At no point in this game was this a “pretty” game. Neither team played or shot particularly well, it was a physical, rough game, and the refs did not help matters with inconsistent calls. But this is the way Memphis plays: choppy, gritty, and a wear-you-down style that turns the game into a battle of attrition rather than a work of art. So, ugly, yes; a road win, yes. Good enough for me.
Outside of looking for style points, several things in this game caught my eye: Tony, still playing lights out; the Tony-Tiago screen-roll, which is developing into a thing of beauty; and a spry Timmy just owning the glass all game long, both with blocks and rebounds.
Song of the Game:
One of my favorite roadtrip albums was 1989’s Full Moon Fever from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. It’s a classic and I started every road trip I took for about three years in college by listening to this album as I started the car. So, the best track on the album, “Runnin’ Down a Dream”, gets Song of the Game status for the start of the RRT.
Play of the Game:
How well is Tony playing right now? I really don’t remember a stretch of his career where he has passed the ball better than he is right now. He’s always been a strong kick-out passer on forays into the paint, but his interior passing, such as on the pick-and-roll / pick-and-pop or on a pass to a big whose defender slides to help, has never been as strong. Lately, however, it’s been great and Tiago Splitter has been his most frequent dance partner.
With 6:25 left in the 2nd, Tony brought the ball up the left side and a trailing Tiago came down the middle of the lane for a screen on Conley, Tony’s defender. Tony dribbled right, across the top of the key, and then back to the left, as Tiago spun to re-screen. Tiago showed great patience in not firing down the lane until he knew Tony was coming back; Tony read the play perfectly, as Conley mostly slipped the first screen, but would be badly out of position for the second.
Meanwhile, Dante Cunningham, a Grizz forward, was guarding Bonner in the right corner and Bonner was camped and not moving. Cunningham should have showed into the lane to at least give the illusion that he would guard the roll, but Bonner had 2 treys already at this point and Cunningham looked like he wanted to stay home. As soon as Tony cleared the second Tiago screen, Tiago spun his body completely around – facing left instead of right, as he was when he set the second screen – which gave Tony a perfect bounce-passing lane under the outstretched arm of Mareese Speights. Tiago laid the ball up, but could have slammed it down if he had been so inclined.
So many details on this play were important: the positioning of Tiago’s body, both on the screen and as he rolled; Tony instinctively realizing that coming back to the left would clear Conley; Bonner staying in position to hold the help defender (and being there for a wide-open trey if Cunningham went to help); and finally, a fantastic pass to a cutting big. Start to finish, this play took 4 seconds of clock time. If you wanted to teach pick-and-roll basketball to someone who had never seen it run before, this is the play to show them.
I will continue to rave about Tiago incessantly until he starts getting more playing time and until other guards (looking at you, Danny Green and Gary Neal) start feeding him in the post. 6-7 from the floor and he is a man of a rebounder in the paint. 20 minutes of Tiago is not enough! Free Tiago!
I really liked what Kawhi Leonard did tonight defensively. Rudy Gay worked for every shot he got and was only 9-26 for the night. Wayne reported on his Twitter feed that when Kawhi was guarding him, Gay only had two makes, both long contested jumpers at the shot clock buzzer. His offense was not good tonight, but let’s be honest: that’s not why he played 27 minutes.
Danny Green and Gary Neal combined for 2-14 shooting and 5 turnovers tonight. I think Pop is concerned about using Cory Joseph, but I’m concerned that this backup PG thing is doing more harm than good. Neal is better when running off screens and looking to shoot. Green is a glue guy who stuffs the stat sheet. I think Joseph needs some minutes every night at PG until Ford returns.
Stat of the Game:
The plus-minus numbers for this game were weird. The Spurs ranged from Kawhi’s -4 in 27 minutes to James Anderson’s +9 in just over 7 minutes. For the Grizz, Josh Davis led them with +20 in 13 minutes to Quincy Poindexter’s -23 in 20 minutes. I gave no clue what any of that means.
Danny Green’s assist to Timmy with 1:20 left in the game was fantastic. Green went 5-hole on Marc Gasol to feed Tim for the dunk. I’m officially declaring the between-the-legs pass as “going Manu” from now on.