I’m not going to do a full recap of Saturday’s brutal loss. We did a lengthy analysis on the podcast which you can listen to here. In fact, I planned to hold off until after game four to write anything Grizzlies related. I planned on cleansing my palate with a restaurant review and maybe a 2012 movie list.
That was before Lionel Hollins opened his mouth. His coaching was in my opinion the single biggest reason the Grizzlies lost Saturday. Like many others, I’ve been very critical of his lineup decisions in the fourth quarter. That being the case, I was shocked when I opened (clicked on) the local paper this morning. This is a quote from Hollins in this morning’s Geoff Calkins column in the Commercial Appeal:
“It was the exact same rotation in Game 2, which we won, and all of a sudden I’m the scapegoat?”
OH REALLY? Now I didn’t hear the question so maybe he was referring to the Quincy Pondexter-Tony Allen rotation in a vacuum. That better be the case because otherwise he is just making crap up.
The Grizzlies started the fourth quarter of their game two win with O.J. Mayo, Pondexter, Rudy Gay, Marreese Speights and Marc Gasol. That gives the Grizzlies three players capable of creating their own offense. Mayo and Gay are obviously threats on the perimeter with Gasol keeping the Clippers honest in the paint.
By contrast the Griz started the fourth quarter of the game three loss with a lineup of Mike Conley, Mayo, Pondexter, Daunte Cunningham and Speights. Where is the offense supposed to come from exactly? Any type of high-low two man game is out of the question. Speights, primarily an offensive player, is one of the least willing passers in the NBA. Pondexter and Cunningham are energy/defensive guys that get their offense from hustle and broken plays. That leaves Conley, a pass first point guard, and Mayo who is a gifted scorer but was playing a terrible game.
The lineups have something in common. Neither lineup played a single minute together during the regular season. However, any combination of three from the game 2 group has played extensive minutes together. The game three combo of Pondexter, Cunningham and Speights played only 20 minutes together in the regular season.
So how did the unconventional lineup that started the fourth quarter of game three perform? It was magical. In a matter of a minute and 12 seconds they managed to transform a seven-point lead into two.
How does Hollins decide to remedy the problem? He subs Gay for Mayo. In other words he just takes out one scorer and puts in another one. As an added bonus, the Grizzlies now have one legitimate ball handler on the floor in Conley. In game two the first substitution gave the Griz a lineup of Conley, Mayo, Pondexter, Randolph and Speights. That isn’t a lineup that I love but it least it has more balance.
I’ll summarize the rest of the fourth quarters by saying that until the starters (minus Allen plus Mayo) came in there were no common lineups between game two and three. So the rotations were the same? Really, Lionel?
Road playoff games are a different animal. You want not only your best players in the game but also guys who are comfortable playing together. In the first 8:50 of the fourth in game three, the lineups featured by his smugness played a grand total of 13:30 together in the regular season. Pathetic.
And for the love of all that is good, put in Tony Allen. Yes, the Clippers were playing off him and Pondexter played his best half of basketball of the season in the first. However, that doesn’t mean you bench a team leader and one of the elite perimeter defenders in the league. I guarantee the Clippers are thrilled that they don’t have to worry about where Allen is when the game is hanging in the balance.
Blowing a 27-point lead sucks but you know what else sucks? Losing a game in which the coach doesn’t bother playing the best players in critical situations. Hopefully, Hollins swallows his pride before game 4 (unlikely).
Oh, and if a lineup of Pondexter, Cunningham and Speights is playing in the fourth quarter tonight go ahead and send suggestions on what TV I should buy because mine is going out the window.