Have Grizzlies Lost Their Bite?

VIDEO: The Grizzlies needed everything they had to get their only win of the year so far

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — “It gets late early out there.”

Yogi Berra was talking about the left field shadows at the old Yankee Stadium. But he could have been referring to the shadow of former coach Lionel Hollins in Memphis.

Not even a week into the 2013-14 season and there seems to be something missing from the Grizzlies. Teeth and claws.

Or as they call it at the FedEx Forum, “Grit and Grind.”

It’s unwise to read too much into just the first three sips from an 82-game regular season. Otherwise we’d be guzzling the Kool-Aid of the confounding 3-0 Sixers and already making hotel reservations for next June in always sunny Philadelphia.

But there are times when a few early leaks in the bucket could be cause for concern that the bottom might fall out.

The Grizzlies, who advanced to the Western Conference finals a season ago, have carried around a style and reputation as subtle as an anvil in their climb up the ranks of legitimate contenders. Yet the early returns have shown that anvil dropping onto their toes.

Were it not for a couple of timely jumpers by Tayshaun Prince in overtime on Friday that finally put down the Pistons, Memphis would be looking at an 0-3 start that might have some reaching for the panic button. As it is, it might not hurt to at least get a finger loosened up.

After an uninspiring 111-99 loss at Dallas Saturday, the Grizzlies have surrendered more than 100 points three times in three games. While on their way to winning a franchise record 56 times last season, the Grizzlies and their No. 2-rated defense allowed opponents to hit the century mark just 10 times in 82 tries.

That certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed within the locker room, as noted by Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal:

“This ain’t us,” Griz forward Zach Randolph said. “I don’t know if we’re focusing on the offense or not, but we’re a defensive team and that’s what we’ve got to hang our hats on. And another thing is we’ve got to come out faster.”

Yes, it is early. But the trend could bring out all of the fears that were left by management’s decision to let Hollins — the best coach in franchise history — walk out the door. While the thought was that rookie coach Dave Joerger would be able to put some juice into the Grizzlies offensive by getting more ball movement and a faster pace, it was not supposed to be at expense of their lockdown defense.

While the Memphis offense that had the slowest pace in the league a year ago has jumped from 17th to 13th through the opening weekend of the season, the defense has fallen from 100.3 (No. 2) to 109 (26th). Opponents’ shooting percentage is up overall, especially from behind the 3-point line. However the interior defense that is supposed to be anchored by the bruising play of Randolph and 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol, is being exploited regularly.

After after reeling in the Mavs with a stretch of solid defense in the middle of the game, too often the Grizzlies were simply trading baskets, giving up layups or committing interior fouls that produced a parade to the free-throw line.

“We didn’t come out and play with any force,” Joerger said. “They’re at home. You’ve got to come out and set the tone early. We did not do that. We did not defend. We didn’t cut hard.”

These are all the areas that were as much a part of the Grizzlies appearance in games as their jerseys and sneakers under Hollins. If he was often critical, sarcastic and demanding, it was because there was a purpose. If it was Tony Allen who gave their home court the “Grind House” nickname, it was Hollins who laid the foundation and planted the seeds in the front lawn.

When the Spurs eventually exploited Memphis’ lack of offensive firepower in their conference finals blitz, it was clear that an upgrade was needed in order for the Grizzlies to take the next step. Was adding 33-year-old Mike Miller enough? Definitely not if the defensive intensity was going to drop.

In a Western Conference race that has only become more crowded and contentious, the last thing the Grizzlies can afford to lose is their identity.

So with the shadow of Hollins looming, it might not be too early for the grit and grind to heed another old Yogi-ism:

“When you come to a fork in the road…take it.”

25 Comments

  1. OakleyFan says:

    I’ll give them 20-25 games before writing them off but they’ve looked bad in the preseason and regular season. Gasol seems almost forgotten in the offense, at times Randolph also. Too many guys trying to be the hero and pad stats it seems (Conley, Allen, Bayless).

  2. sanjay says:

    this team is too slow for todays nba standards and their offense also is mediocre to say the least. They will be lucky to make the playoffs this season!

  3. jan michael tan says:

    if you’re team is constructed as a defensive line up and you hire a coach who is an offense minded coach then there would really be a problem..

  4. ron52nge says:

    If they let Hollins stay and fix the issue last season, probably they will reach further or even Finals. But now, i am not sure but probably they will be in the Playoffs….

  5. Nokfan says:

    I think they will miss Hollins…alot.

  6. stony says:

    Thank Heaven I am not alone in grieving for the Hollins and Karl situation.
    I hate to root against either team but I have to because ownership should not be rewarded for putting their egos ahead of the team.

  7. Croakus says:

    I Hope Lionel Hollins and George Karl are LOL!

  8. Gritty says:

    You guys didn’t watch Grizz games last year did you? Rudy was not that good on Offense and did not like defense. The best thing was trading him, but we did not get much for him. Ed Davis is ok but we should have gotten better parts. Give Dave time and the organization will make another trade to get a shooter to help spread out the floor for Big Spain and Z-bo

  9. Vluez says:

    I knew this would happend. But they did it them self when they let Hollins go. i still will cheer from them even if they aint going nowhere.

  10. Tom says:

    Such stupidity in ditching Hollins….

  11. quasistar says:

    I absolutely agree with that and was totally upset in seeing Hollins being sent away. He was working so hard with his team to push them into a rusty offense, and was fired only because of the sweep against the Spurs, who eventually made it to the Finals and were so close to beat the Heat. He did not do anything wrong in my opinion and, most important, it looked like all the players were very committed with him coaching. Sad.

  12. aron says:

    Lionel was a good coach. It’s sad that management had to let go of him. The Grizz today is not the “Grit and Grind” Grizz of last season. It’s clearly evident on the lack of defensive schemes and changing to faster offensive sets. If they can’t adjust then it’s going to be an uphill battle if they intend to catch the playoffs with a terrible start this regular season.

    Lionel had a good thing going for the Grizzlies. Management messed up with fixing things that didn’t need to be fixed in the first place. They could have just settled for tweaking the roster or coaching staff but they had to do the opposite.

    Grizz should say goodbye to the “Grit and Grind” monicker. They don’t deserve it as of now.

  13. josep says:

    WHAT’S THE MUSIC ON THE BACKGROUND >?

  14. J says:

    should have kept lionel hollins

  15. Gillsy says:

    I agree the two of them were excellent coaches especially Karl. Both teams will drop a large number of wins this season, with the Nuggets lucky to make the playoffs.

  16. NBA-Fan-DLP says:

    What reason would you let a good coach walk away. It’s said to jump start the offense. They needed shooters to complement their awesome post game. they brought in Mike Miller, but they traded Rudy Gay…. really? Mr. Prince is a good player, but they would be better off being a little younger and more athletic. I’m a Laker fan, but I loved to watch the Grizz play because they played with heart. I think Coach Hollins was not the problem, the lack of shooting was. the scheme they’re running now takes away their advantage in not focusing on pounding the post. the jump shots leads to fast breaks for the other team… In which causes more points for the other team. So, Yes they lost some bite, because they are trying to change thier style of play…

  17. John says:

    It is sad to see because they managed to beat the Clippers, only to get swept by the Spurs. I think that was the first sign of a decline. Hopefully they get it together and come back stronger next season. I think Randolph has to go.

  18. abchome says:

    Grizzlies and Nuggets will find out how good and underappreciated Lionel Hollins and George Karl had been very soon.

    • Cristian says:

      agree 100%. I was literally shocked when they fired Karl. Hollins was a solid coach as well.

    • dustydreamnz says:

      Absolutely. How any coach can be fired after winning as many as they did I don’t know. If a franchise doesn’t upgrade its squad in the off season it’s very hard to win a title, even Miami did.

    • Rido says:

      I’m still feeling bad about George Karl =(

    • francesco says:

      totally agree with you! in particular the grizzlies have made the worst decision possible in firing a coach who finally gave them an was able to improve during the three last years

  19. Moomz says:

    Lionel Hollins was a great coach. The Memphis front office messed up so much last year. Gave up bench, Rudy and a great coach. I’m upset with this team that I really rocked for. Also, this new coach is using Mike Miller too much. Mike should have limited minutes due to his age/past injuries.

    • Shawn K says:

      I agree with most of what you said. I think the Grizzlies’ front office made a HUGE mistake firing coach Lionel Hollins. His coaching style was a perfect fit for this team and was the reason why they were such a good team last year. And I also agree that the new coach (Dave Joeger I think his name is, correct me if I’m wrong) is using Mike Miller too much despite Miller’s injury history and age(as you already stated). But here is where I disagree with you. While most view the Rudy Gay trade as a one sided trade in which the Raptors got the better of the deal, I think the Grizzlies improved from the trade as well. They shed a lot of cap space so they don’t have to suffer the CBA penalties. They got rid of an over paid player in Rudy Gay(I think he is a good player, just not worth $19m+), they enforced their defensive “environment” by acquiring Tayshaun Prince. And they got a good young player in Ed Davis who has a lot of potential and could be a future starter in Memphis. All in all, I think Memphis got better from that trade.

  20. okc2014 says:

    Yes, they have lost their bite. Very sad to see.