Memphis Grizzlies (1-0)
Wednesday, April 22
FedEx Forum | 5:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: KGWHD, TNT; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: | Out for the Grizzlies: N/A
SBN Affiliate: Grizzly Bear Blues | Timmay's Viewing Guide
The Blazers embark on Game 2 of their first round playoff series against the Grizzlies tonight after Memphis smacked them around in their series opener Sunday, 100-86, in a game that was not as competitive as the final score might indicate.
Portland came out tepid against the grit and grind defense of the Grizzlies in Game 1, unable to consistently establish a rhythm on either end of the floor as a poised Memphis team that played with energy and focus executed well on both sides.
The Blazers made just 32 of their 95 attempts (33.7 percent), complementing their poor field goal shooting with some lukewarm shooting from deep -- 8-for-26, to be exact. They didn't move the ball effectively for more than short stretches, gave up points on their turnovers and only got to the line 19 times.
Looking for a silver lining on the offensive end? Portland's 16 rebounds look nice under its own basket, but it's significantly easier to corral misses on your own end when you put 63 of them up for grabs.
Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge stepped up by pouring in 32 points, but required 34 attempts to get there and only got to the line for five free throw attempts. He -- along with fellow All-Star Damian Lillard in the backcourt -- bore the brunt of Memphis' suffocating team defense. Any points Aldridge scored were earned by the 6-foot-11 Texan, and when he had to create on his own he found himself in trouble against the long arms of Memphis' frontcourt.
Ok, back to silver linings...hmm...well, big man Meyers Leonard did tally seven points and nine rebounds in 16 minutes of game time, connecting on two of his three outside attempts. Leonard's success as an athletic, stretch-scoring big against the traditional frontcourt players of Memphis was certainly a boon for the Blazers -- and hopefully a weapon coach Terry Stotts' can continue to bank on throughout this series -- but the Grizzlies will welcome and absorb a spirited performance from Leonard any day of the week if it comes packaged with the combined 24-for-77 shooting performance Portland's five starters delivered on Sunday.
Frankly, not much positivity on the offensive end can be gleaned from the Blazers' Game 1 loss, in a vacuum.
But NBA games (thankfully) aren't played in vacuums, and tonight's matchup is just Game No. 2 in a best-of-seven series. Stotts and his staff have had the last few days to reorganize and retool their attack. Portland guard Arron Afflalo, who had started in place of the injured Wesley Matthews for the stretch run of the season, may also return tonight from a shoulder strain that has kept him out of uniform the last two weeks. If Afflalo is able to reprise his role in the starting lineup tonight, guard CJ McCollum can go back to coming off the bench, where he had been one of the Blazers' best backcourt scorers the last month of the season. In 37 minutes of action on Sunday, McCollum missed seven of his eight attempts and both of his three-point tries.
Make no mistake, Memphis' defense is the real McCoy and deserves credit for stunting Portland's offense as much as it did in the series opener. But the Blazers did themselves no favors by blowing transition opportunities and missing clean looks. Groundbreaking analysis alert: Portland needs to make its open shots -- especially against a defense like that of the Grizzlies which doesn't provide many.
Ball movement is key against Memphis. If the ball goes stagnant and the opposition settles into iso-mode, the Grizzlies can generally render ancillary players ineffective and withstand an attempted onslaught from one or two superstars -- witness Aldridge and Lillard's combined 46 points on 55 attempts in Game 1. The non-Aldridge/Lillard trio of Portland starters mustered 22 attempts between them on Sunday, converting just six of those tries and notching 19 total points.
We know Aldridge and Lillard can put the team on their respective backs and carry the Blazers as necessary -- they're both All-Star, All-NBA players, after all -- and we've seen it happen in the postseason, too. But the Houston Rockets the Grizzlies are not, and as much as you might wish Kevin McHale and Memphis coach Dave Joerger could switch places right about now, that's not happening, either.
Portland shouldn't, and won't, stop spearheading its attack with Lillard and Aldridge. To do otherwise would be downright silly. The Blazers still need to feed their stars, but play better off of them and the looks they can provide when garnering the bulk of the defense's attention. Leonard, center Chris Kaman and forward Nicolas Batum all played well in spurts on Sunday, but a more encompassing team effort will be required tonight and from here on out against Memphis.
Defensively, Portland limited forwards Zach Randolph and Jeff Green, but again, the effort on that end of the floor was inconsistent and guard Mike Conley, center Marc Gasol and wing Beno Udrih were all able to pick up the slack for their struggling brethren.
We knew Blazers center Robin Lopez would be put in disadvantageous situations for the duration this series. He generally anchors the defense, dropping back on pick-and-rolls to cover the hoop. Against Gasol and Randolph -- two bigs who can stretch the floor and pass from up top -- Lopez is forced away from the rim where he's most effective and unable to easily recover his positioning and get back to squarely protecting the basket.
The spotty individual defense of Portland's guards in Game 1 made life even more difficult for Lopez and eclipsed Aldridge's generally solid play against Randolph. Lillard has been known league-wide as a defensive liability for some time now, though it's not for lack of effort, to his credit. He just has a hard time staying in front of his man and still struggles with screens, which the Grizzlies set well.
In pick-and-roll situations, the Blazers usually drop their big man back toward the basket to contest the hoop while the guard goes over the screen. Theoretically -- and in practice for a solid portion of the year -- this keeps shooters from open shots at the rim and from the perimeter, instead leaving the midrange relatively clear. Though Portland's guards have to fight over, through and around picks to keep the three-point line contested at all times, they're also supposed to stay on the ballhandler's hip and get a hand in his face should he pull up for the jumper off the screen. On Sunday, the Blazers didn't follow through and consistently contest shots, and it showed when Udrih -- a midrange wizard who had already demonstrated his ability from that area of the floor against Portland in the regular season -- dropped 20 points on 14 attempts, eight of them wide open.
Afflalo's potential return tonight could provide the double-bonus of giving the Blazers a more defensively sound guard in the starting backcourt next to Lillard while also pushing McCollum back to sixth man duty, where he can come off the bench and not only find his shots against the Grizzlies' reserves but not have to compete with both Portland superstars for attempts. McCollum needs the ball in his hands to be at his best, but Lillard and Aldridge demand the same and are much higher in the pecking order, leaving McCollum fighting for scraps and unable to establish the shooting rhythm he'd become known for among Blazers fans since the All-Star break. Coming off the bench, he should be able to fit back into his role as a scorer more naturally than when he's competing with Lillard and Aldridge for looks.
Unfortunately for Lopez, his utility in this series is severely limited by the aforementioned floor-spacing of Memphis' frontcourt, and it should come as a surprise tonight if he surpasses the 19 minutes he played in Game 1. Stotts liked what he saw in Leonard's 16 minutes on Sunday, and the third-year big man should see plenty of action tonight. Kaman may also register more time on the floor and forward/center Joel Freeland, who only played three minutes on Sunday, probably will garner more in-game opportunities tonight if Lopez indeed sees his time limited.
Stotts could also throw wing Alonzo Gee on the floor to help bolster the defense. He's not much of a scorer, but the Blazers could certainly benefit from his adept perimeter defense and Portland's potent backcourt offense is rendered moot anyway when the Grizzlies blow the guards like they did Sunday. Wing Allen Crabbe could also see more meaningful minutes for many of the the same reasons as Gee.
For the most part, the Blazers rebounded well against Memphis in Game 1, earning a 56-48 rebounding edge. Again, offensive rebounds are less straining to compile when you provide as many clanks as Portland did Sunday, but the team did well to grab them. The Blazers held the Grizzlies to just eight offensive boards of their own and, in fact, Portland's effort on the boards is one of just a few aspects of its game plan from the series opener that it should carry over into tonight's meeting with Memphis.
Truth be told, the goal of most road teams in a playoff series is to achieve a split in the first two games, and the Blazers still have another opportunity to do so tonight even after the spanking they received at the hands of the Grizzlies a few days ago. The 14-point, series-opening loss was confirmation of a number of struggles many predicted Portland would face against the Grizzlies in the first round.
The good news? The Blazers now know what definitely won't work against Memphis, and they'll have at least three more chances -- starting tonight -- to regroup, re-strategize and show fans in Portland they're not the same team the Grizzlies wiped the floor with Sunday.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter