Searching for a Cure: Grizzlies Slump Continues with 114-98 Loss at Home to Clippers
By: Jeffrey Wright
MEMPHIS | Growth for the sake of growth is the philosophy of a cancer cell.
I don’t think Edward Abbey was discussing the 2016-17 Memphis Grizzlies on March 9th, but one has to consider the possibility.
For the second consecutive game the Memphis Grizzlies (36-29) trotted out a new starting lineup, this time replacing James Ennis, III for Chandler Parsons, who sat out Thursday’s game for a day of planned rest, according to the Memphis Grizzlies Public Relations department.
“I’ve got to shuffling things up and look at some different things,” Head Coach David Fizdale said before a 114—98 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers (39-26). “I know that I got criticized over (playing) Andrew Harrison, but Andrew Harrison has helped us win this year. In fact, the game against the Clippers in L.A., we don’t win the game without him. He’s one of our beat playmakers, so I want to see this group with him. And, if this doesn’t go well, then I’ll look at something else. I want to get to a place where we can connect this team and truly give it an identity that it can hang its hat on (and) that gives us a chance to win a title.”
The Grizzlies were outscored in each of the first three quarters, a reality that culminated in an 11-3 Clippers run to close the third and put the Grizzlies away with an 85-65 lead. The Grizzlies would eventually outscore the Clippers during the fourth, but at that point all that was undecided was the final score.
“I felt like the game got away from us in the third quarter,” Fizdale said. “I thought we let our offense affect our defense. Not seeing the ball go through the net when you’re getting those open shots and missing bunnies around the rim, I thought carried into our defense. I was happy with the start (of the game), but other than that, we just played in the mud.”
The Grizzlies are sick right now, but they don’t appear to be addressing the cause rather they’re trying to mask the symptoms. They have the flu, but are worried about keeping their fever down.
"I wish I could put my hands on it,” Tony Allen said of the team’s poor play. “It’s a lot of things. As I look at this stat sheet, I see multiple guys coming in and making an impact — Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers, Raymond Felton — they hit us from so many angles. I think we’re getting away from our identity. Our identity is defense as long as I’ve been here. I thought we were a grit and grind defensive team. We keep teams in the mud. I guess when we try to run and gun with some of these teams, these are the type of numbers that get put up, and I just believe that if we could get back to who we are, having our defensive mindset first, I think it will be a better outcome for these games.”
The team looks confused at best, apathetic at worst. They've now lost six-of-seven games since returning from the All-Star Break, four by double-digits. One of their biggest rivals in the league came into their building and controlled most of the game, and the Grizzlies didn’t seem to mind.
“They care, so guys are down,” Fizdale said of the team’s morale. “I think the elephant in the room is always going to be the lineup change, of course. I’m sure some guys probably feel some frustrations and things like that, but I think we’re a veteran enough group that we can dig our way out of this. When we do, I think it will just be something that helps us with the playoffs. Adversity is not always a bad thing if you can weather it, and I think this group can weather it.”
Chris Herrington of The Commercial Appeal called tonight’s matchup with the Clippers “the most important game of the season to this point” for the Grizzlies, and they a performance that sent most fans home well before the game clock struck triple zeroes.
In fairness to Andrew Harrison, he wasn’t the problem tonight. In fact, he was the only Grizzly to finish with a positive in the plus-minus category. However, the lineup of Harrison, Conley, Ennis, Wright, and Gasol combined to finish with -30.
The second unit wasn’t any better. Toney Douglas continues to be a liability. In nine minutes of action he scored no points and finished with a -or 16.
The Grizzlies are sick, and either haven’t found a cure or perhaps one doesn’t exist. Or, maybe they weren’t sick and started taking medication that made them sick. The Grizzlies were 22-14 before the calendar turned to 2017 with a 0.9-point differential. Entering tonight’s game, they were 14-14 after January 1st with the same point differential. Perhaps the losing of games that they had been winning, the super-clutch variety, forced them into making changes that weren’t necessary.
“We gotta figure it out, plain and simple,” Marc Gasol said. “We gotta man up, and do your job. There's no other way. It’s takes everybody. The beauty of our defense is it’s not one-or-two guys, or three. It takes five guys to play the defense that we’re used to playing here. It takes everyone to be aware of what’s going on.”
Regardless of what the answer is, the fact remains that this team as it currently is constructed is destined for a first-round loss in the playoffs. Maybe that was their fate all along, but even a cynic can see that the team that has taken the floor since the end of the All-Star break is not one that has defined the franchise the past six seasons.
“I want to see them fight their way out of it,” Fizdale said. “I want to see collectively guys help each other through a dilemma. If individuals are going through their own struggles and things like that, help each other out through that stuff. (Erik Spoelstra) used to have a saying, ‘You have to actively participate in your own rescue,’. It’s funny how things echo in your ear from your mentor when you’re going through adversity. That right now is the thing that’s sticking in my head more than anything. We are going to have to participate in our own rescue.”
If the Grizzlies weren’t actually sick, they certainly are now, and a until they actively participate in finding a cure or remedy, they’ll continue to be for the remainder of the season.