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Report Card: Second half struggles strike again

After arguably their best first half of the year. a sluggish second half results in a disappointing loss to Utah.

Utah Jazz v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Brandon Dill/Getty Images

Can you add to many pluses next to an A in terms of grading?

For the sake of this piece, we are just gonna say “nah”. The reason why is because there is has never been an NBA game that looked so good on my TV. The Jazz’s Mountain Skyline look from the 90’s are my all time favorite jersey. With the Grizzlies’ Vancouver threads getting rave reviews around the league, it may be hard to find a better duo of throwback jerseys in a game this season.

FASHION: GRADE A (with pluses to infinity and beyond)

Though the result was not what the Grizzlies and their fans had hoped for tonight, a second Throwback night with Mike Conley in the house can never be a bad experience. Let’s hand out some grades for tonight’s action:

First Half Effort: Grade A

It should be no surprise that the Grizzlies had a successful first half. That has been their calling card all season, shooting out of the gate as a team that can compete with just about anyone. However, tonight was a bit different, as it was not a display of offensive fireworks like many other games so far this year. The time, it was the Grizzlies defense that stood out, as it performed to a level that has been rarely seen in recent memory.

Heading into halftime with a 55-40 lead, this was only the second time in the past two calendar years the Grizzlies have a lead of 15 points or greater while allowing 40 points or less through the first two quarters. The Grizzlies effort was effective at all levels. Utah was 14-41 overall from the field, including 2-15 from beyond the arc and only 8-21 within the paint. The Grizzlies, as expected, have struggled mightily at times on defense so far this season. However, tonight’s first half is the type of effort to build on as it continues to improve.

Second Half Shooting: Grade F

Unfortunately, the Grizzlies second half shooting performance was even worse that the Jazz’s in the first half. The Grizzlies went 10-40 from the field over the final two quarters, including 4-20 in the third. The Jazz started the second half on a 10-0 run, and never looked back as they outscored Memphis by 24 in the second half, which included a 35-18 third quarter in the Jazz’s favor.

It was simply an off-night for Memphis’s starters. Besides Jonas Valanciunas, the Grizzlies’ starters went 15-49 from the field, including 5-21 on three pointers. Memphis has seen significant improvement in their shooting production over the past few weeks, but that success simply was not in the cards tonight. Good defensive adjustments from Utah along with a lack of luck both played significant roles in the Grizzlies’ struggles.

Utah Jazz v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Brandon Dill/Getty Images

Jonas Valanciunas: Grade B+

It seems that Valanciunas is beginning to round into form for the Grizzlies, as he recorded his third straight double-double Friday Night. In fact, it was Valanciunas’s second straight 20 point/15 rebound performance in a row. Over the past two games, Valanciunas has played at the level that he did last March, when he became a fan favorite and earned himself a long-term role in the Grizzlies’ plans.

Despite his success, Valanciunas has only attempted three shots in the fourth quarter over the past two games. While fatigue and a desire to feature a more capable defensive lineup could be factors into his lack of usage, Valanciunas could help in solving the Grizzlies second half offensive struggles. This is especially true when Valanciunas is Memphis’s best free throw shooter and offensive rebounder.

Free Throw Shooting: Grade D

Entering tonight’s game, the Grizzlies were 29th in the league in free throws made and 27th in free throws attempted per game. For a team that has Memphis’s front court talent, the lack of free throws is not ideal. While the Grizzlies have certainly been shooting the ball better, they usually are at a disadvantage to their opponents when it comes to opportunities at the charity stripe. As a result, wins will be difficult to find if the Grizzlies shoot below 60% like they did tonight.

Utah Jazz v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Brandon Dill/Getty Images

Brandon Clarke: Grade E

I never understood why the educational grade scale never showed respect to the letter E. Therefore, I am going to do my part to show it some love here, because it is the perfect nightly grade to give Brandon Clarke. The reason being is because E stands for efficiency. It seems with game he plays, Clarke is making history as a rookie due to his efficiency. For instance, Clarke is now on the second rookie in NBA history to record 10 or games with 7 or more field goal attempts while shooting 60% or better from the field through the first 18 games of his career (Deandre Ayton did it 11 times in 18 games last year).

In fact, Clarke is just the fourth Memphis rookie to complete that feat more than 10 times in his rookie season, joining the Gasol Brothers and Jackson Jr. For reference, Jackson Jr. did it 13 times in 58 games last season. While many are understandably campaigning for Clarke to take on a bigger role to take advantage of his outstanding shot selection, his success off the bench has already been a major advantage for Memphis many times this season.

Grizzlies Overall Grade: D

No matter how well they played in the first half, squandering a 15 point lead and being outscored by 24 in the second half is atrocious. The Grizzlies have become more competitive recently, but a big step forward for this team as the season progresses will be full game defensive efforts like they showed in the first half. Until they can improve in that department, they will continue to struggle against better teams around the league.