The Grizzly Killer, Ricky Davis, brought his Minnesota Timberwolves to Memphis tonight for the Grizzlies first home preseason game. The crowd was sparse despite the game not being shown on TV (announced ~8400, but probably only ~5000 in attendance). Those who did go got to see the Grizzlies fight back in the 4th quarter from a double digit deficit to pull out a 101-93 win.
I have some thoughts about what I saw at the game. But I feel obliged to include the disclaimer that, of course, it is only one meaningless preseason game. I know that it is going to take some time for a new coach with young players to get a feel for each other. Thus, one shouldn't extend single game observations, let alone during the preseason, too far.
With that said, I think I might have been too optimistic in the last month. Coach Iavaroni and the boys in blue have some serious work ahead of them.
In the 1st half, I could not tell this team apart from last year's team. We started a 2006 lineup (Damon, Miller, Gay, Pau and Stro). The offensive sets looked the same. The tempo was slow. Most shots came at the end of the shot clock. Free throw shooting was pitiful. Rebounding was lifeless. The defense looked poor all around. We were losing. Seriously, Fratello could have been on the sideline coaching for all I know. And this was against what might end up being the worst NBA team in the league this year!
Thankfully for Griz fans, Kyle Lowry is healthy and Chris Wallace stole JC Navarro from the Wizards. After playing a little bit in the 1st half, they both came in the game in the 3rd quarter and never again left the court. Together, they were the primary reason why the Grizzlies fought back from a double digit 4th quarter deficit to beat the Twolves. JC was the offensive spark plug and Lowry was the defensive spark plug. Included in that 4th quarter stretch was a 15-0 run, a number of highlight reel dunks by Rudy including a sweet alley-oop from Lowry, back-to-back 3's from JC that brought the house down, and a gritty runner in the lane by Lowry that gave Memphis the lead for good.
Here are some of my off-the-cuff thoughts about the Grizzlies after just one meaningless preseason game against what might be the worst team in the league:
--Why do the Grizzlies suck so bad at free throws? I actually feel good we finished with 66%, because most of the game it was in the 50's. Mark Price, you have your work cut out for you.
--Props to Rudy, Pau and Darko for a great night blocking shots.
--Despite the 13 blocks and 10 steals, the Grizzlies still look weak. Whether it is finishing a layup in the lane, pulling down a rebound in traffic, or diving to get a loose ball, the Griz just always seem to be the weaker team, again reminding of the 2006 team that had the same problem. Being weak contributed to Pau going 1 for 9 from the floor. Lowry is the saving grace for this team in the toughness department. Memo to the rest of the NBA: Trying to isolate Kyle Lowry, even when he is guarding someone bigger, is a bad idea.
--Lowry and JC make a great backcourt. Short? Sure. They seem to click when playing together. Through 3 preseason games they have been our most steady performers and also seem to get more out the other Grizzlies players. IMO, they are a perfect combo to come off the bench while also closing out games in the 4th quarter. They are also my 2 favorite Grizzlies right now.
--Although Rudy might have had a number of alley-oop dunks tonight, he could have had triple that amount. Before Damon found Rudy for his first alley-oop of the night, there were at least 3 missed opportunities for an easy oop. On one of Rudy's 2nd half alley-oops, props have to go to Kyle Lowry for setting a great pick.
--I don't like how we defended the pick and roll tonight. Navarro and Damon were going under the screen allowing Jaric to bury some easy jumpers. At the same time, our bigs were playing soft, which resulted in the big guys not hedging on the guard AND not guarding their man, allowing the guard to penetrate then dish for an easy pick and roll layup. I hope we play that more aggressive in the future and that Iavaroni will have the bigman be more decisive so not to find themselves guarding neither player on the pick and roll.
--In the 4th quarter, we switched up the default offensive set by pushing the SG and SF down to the corner from the wing. Looking more like what Phoenix runs. This set ended up working the best for us. Lowry was at point. Navarro and either Miller or Casey were the wings. Rudy was the PF and Stro or Pau was the center. It got Rudy closer to the basket. It promoted using a pick and roll (which I hope to see used more and more). Spaced out our 3 point shooting wings more (resulting in at least one JC corner trey). And allowed more room for a high/low game between Pau and his frontcourt partner.
--I like the deep position Darko gets on offense. Tonight at least 2 times he was given the ball almost right under the bucket after pinning his man behind him. After getting the ball in the post, you can be sure he will use his soft lefty baby hook.
--With Kinsey either still hurt or just simply out of the rotation, I'm anxious about guarding the perimeter. When two of Miller, JC, or Casey are on the court together defensively, we are obviously at a disadvantage defensively. Tonight, JC was able to guard the slow Marko Jaric (who plays PG) and then Lowry guarded the SG (either Ricky Davis or McCants or Buckner). We won't have that luxury typically. In the past, we have tried to hide Miller defensively. Hiding Miller and JC at the same time is more difficult.
--I hate Ricky Davis. Last year I sat under the basket and heckled him. When I yelled, "Go back to the Eastern Conference, Ricky Davis!", he replied by shaking his head no. When I yelled, "We hate you, Ricky Davis!", he replied by nailing a 3 in Mike Miller's face then pointing my way. I'm glad tonight was meaningless and Ricky "Grizzly Killer" Davis was on the bench in the 4th quarter. Hopefully he will get traded.....................to a European team.
Update I: If you haven't already, go read Chris Herrington's post game thoughts. Herrington touched on something I was thinking about last night leaving the arena. The plus/minus for our 3 point guards (last night and beyond). Here was what Herrington said:
I actually think plus/minus numbers are of limited relevance in evaluating individual players, but I give the stat some credence in the team’s current point-guard battle, because all three players are only playing one spot with a relatively equal blend of supporting casts and I think the position sets the tone for the whole team. So, I’m going to track this at the home preseason games.
If you glance at the box score, you’d think Damon Stoudamire was the best point guard tonight, but if you watched the game closely, you’d go with Lowry, and the plus/minus backs that up:
I’m pretty sure Kyle Lowry has outplayed Damon Stoudamire in every regular season or preseason Grizzlies game in which they’ve both played. At some point that has to be persuasive, right?
You would think so...
Update II: Chip has his post-game remarks over at the Memphis Edge. Go read it.
Update III: I'm sorry, I just couldn't let this go. I mentioned it over on the Grizzlies messageboard this morning and I will mention it again here. In the Commercial Appeal today, Ron Tillery wrote this:
Iavaroni said he still wants to look at more combinations. But the starting lineup of Damon Stoudamire, Mike Miller, Rudy Gay, Stromile Swift and Pau Gasol is making its case.
"Making its case"....what? How so? We've played 3 preseason game, with one being against a far inferior opponent, so basically we have played 2 real preseason games (against teams that would qualify as bottom-rung NBA teams) and our starters have not, in my estimation, looked that good. In fact, the only thing I can see that our starters are making a case for, is being able to dig a hole to see if Lowry and Navarro can pull us out of. I wonder, who actually said that the starters are "making its case"? Tillery or Iavaroni? Either way, in that same article, Iavaroni implies that Mike, Rudy and Pau are safe and that it is the other two starter spots up for grabs.