VOL. 130 | NO. 79 | Thursday, April 23, 2015
The Press Box
Grizzlies Flexing Playoff Experience
By Don Wade
It was a perfectly rational question from the perspective of the person asking it, but a flat-out crazy question if you were Marc Gasol.
This was after Game 2, Grizzlies 97, Portland 82. There was much cheering and growl towel waving in FedExForum and beyond, and much disappointment and maybe even depression in the Trail Blazers’ locker room and back in Oregon; although word is, folks out there do know how to self-medicate.
Anyway the question, in essence, went like this: Because the Grizzlies rallied from a 0-2 hole in the first round of the 2013 playoffs to beat the Los Angeles Clippers in six games, what did they learn that might apply to the Trail Blazers now?
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
“Why would we tell them?” Gasol said, never changing expression.
Why, indeed. The Grizzlies are in the playoffs for the fifth straight season. That 2013 season included beating Oklahoma City in the Western Conference semifinals and reaching the conference finals where, well, no need to talk about that right now.
The point being, you can’t borrow another team’s playoff experience. Not to sound all touchy-feely, but every team takes its own journey.
In this series, Portland is blazing a trail toward an early vacation. Only LaMarcus Aldridge can score and he’s going through hell every time he tries to put up a shot.
One example: In the second half of Game 2 Wednesday night, Aldridge decided he would try to post-up Zach Randolph. Moments earlier, Z-Bo had bullied his way through and over Aldridge for a bucket. It was time to get even.
Only Z-Bo didn’t budge. He is to a lower center of gravity what Michael Jordan was to air – at one with it. But Aldridge wasn’t quitting, either. So the reinforcements came, dressed in their home whites.
By the time the Trail Blazers were called for a shot clock violation, everyone but PA announcer Rick Trotter had put a hand in Aldridge’s face.
“It was fantastic,” said Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger. “We had guys flying all over the place and helping each other.”
Joerger was speaking to that specific play, but it applies to these first two games. Gasol and Z-Bo took the aggressive pound-the-paint lead in a 100-86 victory in Game 1; and back-up point guard Beno Udrih came off the bench to score 20 points and dish out seven assists with seven rebounds.
In Game 2, Gasol and Randolph combined for just 25 points. Their shots weren’t falling. But guards Mike Conley and Courtney Lee were hitting, each scoring 18 points, and the team went 8-for-16 from 3-point range.
“Us being aggressive kept them honest, having to keep worrying about me and Zach,” Gasol said.
And so the Grizzlies went up 2-0 by, yes, playing their trademark brand of grit-and-grind defense, but by also getting their points “in other places,” as Joerger put it.
It’s a neat little trick the Trail Blazers have not solved in this series. Aldridge has scored 56 points in two games, but Lillard just 32 in the two games, and forward Nicolas Batum has 26 points total. In fact, in two games the Blazers’ bench contributed just 37 points; the Grizzlies’ bench has scored 65.
The Blazers also failed to take care of the ball in Game 2 – 14 turnovers that led to 16 Grizzlies points – and didn’t move the ball very well – just 11 assists.
Now, they go home 0-2 and faced with the unlikely prospect of winning four of five from the Grizzlies.
“It’s going to be night and day,” Aldridge said of playing before their fans on Saturday night. “They have had their crowd behind them for two games and now we are going home and our city is next-level fans. I think everybody will play better at the house.”
That’s not impossible, but the more likely explanation is he didn’t know what else to say and really could have used any advice Marc Gasol cared to give.