From Zack Via Courtside Seats
Despite the Grizzlies getting killed by Chris Paul and the Hornets, tonight might have been the best basketball night of my life. Midway through the 1st quarter, the friend that took me to the game got his seats upgraded to COURTSIDE SEATS (thank you Andy).
For an NBA junkie, only a few things in life is better than sitting courtside. Even when the home team gets their butts kicked.
The feel for the size, strength and speed of the players and game is unmatched. It was almost too much, actually. Too much to watch. Too much to take in and pay attention to. Along with watching the game play, I was focusing even more of my attention to my hearing, since sitting so close makes it possible, well almost possible, to hear the conversations that take place on the court between the players, coaches and refs.
Although I didn't hear anything incredibly fascinating. Ok, I didn't hear anything slightly fascinating, but still here are some things I did hear.
-- At one point in the 2nd half, I heard Iavaroni yelling at Darko to show "emotion" on defense.
-- In the 4th quarter during Hornet free throws, Chris Paul was walking up before the last shot and telling his guys to make sure and "get a stop" next time down.
-- The Hornet players would routinely talk 1 on 1 with the refs during stoppages. The Griz players only yelled at the refs during play, not talking with them when not playing.
-- In the 3rd quarter Iavaroni put Rudy on Peja. Peja went around a screen and nailed a mid-range jumper. On the way down the court Rudy told the ref to "watch those screens" next time.
-- After one of Chandler's many dunks, he quickly flashed the Stro show sign. One of the refs running down the court was discouraging this saying "no, no, no, no".
-- In the 4th quarter on defense, Lowry wanted to get up on Paul earlier, but Iavaroni yelled at him to "get back" and lay off of Paul. So of course, Paul just pulled up and nailed a long 2.
Other things about the game.
Chris Paul is awesome.
He was just unbelievable tonight. At one point in the 2nd half I think he had only missed 1 shot. He finished with 40 points on 17 for 25 shooting, 9 assists and only 1 turnover. It didn't matter what we did, he countered with a successful play. Which brings me to...
Iavaroni had no answer to defending the pick and roll effectively. He tried everything. He started the game with having the guards go under and the bigs stay back. This led to Chris Paul showing the crowd how great of an outside shooter is. He then tried to just have the guard go over but the big still play off. This led to layups and sweet passes to Chandler for easy dunks. He then tried to trap off the screen. Again this didn't work and instead led to Peja sinking numerous 3-pointers from the corner. On that particular situation, the trap would leave Rudy as the guy trying to guard 2 people. The SG was at the wing and Peja in the corner. Rudy looked confused and got very frustrated trying to properly rotate between the two. Very frustrated. However...
Rudy's game has really impressed me this season.
Rudy tonight was decent. He wasn't dominate on offense and was as bad as all the Grizzlies on defense. He struggled to guard Peja. He didn't rebound particularly well. But he still looked like a budding star. He was able to get good shots on offense (because Peja cannot stay with Rudy on the dribble-drive) and he was able to make borderline bad shots from the perimeter (that is, IMO, what sets apart great basketball players from bad the rest....great players routinely make difficult shots that seem low-percentage, the rest don't). At this point I think we should be getting Rudy even more shots on offense. He was 50% tonight from the field and had at least three layup attempts rattle out. He is good slashing and pulling up. He can score out of the post and perimeter positions. He's our primary scorer from here on out, IMO. Which oddly enough segues into....
Tonight might have been a turning point on the relationship between Pau and the fans.
He was booed many times tonight. It actually seemed to be building throughout the game. It may have started with the Hornets getting some easy dunks and timely offensive rebounds. But it clearly culminated with Pau being passive and hesitant on offense. In typical Pau fashion, he submitted to the jab-step-fest when catching the ball, refusing to assert himself against a physical Tyson Chandler. He was weak the few times he tried to drive. He couldn't hit his jumper and he threw some bad passes out of a double team. In the 2nd half, boos started to trickle in after another jab-step-fest at the elbow resulted in zero Griz points. Later I turned and said I think this place is going to explode on Pau if he does something blatantly bad again (sorta like the free throw incident from last year). Then on the very next possession, Pau was in the short corner, gave the jab-step-fest and turned the ball over. The boos rained down from the rafters. And deservedly so, IMO. I think this game might have been a turning point. The fans are frustrated and they are going to take it out on Pau. Watch out. But I don't want to be all negative about tonight, here are two last bits of good news.
Lowry played better tonight than he has in a long while.
He got early action due to Damon's 2 quick fouls guarding Paul. He resembled the old Lowry for the rest of the quarter with an active style of defense. He had a bunch of deflections and caused plays that could have went the Grizzlies way with a better bounce on a loose ball. Chris Paul was on fire tonight, which negates most of the good things that Lowry did on defense early on. But more importantly Lowry was better on offense. He shot decent. Scored 15 points. Also had 7 rebounds, 8 assists and 2 steals. He made good decisions on when to drive and when to dish. He still wasn't the playmaking PG that we need on offense. Someone who forces teams to focus almost entirely on stopping them (like Chris Paul does), but he also wasn't the negative presence he has been at times this year. Maybe we have another young PG on the roster that can be more like Chris Paul, what's his status again?
Conley has resumed full contact practices.
Can I get an Amen! Spartacus alerted us to this fact today in the links post (via Conley's own blog). Tonight, the news was at the bottom of the AP article. This is great news and hopefully I will get to see the full time backcourt duo of Conley and Lowry be a reality at some point this year. There was an interesting quote from the AP article, though. Here is the full passage, with the interesting part in bold:
Grizzlies G Mike Conley returned to full contact practice Tuesday night, meaning his return from injury is much closer. The rookie from Ohio State has been out of action since injuring his right shoulder against Dallas on Nov. 17. "You wouldn't have thought he had a shoulder surgery," Iavaroni said before Wednesday's game. "Moving around well. He was quick. He needs to get in better shape, but that will come with play." Iavaroni wouldn't give a specific time on the first-round pick's return.
What? Conley had surgery? Surely this is a misquote. Chip, get the crack research team on this.
Well, in summary. Chris Paul is awesome. The Griz didn't have the effort and hustle necessary to be competitive for 48 minutes and the locker room atmosphere has to be pretty bad right now. Pau was particularly awful tonight and the home town crowd let him hear it, which could be an interesting development or nothing at all. If nothing else, he knows we fans don't like the jab, jab, jab, jab, jab, turnover move. Conley is close to returning and well, I got to sit freaking courtside. Click this link to see a picture. I'm underneath Paul's left shin.
I didn't sit courtside. However I did see many of the things Zack referenced so I won't repeat them too much. Congrats on the upgrade Zack. Since it is the holidays the game had a sort of movie night feel to it.
The Good, The Bad and the Ugly:
Good: Rudy Gay took over in the fourth quarter again and came up big offensively. The Bad: Pau Gasol's streak of double figure scoring games came to an end at 81 games, third longest in the league. The Ugly: One of the worst shooting teams in the NBA shot 55.8% in the game while one of the higher scoring teams in the league failed to break 100 pts for the third consecutive game.
Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde:
Pau Gasol goes for 31 and 15 against Philly including some of his most aggressive play late in the game only to turn around and put up 9 and 8 against Tyson Chandler and the Hornets the next game. If there was a more bi-polar performance without injury in the NBA I don't know what it is. Down the stretch Gasol was crying to the refs (I almost titled this the Crying Game actually) but the bottom line was Gasol wasn't aggressive enough to earn a call. The fans booing him didn't seem to upset Gasol either as he nonchalontly shrugged off the boos as if he didn't care. That definately didn't help the situation. Gasol may not be demanding a trade but it sure seems like he doesn't want to be here despite his buddy being on the team. Maybe he feels the losing isn't his fault but when you only take one shot in the 2nd half perhaps the problem is looking you in the mirror when you are the highest paid player on the team. The team needed Pau to be big and force New Orleans to keep an eye on him. Instead he was passive allowing the pressure to remain on the perimeter players and the fans saw that and let him know that isn't what they want from him.
The Two Towers:
Darko Milicic tonight came into the game and scored right away and prompty took most of the rest of the night off. He played only 13 minutes, committed two turnovers and seemed to be so scared on the offensive end that we were playing 4 against 5 when he was in the game. What happened to the Darko who started the season? Is his thumb so sore that he can't catch the ball? Has his confidence whittled away to the point that he doesn't even want to be a part of the offense? When Darko doesn't assert himself and Pau plays as soft as he did there is not a single team in the NBA the Grizzlies can beat. The Ivory Towers appeared to be made out of paper last night. We need more of the Bad Boys and not the Back Street Boys on this team. Until the Ivory Towers start getting mean and aggressive again the Memphis Grizzlies will continue to be forced to rely on perimeter play and that is not a good thing late in games (Philly) nor in games when the opponents try to out-muscle you (New Orleans). At some point we have to have interior players saying enough is enough.
Stripes and Titanic rolled into one 2 hour tragi-comedy:
This game showed all that is wrong with the franchise right now. Too many sloppy turnovers, not enough physical play inside, too many fingers being pointed at others (the refs, the fans, teammates) and not enough at themselves. Someone needs to take charge on this team and as MemphisX pointed out in a conversation with me, we don't know who it should be!
Therein lies the problem. Damon makes a big stand and says the team needs to play with more heart and they come out and play really well, for a quarter. Then New Orleans elevates their game to match Memphis' intensity and the Grizzlies collapse. Is it Gasol's fault? Is it Darko's? Are we cursed or just a weak franchise? I don't know the answer but it sure hurts having to ask the question over and over.