I want to start off by saying, this game was as close as four points early in the fourth quarter. The world would never know that by the final score, and a loss is a loss, but it needed to be said. For the most part, this game was not close; it was another frustrating effort by the Grizzlies, but at least it was entertaining for about 10 minutes of gameplay.
This series is not a great match up for the Grizzlies. I honestly thought it was going to be, given that we have a better point guard and a better center, but Mike Conley and Marc Gasol can’t do everything for this team. The Spurs have solid players in every position, and to add to that, a potential MVP in Kawhi Leonard.
If Mike Conley isn’t on the floor, who does the offense run through? Marc Gasol. Who also knows that? The Spurs. He’s being swarmed from all directions when driving in the lane. In theory that would create open shots for guards on the perimeter. But wait, the Grizzlies don’t have any consistent shooters on the floor. So that’s a problem.
Grizzlies Offense— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 18, 2017
Game 1 Game 2
Points 82 82
FGM 31 31
3-pt FG 7 7
FTM 13 13
Also, Gasol played 39 minutes on Monday night, which I’m okay with, but he has to have time to rest at some point. If the Grizz run the ball through him every play, and he has to be the anchor on the defensive end, he never gets a play off. Give the guy a break.
The Grizzlies haven’t found a rotation that fits well against the Spurs, but there were a few moments in last night’s game that looked promising. James Ennis III didn’t start, but he played significant minutes off the bench. Leonard had 37, but I can honestly say I thought Ennis did a pretty good job against Leonard. JaMychal Green only played 15 minutes, which seems odd considering he’s a mobile big that can shoot, but Fizdale didn’t see fit to keep him on the floor.
To start the fourth quarter, Coach Fizdale sent out Mike Conley, James Ennis III, JaMychal Green, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol. That lineup actually worked really well; it was the lineup that brought the deficit to under five points in the fourth quarter. Using that foundation, the Grizzlies could move forward in the right direction.
Overall, aside from Kawhi, the Grizzlies played great defense on the Spurs. They held them under 100 points; any team in the league would take that any day against this 61-win team. But the Grizzlies are struggling to score (surprise!), and that issue will have to be addressed in game three.
For last night’s game, there were a few important keys that worked well for the Grizzlies, and a few that gashed them as well. I’ll go over a few below.
Kawhi Leonard’s Free Throws
First of all, when guarding a guy with the talent that he has, you have to do whatever you can to stop him. Sometimes that means fouling him - ask James Ennis III, who had five fouls. Leonard is so quick, and he has a jump shot, a three pointer, you name it, he has it. So I get why the Grizzly forwards have to foul him. But the dude was 19-19 from the free throw line! Read that again, so you really understand. He shot 19 free throws. And made all of them!
That can’t happen again. He shouldn’t even be taking 10 free throws. I know that’s easy for me to say sitting on my couch, but come on guys. He killed the Grizzlies all night on free throws. Possession after possession of 20 seconds of solid defense, just to see a Grizzly guard slap him across the arm for two free throws. Kawhi went for 37 on 9-14 shooting. I couldn’t find any comparable stats, but I’d bet real life actual money that there haven’t been many games played where someone scored 30+ and made less than 10 field goals.
It was a great game for Kawhi as he carried the Spurs all 40 minutes he was on the floor. But the Grizzlies have to stop fouling. It creates easy buckets for him, but also puts the whole team on the free throw line late in quarters.
Also, I didn’t mention it here, but the Grizzlies did not shoot many free throws and Fizdale was not happy about it.
Grizzlies coach David Fizdale goes off on the refs after the Game 2 loss: 'Take that for data!' pic.twitter.com/kBaGytjyyW— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) April 18, 2017
Zach Randolph and Brandan Wright
I mention these two names for very different reasons. Zach Randolph decided to show up for this game after staying home for the last one. Z-Bo went 9-18 for 18 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. That’s a typical Z-Bo game, and we can’t ask anything else from him. But we do need that every game. It’s crucial to the success of this team that he plays well. You saw it in game one, a 25 point blow out, Zach Randolph played terribly. When he plays well, the Grizzlies have a chance to win.
If the Grizzlies can get Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph playing well in the same game, Memphis could have a real shot. The Spurs’ bigs would have a tough task trying to manage both of the veteran Memphis post players, along with keeping JaMychal Green out of the picture.
Now, Brandan Wright was the Z-Bo of this game. It isn’t his fault and I’m still trying to figure out why Fizdale isn’t getting him more minutes. Wright was 2-4 for four points and had an offensive rebound in just seven minutes. I don’t understand why the guy doesn’t play more. He has the athleticism to guard any of the Spurs bigs, he can score under the basket, and he plays well with Conley. I can’t think of a better fit for this team right now.
Gasol was absolutely gassed coming down the stretch in the fourth quarter, as he’d spent much of his energy bringing the Grizzlies back into the game after being down 26. Bring Wright in for 8 minutes from the end of the third into the fourth quarter; there isn’t much risk in that. Sure, he can’t score like Gasol and Randolph (not many bigs can), but he can rebound and works well in the pick and roll. Give the man some minutes.
The Grizzlies set a franchise record for three-pointers made this season. And I love that. I’m all for a more-jump-shot-prone approach to the offense. I love to see Gasol stepping out and draining dagger threes. But Memphis cannot, I repeat, cannot live and die by the three ball. They were 7-27 (that’s 25.9% for you mathematicians), which is not good at all.
The Grizzlies have learned to incorporate the three into the offense, and there are capable shooters on the floor for this team. Conley and Gasol are great deep ball shooters, and Troy Daniels off the bench is a knock-down shooter. But that is not, and should not, be the identity of this team. 27 threes is too many, simple as that. The Grizzlies have historically won games in which they made 10 or more threes in this season, but the strategy shouldn’t be to shoot more to make more.
I would like to see Memphis keep the three-point attempts in the lower teens, 12-15 a game, and hopefully make seven or eight of them. They have scorers down low in Gasol and Randolph. Gasol may take 3 threes, Conley the same, and Vince Carter can add a few more. (I would put Troy Daniels in the mix, but Fizdale doesn’t seem to love having Daniels on the floor.) That’s enough long range shots to keep the Spurs honest on defense and give the offense some different options as the game progresses.
Overall, the game didn’t go well. It would’ve been nice to steal one from the Spurs on the road, but with this Memphis team you never know what you’re going to get. Looking forward, the Grizzlies fought hard in the second half, winning the third quarter and keeping it close in the fourth. They showed signs of life on defense and moved the ball well on offense.
There was some momentum to be brought back to the Grindhouse. Thursday will hopefully be a different story, a more positive recap to follow, and some optimism to carry for the rest of the series. Game 3 will be at FedExForum on Thursday April 20, with an 8:30 CT tip. Catch the game on TNT.
Check back here at Grizzly Bear Blues for full series coverage and breakdown.