With the Grizzlies missing four of their eight best players — Tony Allen, Ed Davis, Marc Gasol, and Quincy Pondexter — and riding a two-game home losing streak (4-7 on the season at FedExForum), things were looking bleak going into tonight’s game. To set the mood, NBATV blacked out the game (apparently by accident), leaving Memphians without a broadcast. Probably for the best, right? A few days ago, Zach Randolph admitted that this team isn’t the same one that played admirably when he went down with an injury in 2011, and so far, he’s been right (although Memphis’ roster is much more depleted this time around).
The Grizzlies shook off the bad vibes and freezing weather to take a quick 13-4 lead. Bayless and Koufos filled out the starting line-up — with Gasol out, the team has apparently (and regrettably) shifted some ballhandling responsibility to Bayless even with Conley on the floor, to open up Mike’s scoring options. But if you haven’t seen him play, JB is kind of a ball hog. He hit an early three (shaking off the cobwebs from an 0-11 Saturday night) but was typically unreliable after that even as the Grizzlies built a 7-point lead on Orlando’s terrible shooting. Conley had just 3 in the period. Koufos was big on the glass, but started 1-7 from the field; he cannot be relied upon for scoring, but still, I don’t think 40% in the paint is too much to ask for.
In the second quarter, Mike Conley took more control of the ball and upped his point total to 12 on a combination of drives and threes. Mike Miller, Jon Leuer, and Jamaal Franklin got in on the deep action too, thus answering the question: just what kind of miracle will the Grizzlies need to beat mediocre teams without four key players? For a team that averages 4.3 made threes per game, hitting 6 in the first half was frankly bizarre, but I’m not complaining. Orlando continued its poor shooting (Oladipo and Afflalo were non-factors in the half), at one point resulting in a 14-0 Memphis run, the team’s biggest scoring run since Gasol went down. The Grizzlies took a strong 51-30 lead into halftime.
Andrew Nicholson came out of nowhere to spark a third-quarter rally for the Magic, netting 13 points on 5-6 shooting en route to a double-double. Koufos’ and Randolph’s foul trouble softened the Grizzlies’ defense somewhat, and with a healthy dose of laziness, they gave up a 30-point quarter. Jameer Nelson hit a three to cut the lead to 10 with 16 seconds left in the quarter, but Jamaal Franklin responded with an impossible fadeaway corner three at the buzzer, and a Z-Bo and-1 to start the fourth pushed the lead quickly back to 16. The 3-point well dried up in the final period, and a bevy of missed layups and free throws allowed the Magic to pull within 5 with two minutes left in the game. Memphis tightened the screws a little on defense and smartly went to Zach Randolph to put the game away, with Jerryd Bayless fittingly finishing off the game with a corner three. The Grizz went 10-17 from three (53%), easily notching a season high.
Analyzing the team in its current state is a bit like test driving a car on three spare wheels, but we can still evaluate individual player performances. And there were some good ones:
Jon Leuer (16 points, 12 rebounds) draws much less attention to himself than Ed Davis does, partly due to trade politics, and partly do to lack of showy athleticism. But his contributions have been more than solid with Gasol out. He doesn’t run the team offensively like Gasol can, but his steady midrange and 3-point shooting have been essential in keeping the team afloat, and his size makes him a decent rebounder. He lacks consistency game-to-game, but when he’s on, he’s efficient and an all-around good fit. He was +10 tonight.
I was a bit shocked to look at the stat sheet and see Zach Randolph with a team-high 19 points and 12 rebounds. His effort was spotty all night, especially on defense. He did make easy work of Glen Davis, even sending him to the locker room at one point with an elbow to the midsection. Davis returned quickly, and Zach bulled through him to hit a critical lay-up in the final 90 seconds.
Nick Calathes wasn’t terrible, and I saw only one dumb-pass-turnover, but my stream of the game wasn’t crystal clear, either. His +12 might be a season high. Two field goal attempts, 4-4 free throw shooting, and 8 assists is exactly what the Grizzlies need out of Calathes on a regular basis.
Jamaal Franklin starred in the Grizzlies’ second and third quarters, scoring a career high 8 (8!) points with 2 threes on 2 attempts. If we give this guy more minutes against bad teams, he definitely has the potential to grow.