MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The return of Rudy Gay to Memphis Wednesday dominated pregame talk. How would fans react?
After a 103-87 defeat at the hands of the Toronto Raptors, the question facing the Grizzlies now is, “Who are these guys?”
This is a different team than the one that beat Golden State here Saturday, one confusing sloth of Grizzlies (3-5).
Guard Tony Allen wasn’t concerned with talking about Gay before the game and he wasn’t impressed with a question after the loss.
“We lost tonight, man,” Allen said.
Here are four things we learned from another home loss that had fans booing and leaving before the fourth quarter.
1. The E word is being tossed around.
Is Memphis even trying? Fair or not, effort is being questioned. New coach Dave Joerger admitted he is having to coach effort more than he thought he would.
“Without question,” Joerger said. “Absolutely. People do not fear us anymore. We’re not putting our hands on people. There are a lot of people who don’t believe we should have been in the Western Conference finals.
“We’re not playing hard. And I’ve talked about it in video sessions and pregame and halftime and postgame.”
Memphis is finding it tough to go 48 minutes, but isn’t finding it tough to foul. Toronto shot 39 free throws — 33 makes. The turnover trend continued, another uncharacteristic 17.
Memphis fought back from 19 down to tie it at 70 before a 12-1 run stretched into the fourth. But why is Memphis getting down 19 to the Raptors?
“It’s like we play in spurts,” Allen said, “hard for about 5 minutes, then relax for another 5 minutes. That’s not going to get the win. Grit-and-grind, it’s not us right now. I don’t know what’s wrong, but we’ve got to get it together. I don’t think we’re trusting each other on the defensive end.”
2. Memphis is playing with a target — and getting hit hard.
This is not exactly a different team. It’s a different coach with a team that doesn’t look all that different from one of last season’s final four.
The biggest difference may be that it’s a team playing under different circumstances, a threat.
“This is new for us. We’ve got to understand that teams aren’t going to overlook us anymore,” point guard Mike Conley said. “Regardless if we get beat by 20, teams still know what we’re capable of and they give us their best shot.”
Memphis was last season’s ultimate example of how to respond to adversity. No longer the case. Large deficits have become a thing and Memphis has been unresponsive.
No matter the target, Allen, the team’s defensive leader, said it boils down to his end of the floor.
“We show signs of trying to get it done, then signs of just being out there not having our antennas up,” Allen said.
3. Who is this team?
Memphis is built on grit, grind — and holding teams to the lowest point totals in the league – 89.3 points a game last season. This team is allowing 98.9, 12th in the NBA. Joerger said before the season he was fine with losing a little defense for a faster offense. This isn’t what he meant.
It’s not a bad thing that Conley scored a game and season-high 29 points. It is a bad thing that big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph combined to score one less. It may be a different looking Grizzlies, but it’s still an inside-out Grizzlies.
Outside-in did not work against the Raptors. The Raptors. It won’t work in a four-game trip out West. Giving up 103 to Toronto isn’t good.
“It’s the defensive end,” Allen said. “Teams are running the score up on us. If we got our defensive mindset together and they’re not scoring and we’re not scoring, then it’s an even game, pretty much, wouldn’t you say? We’ve got to get back to that.”
For all its want of more scoring and a deeper rotation, the Grizzlies would gladly go back to the lower-scoring, smaller rotation that was working last season.
Ironically, one of the pieces that didn’t work last season, Tony Wroten, messed around and got a triple-double for Philadelphia.
“Are we going to be a defensive team? Are we going to be a team that holds our heads down when things get rough? Are we going to stay together? That’s just some of the things we’ve got to think about,” Allen said.
4. Rudy returned and reminded fans of what they’re missing.
Ten months ago, Gay became the first major move of then-new Memphis Grizzlies management. They moved him north of the border.
Gay talked with former teammates during pregame and said he was prepared for any reaction he would get. Upon introduction, there were boos, but not enough to overshadow the cheers. There were boos when he hit three 3s in the second quarter on his way to a team-high 23 points.
Allen said it best before the game when he told a reporter he was more more worried about getting a win than hearing what the crowd thought of his former teammate.
That didn’t happen.
“We’ll get there. We’re going to be alright,” a confident Joerger said.
It’s only eight games, but fans are getting impatient.