Grizzlies’ Bubble Breakdown: Games 5-8


Well, no one expected the first half to turn out the way it did.

To make matters worse, the back-half of the Grizzlies’ schedule is the toughest section of their entire season. Each opponent has a top-10 defense, and three are in the top five. On the bright side, each team’s playoff spot — with the possible exception of OKC — is unlikely to change, meaning Memphis might be able to steal a game while opposing stars rest.

We covered the first half of the schedule here.

Second-Half Game Analysis

August 7: Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder, like the Grizzlies, exceeded expectations this season. Many predicted that this campaign would be a rebuilding year for OKC after they moved on from Russell Westbrook. Trade rumors swirled, and hardly anyone thought Chris Paul would finish the season in Oklahoma.

Fast forward to today, and the Thunder are the sixth seed in the West. Paul has elevated a solid supporting cast to elite levels. He orchestrates one of the league’s most efficient offenses, and the team has committed on defense. Dennis Schroder, though he has temporarily left the Bubble, has emerged as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Steven Adams, though also unavailable today, continues to bully opposing bigs. Danilo Gallinari remains one of the league’s more unique, effective scorers.

Offensive Outlook

The Grizzlies match up decently against OKC, especially with Schroder gone and Adams not in the lineup today. They have some key areas where they should excel, and others where they’ll struggle. Most notably, the Thunder allow the fewest fast-break points in the league, which will make things tough for the up-tempo Grizzlies. Memphis will have to be smart and efficient in half-court settings. Luckily, the Thunder are not a great paint-defending team. The Grizzlies lead the league in points in the paint. Off-ball movements and passing will be key to get shots inside.

Defensive Outlook

The Thunder are like a Blazers-Jazz combination. They play a slower pace, but don’t make a lot of passes. They thrive in isolation. The Thunder rank highly in scoring from drives and pull-up jumpers, and score very efficiently in both areas. Their meticulous play nets a lot of free throws. OKC utilizes Adams and other bigs in pick-and-rolls often, so the Grizzlies’ rotations will need to be crisp.

Keys To A Win

Perimeter defense will be huge in this game. Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are all very crafty guards that can give even the best defenders headaches. The Grizzlies’ perimeter players will need to be disciplined if they hope to slow the Thunder’s main point of attack. Memphis’ depth inside will be key as well. After Adams, the OKC depth chart is small. The Grizzlies will want to play through Jonas Valanciunas and Brandon Clarke as often as possible.

August 9: Toronto Raptors

The Raptors are the lone team on the Grizzlies’ schedule that they haven’t faced this season. The reigning champs come into the bubble as a surprising two seed. They were expected to be competitive, but nowhere near the top three. Toronto has excellent coaching, depth and a budding superstar in Pascal Siakam. They also have Grizzlies legend Marc Gasol, who will be facing the team for the first time. This game will be a tough one for Memphis, but there are areas they can exploit to give the Raptors a run.

Offensive Outlook

The Grizzlies will have a tough time on offense against Toronto. The Raptors’ defensive strengths effectively neutralize the Grizzlies’ offense. Points in the paint will be hard to come by. The Raptors give up the second-fewest points in the paint in the league. At the same time, they are the best three-point defending team as well. The Grizzlies will need to move the ball efficiently to find good shots. The Raptors also feast on opponent mistakes, scoring the second-most points off turnovers. Despite Toronto’s excellent interior defense, the Grizzlies should still look to attack. Offensive rebounds could be a big factor.

Defensive Outlook

Defensively, the Grizzlies will have to be active on the perimeter. The Raptors’ shot distribution should be the poster child of the modern game. They get 70 of their 88 shots per game in the paint or from deep. The Grizzlies should look to skew that a bit and force them inside, where the bigs can contest effectively. Letting Toronto shoot from deep is significantly worse for multiple reasons. The Grizzlies won’t be able to compete with the Raptors in a shootout, but can hang with them if the game comes down to inside scoring.

Keys To A Win

This game is possibly the first where Memphis won’t have the depth or size advantage. Even if Nick Nurse decides to rest his stars (which he probably will), the Raptors always have a 20-point scorer on standby. Their defense doesn’t change much without the stars. The entire roster is locked in and talented. The Grizzlies will have to play a near-perfect game to win this one.

August 11: Boston Celtics

While they’re below the Raptors in the standings, the Celtics are just as scary. Their big three of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker are all proven, elite threats that will put a lot of strain on Memphis. The Celtics also have solid depth, with guys like Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter off the bench. Even though they’re a young team, Boston’s guys have a lot of chemistry and experience. They will challenge Memphis at every level, possibly better than any team on their schedule.

Offensive Outlook

The Celtics, like the Raptors, are elite at defending the entire court. They simultaneously defend two- and three-point jump shots, while also protecting the paint. They rank highly in opponents’ field goal percentage and points allowed in the paint. Boston has a team full of long, switchable athletes that allow them to seemingly swarm opponents. Their weakest area is the 15-19 foot zone, but that’s a shot not many teams comfortably shoot. The Grizzlies score decently from that range, and should look to utilize it often. It’s not the most ideal strategy, but it might be the best one against such a sound defensive team.

Defensive Outlook

Defensively, the Grizzlies will have to work hard to slow the Celtics down. Boston has an array of scorers that can go off on any given night. Even if Memphis slows down Tatum, Brown, and Walker, the Celtics could still have two twenty point scorers. Brad Stevens’ system is a highly efficient one that combines isolation and ball movement. The Grizzlies will be facing numerous scoring options that are also unselfish. Even when plays break down, the Celtics are deadly, ranking sixth in field goal percentage on pull-up shots. The Grizzlies will need to defend Boston the same way they did Toronto: force the drive. The Celtics get to the rim effectively, but struggle to finish shots there.

Keys To A Win

The Grizzlies’ bigs will be front and center in this matchup. They will need to dictate things on both ends. The consistency they bring will be the Grizzlies’ best counter to the Celtics’ perimeter trio. Boston’s big depth is shaky, and could be exploited if they get into foul trouble. Minimizing turnovers will be important as well. The Celtics are seventh in steals and points scored off turnovers.

August 13: Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks might be the best team in the league. They’re a well-coached, deep team. Led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, they were the only team to win 50+ games before the shutdown. Even if their top players rest, the Bucks will still present a challenge to the Grizzlies. Their length, fundamentals and athleticism are overwhelming. They play at the highest pace in the league, and are an absolute juggernaut. They aren’t unbeatable, though. Taylor Jenkins spent time working with Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer. He may have a few tricks up his sleeve to slow down the Deer.

Offensive Outlook

The Grizzlies will have to employ an unfamiliar strategy against Milwaukee: let it fly. The Bucks are far and away the best inside defending team in the league, if teams manage make it that close. They don’t allow many shots inside, and hold opponents to 50% shooting from less than six feet. On the outside, though, the Bucks are more vulnerable. They allow the most threes in the league, and allow opponents to shoot a decent percentage. Hitting shots from outside will open things up and allow Memphis to play to their strengths.

Defensive Outlook

The Grizzlies’ perimeter defense will be crucial against Milwaukee. Forcing the Bucks to shoot changes the trajectory of the game significantly. It will be a tall task, though, considering there are only a few players that can slow down Antetokounmpo, and none of them are on the Grizzlies’ roster. Giannis’ dominance inside creates ample opportunities for his supporting cast. The Bucks have shooters all around, so the Grizzlies will have to move effectively on defense. Staying out of foul trouble will be important in this one.

Keys To A Win

The Grizzlies’ defenders will have to stay engaged for the entirety of each possession if they hope to win. They can not get caught ball watching or getting sucked into the paint. They may have to live with Giannis going off inside if it means sticking the shooters and limiting his options on the kick out. Even if Budenholzer rests his top guys, this game will be a tough one for Memphis. They’ll need to execute effectively to pull out a win before the postseason.

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About Richmond Bailey Caldwell

Die-hard Grizzlies fan since 2009. Aspiring basketball writer and coach. University of Georgia sport management alum. Perennial first team all-defense selection.

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