The Miami Heat played the Memphis Grizzlies Sunday night in their first test against one of the few truly big teams. But Memphis beat Miami from the perimeter and in transition - two strengths of Miami - not so much from the frontline en route to a 104-86 beat down. Miami never led in the game.
Yes, Zach Randolph had 18 points and 12 boards. Marc Gasol finished with 10 rebounds and six assists, showcasing his uncanny passing ability from the high post. But too often Wayne Ellington was left open from beyond the arc, and too often Mike Conley made it to the basket with ease. Ellington knocked down a career-high seven 3s and scored 25 points while Conley added 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting and nine assists. Memphis as a team made 14 3s, the most they've made in five years.
Miami kept the game close for most of the first half, but the Grizzlies went on a 14-1 run to close the second quarter and head into intermission with a 56-41 lead. The Heat cut the lead to single digits a couple times, but Memphis always responded. Miami was within 75-82 with more than eight minutes left, though, when LeBron James caught a Jerryd Bayless air-ball attempt. But James tried to throw a long pass to a streaking Dwyane Wade, and Rudy Gay deflected the pass. Zach Randolph secured the ball and made an and-one. Less than a minute later, Bayless stuffed Ray Allen at the rim, and Ellington subsequently made an open 3 in transition. This game was full of those missed opportunities, when the Heat committed a crucial mistake while on the cusp of tying the game.
The Grizzlies had a great game, and only James and Chris Bosh played well for Miami. James finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, but missed all four of his free-throw attempts. As a team, the Heat shot a horrendous 22-36 from the line, keeping themselves from cutting further into the deficit. Bosh added 22 points on an efficient 8-of-12 shooting from the arc and eight boards, but didn't score after the third quarter.
Wade returned from sitting out Friday night with a cold and didn't look good at all. He didn't look for his shot much in the first half, but proceeded to take awkward, off-balance shots in the fourth quarter. When those shots didn't go in, Wade would bark for a foul call. The one positive for Wade was that he grabbed eight rebounds, helping Miami actually match the Grizzlies on the boards.
Allen and Mario Chalmers, Miami's fourth- and fifth-best players, respectively, also struggled mightily. They shot a combined 4-for-16 from the field. Allen even missed a technical free throw attempt early in the game.
Shane Battier started the game fronting Randolph, which was met with mixed results. Wade played a "free safety" on defense, frequently leaving Tony Allen open. The Heat's defensive scheme wasn't necessarily flawed, it was just that too often little miscues added up at the wrong times for Miami. This loss doesn't mean that the Miami desperately needs a center; the Heat got beat from the perimeter, not inside. The Heat will just need to learn from this loss and move on.
Miami will face the Houston Rockets tomorrow at 8.