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Why the Grizzlies struggle after halftime

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You don’t know the half of it.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

At halftime of the Memphis Grizzlies’ latest game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the good guys were up double-digits on Russell Westbrook and company 57-46.

The Grizzlies somehow lost that game.

The contest before that one, Memphis was up on the Toronto Raptors 62-57 at the half. Toronto went on to outscore the Grizzlies by 14 in the second half and win that game 116-107.

Up and down the Grizzlies schedule, you see multiple examples of these types of situations: Memphis either being up, or being tied, with an opponent at the half and going on to lose those games. When you’re as bad as the Memphis Grizzlies at this stage of the season, you expect the team to lose when they’re down at the intermission, and they have done just that - Memphis is 2-10 in those situations.

But when the Grizzlies are tied, or winning, at halftime? Their record is 6-8, 6-5 when they are winning and 0-3 when they are tied. This seems improbable...and it is. According to a numbers crunch of the 2014-2015 season by the website nbaminer.com, when a team was leading at the end of the 2nd quarter they went on to win the game 67.56% of the time, and depending on the size of the lead the likelihood of a win went up (obviously).

nbaminer.com

Those percentages may rise or fall a point or two, depending on the year, but overall the games themselves are a large enough sample to conclude that these results are somewhat consistent. Memphis, in their 5 losses when leading at the half, was up by 6 (Charlotte), 5 (@ Milwaukee), 17 (Dallas, the Harrison Barnes miracle shot that may wind up being the breaking point for Memphis this season), 5 (Toronto), and 11 (Oklahoma City). In 3 of those 5 games, using this one season (small sample size, of course, compared to multiple other seasons) as a measuring stick, Memphis has defeated the odds in impressive fashion.

And that especially holds true considering that among those 5 losses, 4 of them came at home. This is even more impressive, according to the nbaminer.com case study-

nbaminer.com

As the NBA has changed the past few seasons, these numbers obviously can ebb and flow from year to year. But still, over the course of one NBA season a team winning by any margin after the first half won 70% of the time at home. Memphis is not near that high, and has yet to win a game where the score was tied at the half this season. And of the three ties that became losses? Two of those were at home as well.

What gives? In some cases it’s easy to look and see the issue - for example, when your best player, Marc Gasol, shoots 9% worse in the 2nd half of games than in the 1st, that’s a problem. When key players like JaMychal Green shoot 27.3% from the floor over the course of the last three games, that’s a problem.

They aren’t struggling alone, though. It isn’t all their fault. What makes the Memphis Grizzlies so bad in the second half of games?

Let’s take a closer look.

You can’t do it all by yourself.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Tyreke Evans is a remarkable player for these Grizzlies, and among all those on this roster he is probably the one who should shoulder the least amount of blame for the struggles of this team. But his game is a good example of what no one on this team, aside from him, can do consistently right now- score without having help from a teammate making a great play or pass. One of the largest disparities in stats between the first and second halves of games for Memphis is their assist numbers. In the first halves of games, the Grizzlies are averaging 12.2 assists on 19.8 made baskets, meaning 61.9% of the converted field goals for Memphis were off of helpers.

In the second half? 8.8 assists on 15.9 made shots, or 55.3%. Of course, fewer made shots means fewer points (#analysis), and that is explained by the Grizzlies playing a far slower pace in the second half (93.2) than the first (98.6). The 3.4 drop off in assists is concerning, though, as is the assist percentage drop and the steady decline in assist to turnover ratio over four quarters-

  • 1st Quarter- 2.07 Assist to Turnover
  • 2nd Quarter- 1.49 Assist to Turnover
  • 3rd Quarter- 1.29 Assist to Turnover
  • 4th Quarter- 1.13 Assist to Turnover

It points to a larger problem in terms of the types of shots the Grizzlies are getting in the second half of games. On average Memphis takes three less shots in the second half, but one more three point shot. The idea that they are “settling” offensively is backed up by these numbers, as well as the eye test...and these shot charts.

Shot Chart for 1st Halves of Games This Season
nba.com/stats
Shot Chart for Second Halves of Games This Season
nba.com/stats

Opposing teams deserve credit for adjusting to Memphis and defending better in the 2nd half of games. The main things that stand out from these charts from a Grizzlies perspective are that...

  1. Memphis has shot 54 less attempts at or around the rim in the second half than in the first, and is shooting 7% worse in those attempts from half to half.
  2. The Grizzlies have attempted 334 threes in the first halves of games, and 363 threes in the second halves.
  3. Memphis has taken 75 corner threes in the first half of games, and 59 in the second half.

What does all that mean?

The Grizzlies offense is struggling. We already knew that, and the numbers back up what we see on a game to game basis. Memphis shoots 47.6% from the field and 37% from three in the first half of games, but 41.7% overall and 31.9% from three in the second half.

The key is that even with the slower pace explaining the fewer attempts to an extent, they aren’t doing themselves any favors by going away from the two most efficient shots the NBA has to offer, aside from free throws, which they actually attempt more of in the second half of games than the first but convert at a lower percentage than the first half. Those are the corner three and the lay-up, lay-in, or dunk in the paint. For every three at or above the break, or every mid-range shot, there is probably a lack of motion, movement, or attention to detail from the offense that resulted in a poor choice that had to be made.

It starts with the assist. Ball movement is the friend of these Grizzlies, and it has to be considering the fact that Tyreke Evans is the only player who can create his own shot consistently. The ball moves faster than the defense more often than not, and with off-ball slashing and better passing the Grizzlies can get the space that Tyreke can get off the dribble on his own. Even Evans has been better assisting of late as he has taken on the point guard role more, so the rest of the team has to follow his lead and work to find each other for a full 48 minutes.

Slow and steady is helping lose games

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

We mentioned earlier the fact that the Grizzlies play at a slower pace in the second half of games than they do in the first. This is a problem, for a variety of reasons. First, when you are down at the half, as Memphis has been 12 times so far this season, it stands to reason that more possessions would mean more opportunities for a struggling offense to score, right?

Absolutely. And this, more than poor defense, is hurting the Grizzlies in the 2nd half of games in particular. Memphis has a 101.5 defensive rating in 2nd halves this season so far and a 108.8 rating in 1st halves- yes, that is true. The offensive rating is a dumpster fire in the 2nd half (97.5 in 2nd to 106.8 in 1st), due partly to what was discussed earlier and partly due to who is taking the shots- more on that in a minute.

But the rate of play hurts Memphis in the 2nd half of games because it means they have less opportunities in transition to score, which is where players like James Ennis III (who leads Memphis in offensive rating among players who have played at least 400 minutes) thrive. Yet Ennis is one of the lowest in overall pace on the roster- 94.93, roughly the same as Marc Gasol.

Memphis isn’t effectively turning strong defense in to offense often enough. Allowing Ennis to run with players like Deyonta Davis, Dillon Brooks, Andrew Harrison, and Evans would both make more attempts at the rim possible while creating shots for players like Marc Gasol or Chandler Parsons (who plays at the fastest pace among key players at 98.12) as trailers behind the play to get open shots.

Pick up the pace, get easier attempts. Makes sense.


There are some things beyond the control of the Grizzlies. For example, playing Chandler Parsons more - the Grizzlies have a +6.8 net rating when Parsons is on the court and a -8 rating when he is off, easily the largest difference on the roster- probably isn’t possible at the moment considering concerns with his knees. Better health overall would solve 2nd half issues in some ways as well with more minutes for players like Mike Conley and less playing time for guys like Mario Chalmers.

If only it were that simple.

J.B. Bickerstaff and his staff have to get their players to commit to the idea that this team must get better shots for one another and use their strong 2nd half defense to get easier transition offense on the run to keep and build 2nd half leads. To be 6-8 in games where Memphis has the lead or is tied at halftime is a trend that has to be broken if the Grizzlies have any hope to break their losing ways.

Maybe that hope is gone, because a full-strength Parsons or Conley isn’t walking through that door. But there are ways to improve the style of play that is already in place to give Memphis more of a fighting chance.

Stats provided by basketball-reference.com and nba.com/stats

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