The Memphis Grizzlies were in a competitive contest on opening night Wednesday in Miami...at least for the first three quarters.
For such a young team, whose best player may well be Jonas Valanciunas (for now), to hang with any NBA playoff contending squad for an extended period of time is impressive. Sure, Dion Waiters and Jimmy Butler missed this one for Miami, but those that played for the Heat are expected to be serious contributors for a serious postseason run. The Grizzlies hung tough!
Then, the fourth quarter came. And the bottom fell out to the tune of a 37-15 final frame.
Memphis did some things well, despite the collapse, and some things...obviously not so well. 24 turnovers are not a recipe for winning basketball. Protecting possessions and better perimeter shooting 5-32 from beyond the arc!!!) will remain a storyline throughout the upcoming campaign. But at least the flashes of positivity should be enough to remind Grizzlies fans that the future is bright, even if it is probably pretty far off in the distance.
Some quick takeaways from tonight’s game.
Ja Morant is worth the price of admission
What a special opening performance for Ja, who was exactly what we expected him to be. He was explosive, had multiple highlight reel-type plays, and was also far too careless with the basketball. Six turnovers compared to four assists isn’t good enough, and Morant will probably be the first to tell you that. The key for Ja as he adapts to the NBA game is to make impacts across all facets of the game (four rebounds, a block, and a steal are all good starts) and stay healthy. So far so good on that front.
The perimeter attempts will come. The better assist to turnover ratios will come. As far as first steps go, this one looked pretty good for the #2 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
Memphis has two really good young bigs
Jaren Jackson Jr. did a much better job in this game not fouling (he didn’t pick up his first foul until about the 10 minute mark in the 3rd quarter and showed the ability to get to the charity stripe on a semi-regular basis. He still struggled rebounding (only three) and picked up five fouls in one half of basketball, but again, signs pointed to growth and future success.
Brandon Clarke, however, was the story.
A made corner three. Excellent rim protection. The versatility and positional flexibility that made so many swoon when Memphis traded up to take him in the draft this past summer. A tied for team best +6 on a night where the Grizzlies got blown out in the 4th quarter. Clarke was active, and aggressive, and while he was nowhere near consistent enough in his time on the floor he showed why he will be a pretty solid piece for the Grizzlies moving beyond opening night.
Memphis got blown out in the fourth quarter, and that should be expected. The Grizzlies just do not have the here and now talent to hang with a team like Miami, who even without their best player is still a playoff team in the Eastern Conference, for a full 48 minutes. The loss can’t be how this team is judged, though. The baseline these first 10 or so games needs to be set - what the rotation is, what early trends say about strengths and weaknesses, etc. From there, the goal is growth. Competing for longer stretches. Winning games against teams similar to you. Developing chemistry and finding ways to improve in game on a consistent basis.
Focus on the good (decent 2nd unit minutes). Learn from the bad (turnovers and threes). Move on to the next one.
Such is life for the new-look Memphis Grizzlies.