Early Grizz Are Still A Mystery
For the Memphis Grizzlies, it has been quite the down and up year after just two regular season games. They opened the season losing by 28 points in Bankers Life Fieldhouse to the Indiana Pacers 111-83 on last Wednesday and then just Friday night they beat the Atlanta Hawks 131-117, leading by as much as 24 points.
What led to these two very different results? It’s easy to say that the home team gets the best advantage when it comes to energy and environments, but in today’s NBA it would be partially wrong. With so many bandwagon fans (that’s right I said it and I’ll say it again if I have to) for every large market team who has had reasonable success in recent years, such as the Warriors, Lakers, and Celtics, it can be hard to establish a good homecourt environment when these teams come to visit. Obviously not true for every team, but, nevertheless, it exists. Looking at you Sacramento and Brooklyn.
Well, imagine how hard it is when you are the visitor to the thunderous arenas of the popular teams. That’s where the Grizzlies were Wednesday in Indiana. Last year, the Pacers finished 48 - 34 on the season with the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference. Many discounted this team after they traded their All-Star small forward, Paul George, to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Oladipo quickly silenced anyone’s murmurs of doubt averaging 23.1 points, 4.3 assists, and 5.2 rebounds with a solid 37% from three. He wasn’t all offense though. He also averaged 2.4 steals. Ultimately the Pacers didn’t get past the first round in the playoffs, but, after a quick two-second analyzation of the 4th seed they had to face, it’s easy to see why.
In their HOME SEASON OPENER, the Pacers had 17,923 fans to please, which is 99% of the 18,165 seating capacity in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Lucky for them, they got to play the Memphis Grizzlies. I say that because since the first year of the storied playoff run back in 2010-11, the Grizzlies have gone 3 -6 on opening nights. All three wins were at home, two being over Minnesota (2014-15 and 2016-17) and the third was last year over New Orleans. What do many do with that information? Absolutely nothing and the overreactions poured in. Sure, some of the comments came with 100% merit. “What was that?” “They couldn’t make a single basket.” “Where’s the Mike and Marc game at?The concern was more than understandable, but, come on guys, we were blown out by a potential Eastern Conference contender on their home floor. It happens. Now. If there had been a similar result Friday against Atlanta, it would be, in my honest opinion, time to worry. But no, the Hawks flew out of Memphis with their second loss of the season.
Friday night was memorable one. Why? It may have simply been because the Grindhouse was in full swing again, healthy Mike and Marc to start the season, Garrett Temple’s night as the man on fire, or the 24 point work sample from Jaren Jackson, Jr. For the 17,019 fans in the FedEx Forum, it may have even been the lineup of performances featuring Memphis rappers Project Pat and Young Dolph. In a postgame media availability with the Fox Sports telecast, Jaren was asked to recap the day after his first 20 point game at home:
“Dolph came out after the lineups and that was crazy. I got to dap him up and that was the whole goal. That’s the takeaway, not gonna lie. That and the fans… I’m good off that. That was a win already.”
Jaren shot 8-12 from the field and 2-4 from three, and his makes around the basket weren’t just easy layups. He showed tremendous skill with an array of post moves and footwork that a lot of people, including myself, were not ready for. Everyone knew that his defense was stellar. Over the first two games of the season, he is averaging 1.5 blocks and 2 steals with 3.5 fouls in 26.5 minutes of play. What we didn’t know was where his offense was at. Draft experts lauded that he could potentially become the best player in the 2018 draft, but hadn’t expected it to show until 3-4 years down the line. Needless to say, he has now captured the favor of the fans all over.
JJJ wasn’t the only one who surprised fans though. Garrett Temple, who got the start, scored a team high 30 points in a near perfect game. He went 10-11 from field with his only missed shot coming from three point range, where from which he shot 5-6. Since he’s been in Memphis, he has been mentioned multiple times by JB or teammates for his leadership. Only fitting that fans got to see who they’ve been talking about in the home opener.
Between the Young Dolph performance and the tip off, Mike Conley addressed the fans with an encouraging statement of “I’m back.” Then, went out and got a 16 & 11 double-double with zero turnovers. The first quarter featured a lot of what made the Grizzlies so unique over the past few years: the Mike and Marc pick-n-pop.
Overall, it was an encouraging win, despite how bad Atlanta is. It’s difficult to read into the team much because Indiana, a really good team, beat us by 28, and then we go out beat a really bad team, the Hawks, by 14. We haven’t seen them play “All Heart” quite yet, but doing so consistently will be necessary to live up to playoff expectations.
That’s not all they will have to do though. When I talked to Marc Gasol after Friday night’s win, I asked about his thoughts about Monday night’s upcoming Utah Jazz matchup in Salt Lake City:
“If you want to be a good playoff team, you’ve got to be [.500] on the road. And we’re (0-1). At home, you need to win at least anywhere from 29-35 games. So at least on that part, we’re in a good place. We got to win on the road. Good teams win on the road. It’s that simple.”