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These Memphis Losses are Avoidable

An unfortunate theme from last season is resurfacing in this year’s Memphis team.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Clippers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Last year I wrote this. For those that don’t click the link, it’s an article about the Grizzlies blowing double digit leads repeatedly last season. Ironically, it was written around this time last year, a theme that has carried over into this season. Let me also say that most of this article was written before the excruciating loss to Toronto on Tuesday night that furthered the theme of what you’re about to read. Memphis is now on a three game losing streak.

Now, let me caution myself and those of you who are starting to panic. The Grizzlies are 12-8, a respectable record for any team, but especially for one which wasn’t expected to produce wins like they have early this season. The biggest frustration isn’t how many losses the Grizz have tallied so far, but how avoidable those losses were.

Let’s skip the first loss of the season, a blowout at Indiana where Memphis forgot they were built to be better this year. The next seven losses are where the problem lies. Below is a table showing the opponent, largest lead held, the game time it was held, and the final score.

Grizzlies Losses

Opponent Largest lead/Gametime Final Score
Opponent Largest lead/Gametime Final Score
SAC 14 - 2nd Q, 3:52 97-92
PHX 12 - 4th, 8:22 102-100
GSW 6 - 2nd, 3:04 117-101
UTA 6 - 3rd, 4:43 96-88
LAC 8 - 4th, 2:02 112-107 OT
NYK 12 - 3rd, 7:47 103-98
TOR 17 - 3rd, 10:09 122-114

Loss number two was at Sacramento, a team on the rise, but definitely not better than the Grizzlies. The first 20 minutes of the game were dominated on both ends by the Grizzlies, and then it all fell apart. Memphis had built a 14 point lead through the middle of the second quarter, led by unlikely faces like Kyle Anderson and MarShon Brooks. And then scoring just stopped. This happens over and over through the course of Grizz games, often resulting in huge point swings in favor of the opponent.

The next loss was at the similarly inferior Phoenix Suns. Even worse, Memphis held a 12 point lead with only eight minutes left in the game. As you can see, that lead diminished quickly, with PHX finishing the game on 23-9 run. You read that right; the Grizzlies only scored nine points in just over eight minutes of game time. Let’s continue.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There’s not a ton to read into when considering the Golden State Warriors loss. Memphis held a six point lead with 3:04 left in the first half, which was quickly wiped away for a tie score at the break. In this game, if the third quarter was removed, the Grizzlies won by three. But in reality, the scoring stopped in the third quarter, where Memphis only scored 15 points. You should be catching my drift by now. Plus, it’s Golden State, so no one expected to win this game.

The Utah loss was a nail-biter, but Memphis did hold a six point lead late in the third quarter. That loss is a little tolerable, considering the Grizz had previously beaten UTA twice just two weeks prior. To continue with the theme, Memphis had two quarters of below 20 points (16 and 19 points in the first and fourth quarters). It will forever be tough to win a game with offensive numbers that low.

Any game versus the LA Clippers will be tough, no matter who’s on their roster. It’s not surprising that the game was close, or even that it went into overtime. If you’ve been following along so far, it’s also not surprising that Memphis held an eight point lead with just 2:02 left in the game and still lost, albeit in overtime. Again, the Grizz were held to just 18 points in the third quarter, winning the other three quarters in regulation.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Clippers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Another loss from a bad team that is coached by former head coach David Fizdale came at the hands of the New York Knicks. Memphis was up 12 midway through the third quarter, only to lose that lead in the next three minutes and fifteen seconds of game time. The team never recovered and suffered a downright embarrassing loss to an undermanned, inferior opponent. Side note, Memphis scored just 19 points in the third quarter, winning the other three quarters.

And lastly, Tuesday night’s loss, a heartbreaker that would’ve perhaps proven that this Grizzlies team is legit. The Toronto Raptors are, by most metrics, the best team in the NBA. The Grizzlies won the first two quarters, and built as much as a 17 point lead early in the third quarter. Then, guess what, the third quarter snapped us back to reality. Memphis lost the third, and fourth, scoring on 17 points in the final quarter. Marc Gasol had an amazing game, three bench players were in double figures, and all indicators pointed towards a statement win for this team. But alas, here we are, in the midst of a three game losing streak (all three games in which Memphis held an 8+ leading in the second half).

Enough of that. It’s frustrating enough to suffer through watching the games live. The question is: why do the Grizzlies go through these extreme scoring droughts? More specifically, why does the team build a significant lead and so quickly lose it?

There are a few things to note, the least of which is that there is no true, pure scorer on this team. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol can score when needed, but they are not pure scorers by definition. The more pressing issue is the coaching of J.B. Bickerstaff.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

GBB site manager Joe Mullinax wrote a few days ago about Mike Conley needing some help on the offensive end, especially down the stretch of games. True, he does. But there are options on the floor, four more options on every possession to be exact. Conley isn’t passing the ball, his teammates are looking to get him the ball when the game is in crunch time, and that has been evident in every close game. Why? Because the team is coached to do just that.

Obviously coach Bickerstaff sees Conley as the best option, and for the most part, Conley is. But not every situation calls for an isolation drive while four other capable NBA players stand around and watch. As a matter of fact, for this Memphis team, there aren’t many situations in which a Conley isolation is the best option. That’s no knock on Conley. It’s a call for coach Bickerstaff to draw up come creativity. It may sound like the other four Memphis players should be moving, cutting, screening, or doing anything to get open, but when an isolation is called, Conley’s teammates have to clear the lane for him to have space to drive. It’s part of the “play” that Bickerstaff calls.

Even more so, it’s not just Conley or Gasol that is building significant leads in these games, it’s a team effort. There are capable players on this roster that need to be utilized when the bleeding has to be stopped. I won’t name any specific players, because that’s the point: use anyone, call timeout, change the lineup, draw up a set play, do anything except rely on one or two players to get you out of a funk.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Memphis Grizzlies Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

These consistent scoring droughts are far too common. They are obvious when watching a complete Grizzlies game, and there are solutions that this team is built around. I’m not asking Bickerstaff to give the ball to Wayne Selden or MarShon Brooks at the end of the game. I’m asking for an offense that moves the ball, that plays with more pace than a snail. The severe drop off of scoring in certain quarters has to end for this team to maintain a winning mindset.

Bickerstaff has to own the responsibility of putting the best product possible on the floor for 48 minutes a game. The losses are avoidable if he can trust the complete roster he has on the bench. Each game is unique in how it plays out, but it’s the coach’s job to understand the best plan of attack as the game unfolds. Memphis has not won a third quarter in any of the seven losses this season, and, aside from the Indiana game, has held a 6+ point lead in each game. This team is better than how they are playing in certain stretches of these losses. Bickerstaff has to figure out how to put an end the scoring droughts this team inevitably has.

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