Chandler Parsons at this stage, and as long as he’s able to be efficient offensively, he will hold his own until players with more well-rounded offensive games enter the contest off the bench.
Jarell Martin (8 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 29 minutes) - C+
From a potential training camp casualty to an NBA starter. How the tables have turned in favor of Jarell Martin. He wasn’t a world beater, but he again showed an ability to defend the longer, more athletic bigs that he needs to compete with in order to stay a part of this rotation. He is very far outside of his ideal role right now, so expectations must be tempered. As long as he defends, rebounds, and helps execute offensive scheme through sound passing and solid screen setting, he’ll be fine.
Mike Conley (10 points, 7 assists, 2 rebounds, 32 minutes) - C
Mike shot 3-14 from the field, 1-6 from beyond the arc, and simply was not himself in this contest. Everyone has off nights. The reason he maintains an average grade is because the shots he did convert were key. He took over for a stretch of the game, being able to score over top of Draymond Green not once, but twice. Memphis needed a shot of energy, and even on a night where he wasn’t at the top of his game, Conley delivered. It was Gasol’s night to lead, but Mike found other ways to help the team at points.
Andrew Harrison (5 points, 15 minutes) - C-
Harrison had a rough night, and did not see a ton of time as Fizdale turned to his bench pieces, 3 of which played more minutes than him. While Harrison has a roster spot, he surely cannot feel comfortable in this rotation, especially as Wayne Selden Jr. and Ben McLemore come back into the picture over the next few weeks or so. Andy may be the odd man out...and it may happen sooner rather than later, depending on how Fizdale feels about the starts the starters get while he’s out there.
The Bench - A
Another night, another darn good performance from a reserve unit made up of players with something to prove. Chandler Parsons hit two three-pointers, Dillon Brooks continued to show poise and confidence beyond his years, and Mario Chalmers was a calming force who showed an ability to still get to the free throw line even with his injury. Tyreke Evans showed he could get to the rim with ease on his way to 12 points, which led the reserves, while Brandan Wright snagged four rebounds in just 11 minutes of play.
These bench players have the potential to really dominate opposing reserve players and build leads for the starters. As the roster gets healthier, this should only improve. The mix of veterans and youth, athleticism and skill, is really meshing better than most anyone could have hoped for this early in the season.
Coach Fizdale and His Staff - B+
Coach Fizdale faced an early test tonight and he almost aced it. When faced with playing the masters of the modern NBA’s pace and space system, a version of which Memphis is currently trying to implement, he decided not to go back to what the Grizzlies have done in the past. Memphis has beaten Golden State before, but mostly because of the tempo slowing and the Warriors simply being outphysicaled by the Grizzlies. The physicality was still there for Memphis, but the team stayed true to their new philosophy. There was no slowing down, or hopes to limit possessions for the Warriors. The Grizzlies did their thing, and at times out-Golden Stated Golden State.
It is a long season, and Golden State is still the class of the west. One game does not change that. But last night’s performance should have opened eyes to the fact that the Grizzlies are indeed very different from what they were in the Grit and Grind Era, and in ways possibly for the better. The demise of Memphis’ playoff streak may have been overexaggerated.
Still lots of basketball to be played. But two games in, the Grizzlies are showing buy-in and drive to perform. That should pay off in early wins like the one Memphis got Saturday night.