The Memphis Grizzlies lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night, 103-100. The Grizzlies lost their last chance to pick up a head-to-head win against the Thunder and are a near-certainty to be slotted in the 7th seed for the playoffs.
The Wednesday night loss marked the 3rd in a row for a Grizzlies team battling injuries. Marc Gasol and JaMychal Green just recently returned. Tonight marked a return to action for Tony Allen and Andrew Harrison as well. But the Grizzlies were missing the straw that stirs the drink in Mike Conley.
And miss Mike Conley, we did. Russell Westbrook put another superstar performance in his MVP resume. Before last night, Russ never shot above 40% against the 2016-17 Grizzlies. Last night he shot 56% from the field and knocked down 8 three-pointers. Russell could have done this on any given night, but one gets the feeling Mike Conley being on the court would have at least slowed him down.
The problem is, it’s hard to grade a player who never actually, you know, played. So here are my grades of the players that actually DID play including Conley’s replacement, Andrew Harrison.
Andrew Harrison: C-
12 pts, 3 asts, 2 TOs, -6 +/-
First, Andrew Harrison has to be commended for taking on the challenge of defending Russell Westbrook. Mike Conley (eye) was out for Wednesday’s game and Harrison slid into the starting role. He wasn’t all that great in doing it, but you have to appreciate the effort. Russell Westbrook didn’t have a triple double (by ONE rebound) and really that may be all one needs out of a rookie PG defending him.
He didn’t do that well though. Russ is Russ; he’s going to get his. Harrison’s defense proved less and less effective as the game went on and Brodie took over. During critical moments in the 4th quarter, Tony Allen picked up Russ and it still didn’t matter because Westbrook finished with 45 points.
Offensively, Harrison was pretty mediocre. Although he put up 12 points, he never made his presence hurt the Thunder. The Grizzlies let a committee of players handle the ball and initiate the offense, but Harrison was the main point guard. When he did initiate, he was rarely setting up other players and his passing was sloppy. I give Harrison a lot of credit for being aggressive driving to the rim and penetrating, but I wish his passing skills were a bit better to make more use of it.
Marc Gasol: B
23 pts, 5 rebs, 5 asts, 4 blks, 2 stls, +4 +/-
Marc Gasol played particularly aggressively, and effectively, all night. He came out firing and hit 2 3s on his way to scoring 10 points in the first 5 minutes. It could have been because of Mike Conley’s absence, or it could have been self-determination, but you can tell Gasol was willing to put the offense on his shoulders. He was even feeling pretty hot as he pulled up for a 3 from 29 feet in just the first quarter!
The rest of the game was more of the same. Gasol ended up with 23 points on the night and even totaled 4 blocks as well. Gasol eased off the gas pedal later in the game. He was only 1-of-2 from the field in the 4th quarter even though he played the final 7 minutes of the game. His defense was still up to par for his usual self and he protected the rim as much as possible, a tough challenge against OKC’s bigs and Russell Westbrook.
Zach Randolph: A-
20 pts, 8-15 FG, 9 rebs, -8 +/-
Z-Bo had yet another great game off the bench. This game should be a prime example of his 6th Man of the Year candidacy. I know Eric Gordon and Lou Williams have played tremendously, but Zach Randolph should definitely be in consideration with them. He’s averaging 14 PPG and 8 RPG on 24 minutes a night in his age 35 season. It has become extremely impressive.
Yes, Zach Randolph did more of that, scoring 20 points (including a three in the 4th!) and notching 9 rebounds, but he was a huge help on the defensive end. Enes Kanter, OKC’s resident big man 6th man, was struggling with Zach Randolph’s size and physicality all night. Kanter is a very good offensive player and Z-Bo made him uncomfortable. Randolph isn’t known as a defensive anchor, but one of the plusses of coming off the bench now is that he has to neutralizes lesser opponents, and he did his best last night.
Team Grade: C
All in all, the Grizzlies didn’t play too badly. They lost yet another 4th quarter lead, which is cause for concern, but Russell Westbrook’s clutch play all season should help ease the pain, knowing this could have and has happened to everybody.
The Grizzlies outshot the Thunder, but lost the rebounding and turnover battle. The Grizzlies had some careless passes and ball handling in the first half and it led to a lot of OKC fast break points with one of the best fast break players in the league, Westbrook, leading the charge down the floor. Turnovers are going to continue to hurt this time as long as they can’t defend transition. But the Grizzlies were in it every second of the way until the final minute and they couldn’t close the deal, like the Lakers game on Sunday and Spurs game on Tuesday.
The Grizzlies need to put together better all-around 48-minute performances, but without Mike Conley for the night, this particular 3-point loss shouldn’t be worrisome on its own — for now.