3rd Quarter, Game 6: When the Wheels Came off and Caron Butler’s Life Nearly Ended

Well, that was painful.

Admittedly, I was spared Kevin Durant’s 14 point first quarter barrage. I was taking a final exam which started at 7PM (yes, that’s a thing), and perhaps it was an omen that gauging my eyes out Oedipus Rex style (maternal incest aside) would have been less excruciating than watching the 30 minutes that I did. After awkwardly speed walking back to my apartment, I proceeded to curse Ed Malloy, Ken Mauer, and Rodney Mott as they abused the Grizzlies with their whistles.

3rd Quarter

9:45- 2 minutes and 15 seconds pass and I’ve thrown around enough expletives to warrant a visit to the nearest parish. 4 quick fouls on the Grizzlies and none on the Thunder, Dave Joerger earns a technical.

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

8:26- A fifth team foul for Memphis sentences them to the penalty. Free throws for the Thunder the rest of the quarter, because you know the calls are coming. Westbrook makes both.

6:13- Tayshaun Prince commits the sixth team foul. Durant sinks the first. James Johnson checks in, much to Joerger’s chagrin. Durant sinks the second. A 15 point deficit has increased to 20.

5:50- Gasol is pick pocketed by Westbrook

5:47- Johnson fouls Durant on the shot. He makes both free throws.

5:20- Perkins is whistled for a moving screen. First Thunder foul of the quarter. Perk gives his best mean mug, but really just frowns regretting his pre-game meal.

S**t Gets Real

5:03- Tony Allen attacks the ball, possessed by the plump Caron Butler. Butler fears for the plastic straw on which he religiously chews. He’s rationing it throughout the game as a gluten free snack. His head snaps back, drawing a foul. He almost chokes, and the strategy nearly backfires. A confrontation ensues involving Butler, Tony Allen, and James Johnson.

i-4

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

(Side Note): James Johnson, a second degree black belt, is the son of two black belts, and the brother of 7 siblings (all black belts). He was 18 when he won his first MMA fight in 97 seconds, is 7-0 all time, and 20-0 in kickboxing fights. Don’t screw with James Johnson. Did I mention Tony Allen is also present. ZBo can’t be far either.

Photo by Nikki Boertman

Photo by Nikki Boertman

For more on dojo master James Johnson: (http://grantland.com/the-triangle/they-call-him-bloodsport-james-johnson-kicks-his-way-into-the-nba/)

A double technical is assessed to Butler and Johnson. Nervously chomping down on his pacifier, I mean straw, Butler misses the first of two free throws. He cleans his britches and makes the second.

1:17- Tempers cool, kind of, as almost 4 minutes pass before another foul is issued. #2 on the Thunder, god forbid. Johnson draws the infraction on New Zealand ogre Steven Adams. “Bloodsport” makes both shots.

0:43- Kevin Durant draws a foul, splits the pair from the line.

0:02- Westbrook is feeling left out, and that simply won’t fly on his watch. He draws a foul on Big Spain to close out the quarter, making both free throws.

0:00- End of 3rd Quarter. Thunder lead 82-61.

Fouls in 3rd Quarter

Grizzlies: 10

Thunder: 2

Granted, the final count was 19-19, but the damage was done.

Overall, very disheartening. Despite the lackluster, nonchalant performance with the usual abundance of missed free throws, the Grizzlies still had opportunities to make a game out of it. After the Johnson-Butler showdown, the energy shifted back in Memphis’ favor, but the Grizz never made up enough ground to threaten the Thunder.

Adding insult to injury, or perhaps the other way around, Mike Conley left in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury. He tried to return, but was extremely hobbled. In the post game interview, he admitted to feeling pain but remarked “I plan on playing…There’s no chance I miss it.”

The Grizzlies are 0-2 all time in game 7s. In 2011, Memphis lost to OKC in the conference semifinals. A year later, they lost at home to the Clippers in the first round, unable to escape the damage of blowing a 27 point lead in game 1.

Hey, there’s no time like the present right?

Game 7

Saturday, May 3rd

7:00 PM Central

Chesapeake Energy Arena, OKC.

 

-Travis Nauert

10 Games

That’s all we’ve got left, and its going to be a doozy.

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 1.49.32 PM

(ESPN.com)

Despite the away game-heavy season ending, I have more than enough confidence in this Grizzlies team’s ability to get it done and secure a spot in the playoffs.

We’re not the same team we were last season. We’re multidimensional now.

We are no longer trapped with boasting just our unique, grind-it-out style. That’s right. We do that big offense thing just fine too. The Grizz are regularly racking up 100+ PPG. Mike Miller is playing some of the best basketball of his career at 34, and I’d say much of the credit goes to Coach Joerger for fashioning plays around his superior shooting. Miller’s 70% FG percentage since the All Star Break is a weapon we haven’t had in years.

Since Marc’s glorious return on January 14, we’ve added a notable amount of wins to our resume.

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 1.23.31 PM

(ESPN.com)

We have a real chance of reaching 50 wins on the season, which would likely put us in the 7th spot in the West, maybe 6th or even 5th.

Big questions on the bench:

Ed Davis – Davis has played 3 games in the last 11- logging 18, 20 and 4.

Jon Leuer – He’s had inconsistent minutes as well. He’s gotten PT in all but one of   the last 10 games, but he’s only broken the 10-minute mark in two of those games. Leuer has proven his worth plenty of times this season, so I’m interested to see what impact (if any) he’ll have in these final 10 games.

James Johnson – I’m a big JJ fan. He brings a level of excitement that is incredibly valuable coming off the bench, but he’s been the most puzzling. Johnson has either been playing a key role off the bench, coming in for “scrub” minutes or not entering the gam at all. My thought is that he is another wing player unable to hit outside shots, so he needs to be paired with an outside shooter or play as an undersized 4. His FG% is unpredictable, but his energy and stellar defense make him worth a risk in my opinion.

The tricky part lies ahead as we are one of five teams battling to stay in the top eight.                                               Here comes another screenshot.

(ESPN.com)

(ESPN.com)

As always, more thoughts will follow shortly. For now, I’ll leave you with the enthusiastic Twitter stylings of Beno Udrih- aka, the most eager new guy ever and my new favorite Twitter account.

 

 

 

LOL, Beno. Do what you gotta do.

 

-Casey Black

Bench helps the Grizz through the dark

Hate to say I told ya so.

We’re watching the greatest era of Grizzlies basketball. Period. We’ve just had a few speed bumps along the way. This time it was injuries, and they needed some time to get healthy. Things got iffy there for a while. Now, we’re looking at a real chance of not only making the playoffs but giving the rest of the West a run for their money. Here are a few reasons why I think the Grizzlies will remain an elite team as we approach the playoffs.

100 is the magic number

It’s all about offense. In the last nine games, Memphis has broken a score of 100 six times. To my dismay, the Atlanta Hawks took precedence over the Grizzlies game in Knoxville tonight, so I missed yet another stellar Grizz domination. This time it was against the Charlotte Bobcats who, while nursing a sub-par record, did beat us just two weeks ago. We’ll take every win we can get at this point in the season.

Coming off the bench

The past four seasons (including the current one) have collectively been the best in franchise history. One issue we’ve always had: finding a good backup center to relieve big man Marc Gasol. I mean just take a look at Gasol’s backups over recent years: Hamed Haddadi, Hasheem Thabeet and Leon Powe. Let’s just say they left us with much to be desired. Kosta Koufos has been all around solid, which is just what we need in this spot. I’ve been hearing the nickname “Kosta Coast,” and I like it. It’s nice having a back up center to root for. 

(Photo Credit to David Banks/USA Today Sports)

(Photo Credit to David Banks/USA Today Sports)

I don’t like to get negative on this blog, but I vividly remember when Nick Calathes was booed in the FedEx Forum just a months ago. This month, you can call him Mr. Rookie of the Month for February. Calathes averaged 28.6 minutes, 4.6 assists and 10.7 PPG in February. Not too shabby for the new guy, huh?

Jon Leuer is getting playing time again, and he isn’t wasting a moment. Each time Leuer gets significant minutes, he makes a case for the the backup spot. He’s averaging 13 PPG and 2.5 rebounds in March. Ed Davis who? But really, to be blunt, he hasn’t brought much to the table lately. 

I always say we’re the team no one wants to play. Why? Well in part because we’ve got James Johnson and the Grindfather himself, Tony Allen, coming off the bench. These are two guys we can count on to relieve the starters, put up tough defense and attack the basket. Bottom line: they’re intimidating. 

(Photo by Nikki Boertman)

(Photo by Nikki Boertman)

The home stretch

We play Portland in the Grindhouse on Tuesday night before heading off on a relatively easy road trip.

Wedesday, March 12 @ New Orleans Pelicans (25-37)

Friday, March 14 @ Toronto Raptors (34-26)

Saturday, March 15 @ Philadelphia 76ers (15-47)

The real challenge will come when the Grizz fly to South Beach to take on the out-of-conference Heat, and then they return to Memphis to play the Indiana Pacers who are straight up terrifying. We’ll take a look at the rest of the season at a later date.

Enjoy the big win tonight, Grizz Nation.

-Casey Black

LA Clippers, Meet James Johnson

Well, Comcast struck again.  The Hawks played last night, and many of us outside Memphis were screwed.  Normally, I would have improvised quickly, going straight to the computer in hopes of finding a janky feed to stream the game.  I didn’t.  It was Friday night, and I was clowning, hard.  My fanhood warranted questioning as the Hollywood caliber actors that are the LA Clippers were on the menu.  My mistake indeed.  Twitter users following the likes of Chris Vernon, Chris Herrington, Geoff Calkins and others saw their feeds effectively blow up as the Grizzlies took the fight to the Clippers, spearheaded by James Johnson on his night.  The Neck Tattoo giveaway was a great success.  Calkins put it well capping the victory:

Clippers coach Doc Rivers credited Tony Allen, James Johnson, and Mike Miller for changing the game with their energy.  The Grizzlies bench outscored the Clippers reserves 43-7, and that is the stat of the day…I don’t know if I have ever seen something like that in a Grizzlies box score.

Now, back to James Johnson:

Block on Green, 2 Dunks by Johnson

Alley oop off the backboard

Twitter traffic mounted when Tony Allen returned to a standing ovation and, paired with Johnson, proceeded to wreak havoc on the perimeter.  The bench manhandled their counterparts, then came the highlight plays and commentary to go with it:

David Stern was smiling somewhere, as Adam Silver continues his predecessor’s bidding of eternally dooming Memphis with horrible officiating. And we noticed:

In the end, there was just too much Grizz:

Highlights and social media aside, the Grizzlies have come out of the All-Star Break strong with two solid wins at the Forum. Now that Tony Allen has returned, the roster is near full strength (minus Quincy Pondexter), and continued health will be key to rising up the West standings.  The Grizz are currently 1 game behind the Mavericks who hold the 8th seed.  Tonight, Memphis travels to Charlotte for a quick 1 game road trip before returning home to play the Lakers on Wednesday.  Dallas plays at Detroit tonight, so by the end of the day the Grizzlies could leapfrog the Mavericks and claim the final spot.

Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

AP Photo/Lance Murphey

AP Photo/Lance Murphey

Tip off tonight:

7:00 ET / 6:00 CT

Time Warner Cable Arena

Charlotte, NC

-Travis Nauert

State of the Grizz – All Star Special

Priming for Playoff Push

The Grizzlies have reached the unofficial halfway point of the season.  52 of 82 games have been played, so my college level-ish math skills tell me 30 games remain.  The break comes with opportune timing.  Marc Gasol aggravated his left knee sprain last Wednesday at Orlando in an 86-81 win over the magic.  Mike Conley continues to nurse a sprained ankle, and Tony Allen nears his return from a nebulous wrist injury that has sidelined him for 20 consecutive games.

Spruce Durden – USATODAY Sports
Marc no like injury

The injuries have been a nuisance, and fans wonder where a healthy Grizz team could be in the playoff race versus where it currently stands.  At 29-23, Memphis trails both 8th seed Golden State and 7th seed Phoenix by 1½ games, and 6th place Dallas by 2 games. Furthermore, the Rockets, Clippers, and Trailblazers claim the 3, 4, and 5 seeds respectively, with all three holding a 6½ game cushion over the Grizzlies.  This means Memphis is well within striking distance of a number of playoff scenarios and match-ups, all contingent on performance and of course good health.

Standings from espn.com

Standings from espn.com

A Note on Tiebreakers

If a tie were to occur between the Grizzlies and any Southwest division foe (most likely Dallas and Houston at this point), the Grizzlies will ultimately lose said tie based on NBA tie breaking rules, which state that a tie between two divisional opponents is first decided by head to head results, and, in the case of a season series tie, record against divisional opponents determines the higher seed.  At 2-11 in the division, and with only 3 Southwest games remaining (New Orleans, San Antonio, and Dallas), Memphis has dug too deep of a hole should that scenario emerge.  Thus, even the season series split with Houston would prove futile when comparing overall divisional records.  Despite the shortcomings against regional rivals, the fact that people such as 5 time NBA Champion Steve Kerr are already dubbing Memphis as “the team nobody wants to play” is a further testament to the competitiveness and quality of the Southwest division.

Steve Kerr

Injuries Have Made Team Stronger

While many people wonder where the Grizz “could be”, I look at where the team is now, and where they began the season. The additions of Courtney Lee and James Johnson improved the roster on both sides of the floor.  In Tony Allen’s absence, Courtney Lee has provided solid defense and reliable, timely three point shooting.  James Johnson appeared out of nowhere, showing an uncanny ability to get to the rim, guard the perimeter, and block shots at will.  Marc Gasol’s early exit provided invaluable experience for Ed Davis, Kosta Koufos, and Jon Leuer.  

Then there is the polarizing topic of Nick Calathes.  Say what you will about the Greek-American and former Florida Gator, but most if not all NBA rookies require an adjustment period, and while there may be too little time left in the playoff race to endure an “adjustment period”, signs point towards Calathes turning the corner.  Since we flipped the calendar to February, Calathes has scored double digits in 6 of 7 games, showing to be more capable from 3 than originally thought.  He is 9 of 22 from beyond the arc in these seven games for a .409 3P%.  His deceptive size (listed at 6’6″ in your programs) can create matchup problems as well.  Again, in February, Calathes has one game with 1 steal, one game with 2 steals, and two games with 3 and 4 steals each. Do the arithmetic, carry the one, and that’s 18 steals in 6 games. Not too shabby. 

Nelson Chenault /USAToday Sports

Nelson Chenault /USAToday Sports

Still, turnovers remain an issue.  6 against Cleveland in a loss, 6 against Dallas in a loss, and 4 against Atlanta in a tight win on the road.  Let’s be real for a second, no one is arguing that Calathes is a starting point guard for this team.  He has been thrust into a starting role for an indefinite but brief period. Mike Conley will return after the All Star Break, so it’s not like the team is counting on Calathes to lead the Grizz into the playoff hunt.  Even then, the transfer window remains open until the trade deadline passes next Thursday, February 20th at 2PM Central time.  So, time remains for possible upgrades if the front office desires to do so.  However, history can be linked between the front office and Calathes.  A Memphis Flyer article from June 2013 noted what would have happened “If Holliner Had Made The Picks”

The Remaining Hurdles – A Look at the Schedule Down the Stretch

Only 13 home games remain in the regular season, and 17 on the road.  The standings graphic above shows the Grizzlies have actually produced results away from home, with a 15-9 record outside of FedExForum.  On the other hand, a 14-14 record in Memphis has left something to be desired.  Home headliners include the second game out of the break, February 21st against the Clippers, where the first 5,000 fans receive the highly anticipated GRIZZLIES fake neck tattoo.  In March, games against the Trailblazers and East leading Pacers loom, in what should be a defensive clinic.  Finally, the season winds down in April with ESPN broadcasted games against Denver and Miami, and the season finale against Dallas which could turn into a 1 game series “play in” scenario.

February 28th will be the first big road test against the familiar Thunder in OKC.  A jam packed March gives way to 17 Grizz games, with 11 coming on the road.  An ESPN game in Chicago comes March 7th.  March 21st brings the first matchup of the year against reigning champ Miami.  Then, another ESPN game in Utah on March 26th kicks off a 5 game road trip that extends into April.  Opponents include Golden State, Portland, and Denver.  Furthermore, games in San Antonio (on NBATV), Los Angeles (Lakers), and Phoenix await.

First 15

courtesy ESPN.com

courtesy ESPN.com

Bottom Line: It’s going to be a long tough road to the finish. 17 of the 30 games remaining come against playoff teams by my count (East and West), and more games on the road than at home as already noted (which could be good if the first 52 games indicate anything).  In my opinion, the Grizzlies boast way too much experience compared to Golden State and Phoenix, teams Memphis has performed well against this year.  With the team looking for its 4th consecutive playoff birth led by an incumbent core, it seems unthinkable that this team would not reach the playoffs.  A stellar stretch run could see the Grizz fighting for home court advantage.  If injuries continue to impose their will, then Memphis in May will seem a little empty this year.

To be honest, I am not concerned about the playoff race.  It will play out, and the best teams will earn their place.  It will be a heated race right up until the spot has been clinched, but confidence is key.  The only thing I am really worried about is what the new growl towels will look like.

Photo by Justin Ford

Photo by Justin Ford

-Travis Nauert

It’s Just a Memphis Thing

Christmas came early in 2013, whether Grizz fans knew it or not. A circuitous path landed James Johnson in Memphis thanks to steady activity from the front office.

Johnson was drafted 16th overall out of Wake Forest in 2009 by Chicago, only to become a minor NBA journeyman after spending time with Toronto, Sacramento, and Atlanta. On December 16th, 2013, the Grizzlies acquired the athletic playmaker from the NBA D-league Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Yes, of course, the talent hotbed of Rio Grande Valley).  You know the rest. The soft spoken wing man has become a fan favorite and continues to accumulate highlights on YouTube. Johnson makes plays that are easy on the eye, ranging from slaloming euro-step drives, to vicious dunks, and his league leading blocks on three point attempts (that’s a stat?).

Life is good above the rim. Bill Baptist/Getty Images

Life is good above the rim.
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

D12 wanted no part of that. 

Now, James Johnson fervor has hit a new high. Seriously, what other franchise could pull off “Neck Tattoo Giveaway Night”? The Grizzlies are doing it on February 21, against none other than the Clippers, for whom we seem to bring out all the stops (“We Don’t Bluff” growl towels and blaring “Whoop That Trick” come to mind). The first 5,000 fans at FedEx Forum will receive a “GRIZZLIES” fake neck tattoo.

Admittedly, I was clueless as to the meaning of “NAYMIN 3.9.13” across Johnson’s jugular until this announcement, but discovered the ink honors his son who was born 6 weeks prematurely and battled through a stint in the intensive care unit.  Naymin is closing in on his first birthday in March, what a champ. With Naymin, plus ZBo jr. who was born last November, the future of Memphis basketball looks promising…I know there is an age limit for draft eligibility, but can the front office make a long term investment and acquire the rights to those two? Because they will have serious game after a lesson or two from Dad.

-Nikki Boertman

-Nikki Boertman

Johnson brings the energy of Tony Allen and length of Tayshaun Prince, while possessing a much more threatening offensive arsenal than the two NBA champions. His three point shooting is a work in progress, but Johnson attacks the rim with malice giving Memphis a threat it lost when Rudy Gay was traded.  A dunk counts for two points just like a layup, as is the mindset when playing the Heat or Clippers, but strong finishes at the rim can set or change the tone of a game in less than a second.

From a financial standpoint, the Grizzlies are enjoying great value.  Being a midseason acquisition, Johnson’s contract comes in as the 4th least expensive on the team. Only Nick Calathes, Jamal Franklin, and Darius Morris (10 day contract) cost less than Johnson. Certainly his market value has increased, but for this season, the team is reaping major benefits at an extremely low cost.  Even then, he is 26.  So while a much larger pay day is in line for Johnson after this year, he won’t be getting the same money as a freshly plucked college player.

Johnson’s best game came in mid January at Milwaukee, where his versatility was on full display. He went stat sheet stuffer supreme with 15 points on an efficient 7-13 shooting night, 6 blocks, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 0 turnovers.  He did this all in just 28 minutes:

The man rocks Beale Street Blue pretty well.

The story of the Grizzlies giveaway has already made its way through the internet and even on to some sports talk shows. That means one thing: the Grizzlies win. Whether positive or negative, people are talking about the Memphis Grizzlies, which is good for the Franchise’s brand. People will make snide remarks in the two weeks leading up to the Clippers game, presumptuous generalizations about the fan base and team. But that’s fine, often times the best explanation is, “It’s just a Memphis thing”.

-Travis Nauert

Getting in the Groove

Things have changed for this Grizzlies squad, and in this case, change is so good. Once again, we’re the team you don’t want to play. The solid additions of Courtney Lee and James Johnson paired with Marc Gasol’s glorious return re-energized the team and the fan base. Oh, and Mike Conley is playing like an All-Star PG right now.

All credit goes to the faux hawk. images

We’re a half game out of the eighth spot behind the Mavericks. So if things go our way, we could be looking at a serious playoff run. 

Here’s what the Western Conference looks like:

1. OKC Thunder

2. San Antonio Spurs

3. LA Clippers

4. Portland Trailblazers

5. Golden State Warriors

6. Houston Rockets

7. Phoenix Suns

8. Memphis Grizzlies

Round 1: Grizz vs. Thunder

All the hype around KD’s insanity in January can’t cover up our impressive track record against the Thunder. We historically play well against them, so this is an ideal matchup.

Round 2: Grizz vs. Trailblazers or Warriors

We have a decent chance with both of these teams. They’ve got the high-octane offenses that we can overwhelm with our top-notch defense.

The one team the Grizz need to avoid is the Spurs, but that’s a given. The rest of the West isn’t too intimidating right now. So Grizz Nation, it looks like  we’ve got a pretty solid shot at a little 2011 déjà vu. This could get good.