Traveling to Los Angeles and opening the season against the team that eliminated them last season was never going to be easy for the Grizzlies, and the retooled Clippers took care of business on their home floor sending Memphis to their NBA-record twelfth consecutive opening night loss, 101-92.
The Grizzlies weren’t able to get into their comfort zone near the basket and were forced into outside shots where they made just 2 0f 14 from long range, and shot 38.4% from the field compared to the Clippers’ effective 51.4% mark.
Rudy Gay scored 25 points, Marc Gasol 20, and Zach Randolph dropped 15 to go with his 16 rebounds, but they were the only Memphis players to hit double figures. Tony Allen and Mike Conley struggled, shooting a combined 4-16 but were able to get the ball to the frontcourt players.
Jerryd Bayless, Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington scored 17 total points off the bench, but Clippers new supersub Jamal Crawford scored 29 points alone off the pine, helping L.A. win the fourth quarter 28-15.
The Clippers simply seemed deeper, and had more offensive weapons. Six players reached double-digit scoring and one wonders how much the loss of former sixth man OJ Mayo’s 12.6 points will limit the effectiveness of the Grizzlies’ second unit.
Two nights later in Golden State, the Grizzlies second game, the frontcourt was again effective led by Gasol’s 21 points, Gay’s 18, and Randolph’s 15 points and 14 rebounds.
Randolph has grabbed the second most rebounds in the league so far, and though it’s early he’s averaging 15.0 per game. He may be hogging them from Gasol who has only managed to average 6.5 in his first two contests. Nevertheless, the Grizzlies won the rebounding battle in each game thus far.
Mike Conley had a nice bounce-back game scoring 21 points, dishing seven assists and nabbing five steals. The Grizzlies took advantage of Warriors mistakes, stole the ball nine times, and converted 21 points off turnovers, one of their trademarks from a year ago when they led the association in thefts.
Once again the Grizzlies bench was outscored, this time 29-23, and though Wayne Ellington had a decent game with 10 points it remains to be seen who will step up and lead the second unit.
An up-and-under two-handed cradle reverse jam by Rudy Gay in the opening minutes is the Grizzly highlight of the year so far
What have we learned?
1. The Grizzlies need production from their backcourt. When Conley and Allen struggle, the bigs can’t carry the entire load and the bench can’t be relied upon yet. They’re at their best when forcing turnovers, scoring easy baskets in transition, and keeping the big men involved.
2. Memphis’ bench isn’t as deep as it was with OJ Mayo and has been outscored in both games already. Whether it is Ellington, Speights, Bayless, Wroten, Selby or Pondexter, one of them will have to prove themselves a consistent option and leader of the second unit.
3. Strength in the paint is the greatest weapon the Grizzlies hold. Between Randolph, Gay, and Gasol, the team boasts one of the larger, more experienced frontcourts in the NBA. They’ll carry the team and also force other clubs to play from the perimeter rather than try to bang down low.