The Memphis Grizzlies haven’t been shy about running their mouths this past week. From claiming a dynasty before making the finals, to Ja Morant expressing his complete lack of worry for anyone in the West, they have managed to create a number of enemies around the league.
If you’re going to talk the talk, you have to make sure that you walk the walk. Memphis must have learned their lesson on Christmas day after a 123-109 loss to the depleted Golden State Warriors, because they sure walked and ran and jumped all over the Toronto Raptors.
I remember heading into this season being slightly skeptical about the Raptors half court offence, and wondering how they’d protect the rim, but one thing I didn’t think I would have to worry about was their perimeter defence. The Toronto Raptors are filled with big wings who have reputations as strong defenders, but they have yet to show it this season.
Despite only scoring over 43 points in the first half, the offence really isn’t what concerned me tonight. The lack of 3-point shooting has been an issue all season, but for Raptors standards, 10/28 isn’t too shabby.
It took a lineup with Scottie Barnes plus the bench to give the Raptors their first actual spark of the game, cutting the lead to 10 at 104-94 — but that would be the closest the Raptors would come before Memphis subbed back in their own starters. The Raptors did manage to get it to 9 after this, but the excitement would end there.
The lack of interior defense is one thing. Not that this should be something that the Raptors should simply concede on a night to night basis, but it is reasonable to see why they lack rim protection, or an individual body to match Steven Adams.
Adams finished the game with 14 points and 17 rebounds, and the Grizzlies with 53 rebounds as a whole. Which to be fair, didn’t exceed the Raptors by much — finishing with 47 themselves.
One area that confused me was how the Raptors decided to guard Ja Morant. Morant is one of the best players in the league, and no matter what defence you throw at him, it is only going to work to a certain extent.
For starters, the constant blow-by’s need to stop. It would be one thing if this was just Morant, but it has been just about every opposing perimeter player, nearly every night.
Nick Nurse said in his post game press conference that the Grizzlies opportunities on offence were “about as bad as it could get” for the Raptors. The alley-oops, dunks, and blow-by’s were things that happen “every once in a while, all in one game” according to Nurse.
Secondly, the pick and roll coverage was certainly questionable. The constant decision to go over on screens and then drop the big man is certainly one to squint your eyes at. If there is one thing that you want Morant to do, it’s settle for 3-pointers. Going over on screens discourages him from shooting, and encourages him to turn to his strength of getting into the key.
Dropping the big on the other hand is a reasonable strategy to help on a guard like Morant. If the big attempts to meet him at the level of the screen, the likelihood that he gets blown by is fairly high.
However, when you lack a player over 6-foot-9, you don’t necessarily have the height required to drop and play the roll of rim protector. All you’re doing is giving one of the most explosive players in the league a full head of steam towards the net.
The attempt to play a box-and-one was a good try I guess. But if you’re really busting that out in a regular season game on December 29 as a desperate attempt to get a stop, it’s probably just a sign that you’re outmatched on the night.
I did like however, when they decided to return to their man-to-man defense, and just deny Morant the ball.
The other thing I noticed, and the last thing I care to point out before just going to bed after this abysmal performance is their help defense.
One negative about constantly getting blown by is that you are always defending at a disadvantage. This can get tiring for sure, and it is difficult to expect a defense to play perfect help defense for 48 minutes a night. But when you are getting blown by possession after possession, it’s the place that you put yourself in.
To end on one positive note, Pascal Siakam put up another performance which should lead to his All-NBA case. A slightly inefficient 25 points and 10 rebounds is a weak game of what we’ve come to expect of Siakam, and that just shows how good he’s been this season.
Well, hopefully next game is better. This one was a tough watch.
The Raptors will play the Phoenix Suns tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m.