What a night in Memphis to not be a starter.
Coming into the contest, the Houston Rockets, who the Grizzlies beat earlier this week, were rolling again and had just defeated the Philadelphia 76ers and Charlotte Hornets before arriving at FedExForum to try to get revenge in Memphis. Even without Chris Paul the Rockets were still winning behind the efforts of their perennial NBA MVP candidate James Harden and their defending Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni.
Houston looked primed to even the season series with the Grizzlies. And any other night, when you hold Marc Gasol and Mike Conley to a combined 5-18 shooting and 14 points, you beat this Memphis team...usually by a lot. But last night was not just any other night. It was a night for those who have faced adversity the past several months to show they still could play and lead a team to victory. A night where boos became raucous cheers and injury concerns, even for just one night, slipped away.
It was a good night. Here’s how it graded out for the Grizzlies.
Mike Conley (8 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 4-10 shooting, plus/minus -9, 26 minutes): D+
Aside from a couple more timely makes from The Conductor, his slow start to the season continues. The resurgence of Tyreke Evans and Mario Chalmers (more on them shortly) allows for him to have games like this to an extent, but when your one of your two best players scores in single digits it usually results in a loss. The especially concerning this about this game was that he didn’t create enough for others, either. In his 10-point performance against Golden State earlier this season he had seven assists, making offense for his teammates. Three is not enough. The best part of the game for Mike was David Fizdale and his staff only playing him for 26 minutes.
The amazing performance of the bench aside, if Memphis hopes to sustain this start they need Conley to be better. A lot better.
Marc Gasol (6 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 blocks, 1-8 shooting, plus/minus +5, 32 minutes): C+
How does Marc Gasol almost make the honor roll for a game that he only makes one shot? He does what Mike did not do enough of in this contest- he made his impact in other ways. He distributed well, helped on the glass, and most importantly he led a Grizzlies defense that help the high-octane Houston offense to only 89 points. The four blocks only tell part of the story. He orchestrates the defense of Memphis masterfully, and the switch-heavy scheme now used by the Grizzlies allows for Gasol to be in better positions to help at the rim and around the ball.
Marc is averaging 1.8 blocks per game, the highest number since his 2011-2012 Defensive Player of the Year campaign. Houston shot 37.7% overall from the field. These two things are connected. Sure, Houston was on the second night of a back to back, but Memphis was playing their third game in four nights just like the Rockets. This is an excuse-free zone here: Memphis defended well, and Marc is the cornerstone of that.
Gasol’s shot wasn’t there, but the vast majority of his game was.
The Rest of the Starters- D+
Only James Ennis (32 minutes) played actual starters minutes, so we will lump the rest of this crew together for this game. Andrew Harrison and Jarell Martin are both over their heads as starters, and Harrison especially is struggling (he was an appalling -20 in just 14 minutes of play). He will almost surely be an odd-man out once Memphis is healthy. Martin is starting to be abused in the Grizzlies’ defensive switching schemes and is a fringe rotation player himself when JaMychal Green returns in a week or two.
Ennis was fine Saturday night, but his solid defense and rebounding isn’t enough here to save the grade when combined with the poor showings from Martin, and especially Harrison.
The Bench: A+∞
Yes, the bench for this game gets infinity A pluses. It can’t be overstated how important this group has been to the Grizzlies being the current best team in the NBA record-wise. Tyreke Evans is currently the third best player for Memphis, consistently doing what he was brought here to do - get buckets (he scored 14 points against Houston). He also is rebounding better than he has in his entire career (5.7 boards per game so far) and his seven rebounds tonight were very helpful, as were his four assists. Evans is showing that he is worth far more than his current contract...at least when healthy.
Mario Chalmers has 15 points on 6-10 shooting and 4 assists against the Rockets last night and continued the redemption tour vibe of the Grizzlies reserves in his own way. His numbers aren’t as impressive as Tyreke’s are overall, and while tonight his shot was on Chalmers is only shooting 32.6% overall for the season. Even though he isn’t shooting particular well to start the campaign, what is evident is his play both last night and overall is his command of the offense and confidence. He is a steadying force and helps lead the reserve unit in a way coach David Fizdale surely loves- with the swagger of a two-time NBA champion. That’s very valuable, and his +27 leading the Grizzlies on this night shows that. If only Rio could play Houston every night.
Then...there is Chandler Parsons.
24 points. Six made threes. 9-11 shooting overall. He didn’t do much else statistically, but on this night he didn’t need to. In this game he showed one of the things the Memphis Grizzlies saw when they offered him a max contract - the ability to get white hot and push a lead. Parsons has done this to the Grizzlies multiple times in the past, so it was great to see it happen to someone else.
While his other numbers don’t jump out at you, something that he is undeniably doing better than anyone could have hoped for right now is defending. His 102 defensive rating to this point is the best of his career, and yet again last night he showed activity on the defensive end he never would have been able to display last year. Deflecting balls, attacking passing lanes...Parsons’ defense is feeding his offense, and vice versa.
No disrespect to the rookie Dillon Brooks, who is eating the minutes Andrew Harrison can’t well, or Brandan Wright, whose 6 points and 4 rebounds in 12 minutes was a solid contribution. But this bench unit’s tremendous success to this point is due mostly to the work of Chalmers, Evans, and Parsons. These three are all comeback projects that last night and to this point this season are paying off for the Memphis Grizzlies, and if they can stay healthy and stay close to this level of play Memphis can beat anyone in the NBA.
For one night, at least, they, not Gasol or Conley, led the way.