I’ve always been intrigued by showbiz bears. Somehow, in our eternal quest for entertainment, we’ve discovered how to domesticate then train a wild beast whose natural instinct is to live in solitude and maul any living creature that disturbs its tranquility or looks like protein. Like the bear who ate a performance monkey in China last week, their animal instincts kick in occasionally, but for the most part they become docile, bicycle-riding, crowd-pleasing creatures.
After getting manhandled by the San Antonio Spurs in two games, the Memphis Grizzlies are declawed meat eaters in the midst of an identity crisis.
Until Memphis came storming back from their 18-point deficit, the Grizzlies and ZZZpurs had the eyelids of hoops fans getting heavy. Tony Parker was putting on a clinic, but Memphis’ offense was bedridden. Things were getting out of hand, and even during their fourth quarter comeback they occasionally reverted back to hibernation mode.
In the first two rounds of the postseason, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph were picnic feasting on the Clippers and Thunders frontcourts. The praise for Memphis’ seven-footers was loftier than Pastor T.D. Jakes’ Sunday pulpit sermons.
The Twin Towers 2.0 praise may have been bestowed prematurely. Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan have them looking shook.
In Games 1 and 2, Memphis’ punishing Bash Brothers caught the “itis,” loosened their belts, and have drifted off into a coma. Gasol abandoned the low block and began settling for fadeaway mid-range jumpers. Randolph missed two of his first 19 shots from the field. To compensate for the Bash Brothers’ failings, the Grizzlies have had to transition to an offense reliant on its perimeter players.
Mike Conley continued his coming-of-age postseason, by placing the scoring load on his own shoulders; however, Lionel Hollins’ faces a conundrum between whether he should double down on their identity as a suffocating defensive unit with Tayshaun Prince and Tony Allen, or find some offense off their bench from Quincy Pondexter and Jerryd Bayless.
Bayless has brought an additional scoring punch at the guard position off the bench, but he’s an undersized 2-guard playing alongside Conley and takes minutes away from Allen. He was effective with limited minutes in Game 1, and in 34 minutes in Game 2, Bayless scored 18. Allen may have to play alongside Conley and Bayless in Memphis’ small ball lineup to assuage the Grizzlies conundrum or get substituted out early.
The Spurs have a plethora of shooters at their disposal. Pondexter is a loner as the Grizzlies primary spot-up specialist, but he should be getting big minutes at small forward during their offensive blackouts instead of Prince.
While the historic three-point shooting epidemic has swept through the league, Memphis remained immune and attempted the fewest three-pointers in The Association. Six of the 10 three-pointers they’ve drained in this series were made by Pondexter. If they want to relieve the swarming help defense San Antonio is playing on Gasol and Randolph, they've got to spread the floor by hitting shots behind the arc.
Memphis is getting outplayed, but not outclassed. The Grizzlies don’t need to change their identity, but they need to readjust their attack style, put more finesse in that diet and sharpen up their claws.