First and foremost, the Grizzlies are fun—and not fun in an anachronistic, “grit and grind you to death” type of way. They are fun in the sense that they play fast, loose, and vertical. After all, when was the last time that you saw a Grizzlies big man that is capable of doing this (the correct answer is never).
The Grizzlies are also competitive. Although they will be outmatched on many nights, they are not going to let go of the rope until they are delivered a knockout punch and can’t get off the canvas again.
And for three quarters, the Grizzlies gave a deeper and more experienced Heat team all that they could handle. Through an array of excellent ball movement and defensive intensity, the Grizzlies led at the end of each of the first three quarters. Even in the eventual loss, the team’s commitment to Taylor Jenkins’ vision of ball movement and defensive tenacity was on full display as they had 22 assists and forced 21 turnovers.
However, despite their exciting style of play and competitive tenacity, the Grizzlies are also young, and they simply do not know how to win yet.
At the start of the fourth quarter, the Grizzlies led 84-83 and had generally played excellent basketball to that point. They had held the Heat to sub-40% shooting and had been paced offensively by sound play from both Jaren Jackson Jr., who would finish the game with 17 points, and Tyus Jones, who ended up with 15 points and 7 assists.
Then the proverbial knockout punch came. And the Grizzlies could not get up from the blow.
The Heat went on a 24-3 run to start the 4th quarter, and the outcome was never in doubt. Once the fire got started, any attempt to put it out from the Grizzlies only seemed to make matters worse. Ja Morant, who had a relatively respectable NBA debut that was marred by foul trouble (the officiating was endlessly asinine and added over 30 minutes to the game), began to force the issue and lost his composure along with the rest of the team.
The Grizzlies’ shooting woes continued from preseason and were especially apparent as the game spiraled out of control. Shooting 5-32 (15.6%) from beyond the arc just isn’t going to get it done against virtually anyone.
The frustration from the young Grizzlies over their inability to finish the game finally boiled over when Chris Silva knocked Morant hard to the ground after a blocked shot. Emotions began to get the best of everyone involved.
Ja Morant thought he was going to get a highlight dunk and Chris Silva said NOPE pic.twitter.com/yGzAxQQ9fm— gifdsports (@gifdsports) October 24, 2019
What was once a close game that seemed like the Grizzlies could steal became a merciless rout. And when you allow an undrafted rookie like Kendrick Nunn to drop 24 points on you, it’s easy to be frustrated at what seemed like a missed opportunity.
Yet there will be many more opportunities ahead for the young Grizzlies, who flashed the alluring potential of what they can eventually become. Morant tallied a solid 14-4-4 stat line, although he turned the ball over 6 times and struggled with foul trouble. Jackson was nearly impossible for the Heat’s tandem of Bam Abedayo and Meyers Leonard to contain on the perimeter. Brandon Clarke was a team-high +6 and also made a three-pointer, showcasing his improvement in the weakest area of his game.
If you were frustrated by the result of the game, then I’ll be the bearer of bad news: There are probably going to be roughly 55 more games like it. The ride will at times be a painful and difficult one.
But with the knowledge that the endgame is years away, you can sit back and enjoy the fun, competitive, and, yes, inexperienced Grizzlies. Because for this year at least, the enjoyment will be found in the journey, not the destination.
Here is a bonus observation from last night:
Jonas Valanciunas doesn’t have his sea legs just yet
After missing all of preseason with a minor foot injury, Valanciunas struggled to find his footing (ha) in his opening night appearance. He struggled mightily defensively and picked up his fifth foul before the end of the third quarter.
However, he simply appeared rusty after an extended layoff, and his foot should not be a concern going forward. He also still showcased his impressive low-post game, managing 7 points on 3-7 shooting in 16 minutes.