News Flash: The Memphis Grizzlies are a pretty decent defensive team.
Other News Flashes: Broccoli is green, network TV sucks, and Sports Illustrated might be coming out with a swimsuit issue this year.
The only word to describe the defensive job the Grizzlies did on the Portland Trail Blazers tonight is superb. They composed a symphony tuned to frustrated groans from the best offense in the league. Meanwhile the Blazers passed around a juice harp, two kazoos, and a "Best of Hee-Haw" songbook. The results weren't pretty: a 98-81 loss for Portland with a second-straight season low for points set in the process.
Like the Warriors on Sunday night, the Grizzlies hit the magic trifecta on defense. They hawked three-point shooters while semi-containing LaMarcus Aldridge and not letting the Blazers feast on offensive rebounds. Except the Warriors only managed that feat intermittently. The Grizzlies played that way from start to finish, suffocating Portland, allowing quarters of 22, 23, 24, and 12 points. The 12-point performance came in the third period, traditionally separation time for the Blazers. It was again tonight, except in the wrong direction. It was as if the Grizzlies stood toe to to with the Blazers and said, "We're going to take away everything you do well and there's not a damn thing you can do about it." And they did.
By contrast, the Blazers suffered from serious attention and energy deficits on defense. From the outset they defended screens ineptly. They got bumped off, ran the wrong way, or just slowed to a half-hearted jog when confronted with a pick. Memphis started the game hitting wide-open mid-range jumpers. Those soon morphed into rolls through the paint. It was a disaster. Then the Blazers started helping against penetration without rotating out to three-point shooters. That multiplied the disaster by 1.5. When Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph added insult to injury by popping multiple jumpers over LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez this game was over. The Blazers needed some kind of miracle--forced turnovers, a flurry of offensive boards, a landslide of foul shots--to have any kind of chance. The first two never came. Portland did manage a 22-10 advantage in free throw shots but even a extra-healthy +11 from the strip wasn't enough to save them from the blowout. Portland had only 58 points by the end of the third and needed 23 to catch up to the Grizz. Since they'd barely scored 23 in a quarter up to that point, the chances of them making up that many points equaled "nonexistent". A smattering of near-meaningless threes, quickly answered by the Grizz, gave them their only real run of the game but they still dropped it by 17.
If you want the ugliness in full blazing Technicolor you need look no farther than Portland's 34.5% rate from the floor and 16.7% (4-24) clip from the three-point arc. All 4 of those triples fell in the blowout-colored fourth period too. Before that point the Blazers were 0-16 from beyond the arc. Every other stat save the free throws mentioned above ended up mundane for the Blazers but it might not have mattered anyway. The Grizzlies shot 52% from the field and 42% from the arc. You're not going to overcome that kind of shooting disparity easily.
LaMarcus Aldridge ended up with a more than respectable line: 11-23 for 27 points, 16 rebounds, and 2 blocks. But the Grizzlies made him work for every look. If they gave out Grammys for Best-Timed Double Teaming, Closest Shadowing in the Lane, and Fair-But-Firm Physicality the Grizz would have swept the awards and been invited to sing onstage with Taylor Swift and Justin Timberlake.
Damian Lillard had 16 points of off 7-16 shooting, 2-9 from distance. But you can forget the three-point struggles. His defense is killing the product right now. When you hear "trouble covering screens" this is the very first place you should point. 3 assists matched against 3 turnovers doesn't help.
Wesley Matthews had a sub-par night as well, shooting only 2-9, 2-6 from distance for 8 points. In addition to messing up Aldridge the Grizzlies were near-heroic in rotating to Portland shooters. Matthews did garner 5 assists.
Nicolas Batum registered another aggressive first period offensively but once again disappeared after that. He finished the game with 10 points on 4-11 shooting, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists. This is a pale imitation of the Batum we saw earlier in the season.
Robin Lopez turned into Portland's main scorer in the third period, pouring in 7 points. He was also the most active non-Aldridge player the Blazers fielded tonight. The caveats: Memphis could care less about the 7 points because the Blazers scored only 12 in that quarter, Lopez managed only 5 rebounds on the night (but give him 6 for forcing Kosta Koufos to tip it out of bounds once), and the prowess of Memphis' big men allowed Lopez to defend pretty much nobody effectively. The Grizz shot over him when he stayed home and passed or drove around him when he went out to try and defend.
Portland's bench played scatter-shot shifts tonight with 7 players sharing 56 total minutes. They barely hit a shot (2-18), barely scored (6 total points to 25 from the Memphis reserves), managed only 9 rebounds, and left everybody wishing the starters would hurry back in even though they, too, were getting blown away. Mo Williams' 1-7 shooting clip and C.J. McCollum's defense were sore spots. Thomas Robinson and Joel Freeland rebounding were small positives even though both lacked in other ways.
The Blazers get to rest until Saturday when they welcome the Toronto Raptors to town before embarking on yet another long and nasty road trip. That Saturday win could be pretty important.
Grizzly Bear Blues will be rightfully proud of their team tonight.
Your Jersey Contest Results are HERE. We'll have a form up for Toronto before Saturday. Tonight's Jersey Contest answers:
Mike Conley got more assists than Damian Lillard.
Memphis shot a higher percentage from the field.
Marc Gasol had more combined points, rebounds, and blocks than Robin Lopez.
Conley scored over 18 points (by 1).
We're doing a check to confirm our January Jersey Contest winner. Stay tuned!