Last week, I wrote about the importance of the Memphis Grizzlies giving Jaren Jackson Jr. the ball more. And the Grizzlies finally did just that despite eventually losing to the Dallas Mavericks 138-122 last night at the FedexForum in a high-pace layup fest that was missing Ja Morant, Brandon Clarke, and Kristaps Porzingis. Jackson scored a season-high 23 points on 10-17 shooting and also had 4 rebounds and 2 assists. Defense, however, came at an absolute premium as the Mavericks shot 54% from the field and made 18 threes.
The first quarter began as most have this year for the Grizzlies at home—with stellar offensive play. Marko Guduric looked more comfortable than he has so far this season as he scored 7 points in the frame, and Tyus Jones added 5 of his own, leading the Grizzlies to a 34-31 lead.
However, while the Grizzlies excelled playing the up-tempo style that Jenkins wants (34 points on 48% shooting and 6 assists), there was one glaring issue that has become a trend this year: The Grizzlies generally do not give Jaren Jackson Jr. enough touches. He touched the ball just four times (yes, I counted) and didn’t register a single statistic outside of two missed shots in the first eight minutes.
Of course, you can knock a supposedly star big man for not boxing out, of which he generally doesn’t do a good job, and not being engaged offensively. But it’s pretty customary for big men to become somewhat disengaged when they don’t get the ball much.
And while the offense may thrive for stretches no matter who is getting the most touches, it will inevitably stagnate when the team does not feature its overall most talented player.
While the Grizzlies led by as much as five in the early part of the second quarter, the Mavericks would go on a 21-4 run behind hot shooting from Seth Curry and Justin Jackson (16 and 7 points respectively)—all with Jaren Jackson Jr. on the bench. However, when Jackson reentered the game near the midpoint of the quarter, the Grizzlies clearly emphasized getting him the ball, and they found success in doing so. Jackson totaled 7 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists in the final six minutes, as the Grizzlies responded and were able to cut the deficit to 68-62 going into the half.
The Mavericks led in part because they seemingly couldn’t miss from three, which would be a common theme throughout the night. They shot 52% from the field and 39% from beyond the arc as they hit 9 threes. The Grizzlies were unable to properly contain Luka Doncic in pick-and-rolls (which, again, would be a common theme throughout the night), and he totaled 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists.
Jae Crowder and Guduric led the Grizzlies with 10 a piece. The Grizzlies shot 50% from the field and 33% from the three.
After the Grizzlies were able to get him going, Jackson went mano y mano with Doncic in the third quarter in a battle that would thrill 2018 draft enthusiasts. Doncic scored 8 quick points in the first 2:15 of the quarter to give the Mavericks an 78-67 lead. However, Jackson responded with five points of his own, as he would find his rythym on his way to 12 points in the frame.
But because the Grizzlies struggled mightily in pick-and-roll defense, the Mavericks guards were able to penetrate at will and find open shooters consistently. The Mavericks took a 104-91 lead into the fourth quarter.
And pick-and-roll defense (or lack thereof) was why the Grizzlies eventually let go of the rope in the fourth. If you can’t defend the pick-and-roll, then a physical and superbly skilled guard like Doncic, who finished the game with 24 points, 14 rebounds, and 8 assists, can look almost unstoppable. The Grizzlies simply allowed straight-line drives to the rim off the initial screen in which the opposing guards either got all the way to the rim for simple floaters or layups, or they kicked it out to open shooters when the defense collapsed.
As good as he was, Jaren Jackson did not do a sound job of protecting the rim outside of a highlight block of Boban Marjanovich. However, Jonas Valanciunas, who had a mediocre night with just 10 points and 3 rebounds in 23 minutes, was the primary offender. Valanciunas may be a force offensively, but he was borderline unplayable defensively. He sinked so far in pick-and-rolls that he might as well have been standing out-of-bounds at times. This allowed the Mavericks guards easy looks at the rim and opportunities for easy putbacks, exhibited by the fact that the Mavericks out-rebounded the Grizzlies 47-39.
It’s always frustrating to watch a team lose because of borderline incompetent play on the defensive side of the court. But for a rebuilding and growing team like the Memphis Grizzlies, all that really matters is that their franchise cornerstones are continuing to grow and develop. And when Jaren Jackson Jr. has a quite impressive game—which is a trend when the Grizzlies actually feature him offensively—and also gives tantalizing glimpses of the player that he could become, you can consider that a victory.
Box Score Notes
It’s probably Jae Crowder and not Danny Green that should have the nickname “icy-hot” at this point. You never really know what you’re going to get from him offensively on any given night, but he did have it going against Dallas. He scored 18 points on 6-12 shooting and 4-9 shooting from deep.
Tyus Jones was superb in running the team in Ja Morant’s absence, scoring 14 points on 6-8 shooting and totaling 8 assists. However, many of the Grizzlies’ defensive struggles could be traced back to Jones’ lack of physicality in getting around screens. Seth Curry and Jalen Brunson were problematic for him all night long.
Let’s just face an inevitable fact: When Dillon Brooks heats up like he does once every nine or so games, he can be an electric scorer like he was against the Timberwolves. However, he’s generally ineffective 75% of the time and stays in foul trouble. After not making a single shot against the Magic, he scored just 5 points on 2-8 shooting on a night when the Grizzlies could have desperately used reliable wing scoring.
DeAnthony Melton played 20 minutes tonight due to Morant missing from the lineup, and he was generally solid, finishing with 11 points on 5-11 shooting along with 2 assists in 20 minutes. It’ll be interesting to see if his minutes continue to increase.