It has been no secret since this past summer that the future of the Memphis Grizzlies is bright. But on nights like tonight, in which the Grizzlies defeated the Phoenix Suns 115-108 on the road behind the superb play of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant, their future appears brighter than even the sun. Jackson totaled 24 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists, while Morant added 13 points and 6 assists of his own.
The Suns jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first minute and a half, leading to an early Taylor Jenkins timeout. Regardless of whether he gave the team a good ole-fashioned Popovichian dog-cussing or not, whatever he said obviously worked as the Grizzlies responded with an 18-6 run on their way to taking a 27-19 lead at the end of the quarter. They especially ramped up their defensive pressure as the Suns only made only one field goal in the final four minutes of the quarter.
The second quarter, on the other hand, belonged mainly to Ricky Rubio and Frank Kaminksy, whom Jonas Valaciunas made look like 2006 Dirk Nowitzki. Rubio penetrated the paint with ease, creating easy layup attempts for himself while creating open looks for his teammates. He finished the first half with 12 points on 4-7 shooting along with 6 assists. Kaminsky exemplified Valanciunas’ struggles with stretch fives, as he cruised to 15 points on 6-7 shooting and 3-3 shooting from three on mainly open shots.
The Grizzlies, however, were able to stay in the game due to superb offensive play from Dillon Brooks, who finished the half with 13 points on 6-9 shooting, and excellent team defense with the exception of Valanciunas. They did a solid job of recovering to the Suns’ shooters, and that was reflected in the box score as they held them to 36% shooting from the floor and 20% from three. Devin Booker in particular struggled mightily due to a tag-team effort of Brooks and De’Anthony Melton, scoring only 4 points on 2-9 shooting.
Even as Jaren Jackson Jr. picked up all three of his first-half fouls within two minutes of each other, the score was tied at 51 at halftime. Brandon Clarke also added 13 points on 4-4 shooting and 5 rebounds in his first half back from injury.
The Suns opened the third quarter on a 6-0 run, but the Grizzlies refused to let the game get out of hand as the rest of the quarter was a back-and-forth affair. Brooks continued to make an array of off-balanced jumpers and tough shots while Jackson made three threes in the frame. Clarke also added three highlight blocks, dominating the game on both ends. The Grizzlies closed on a 9-1 run to lead 84-79 at the the end of third.
Kaminsky scored seven points in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter to cut the Grizzlies lead to five, but the Grizzlies would never relinquish it. The fourth quarter served as a culmination of one of the Grizzlies’ most complete second halves of the season as they consistently responded to every Suns run. Jaren Jackson Jr. showcased his tantalizing talents on the offensive end, scoring 7 points through a versatile combination of touch and beautiful footwork inside the paint. Ja Morant came into the game averaging eight points in the fourth quarter, and he scored 9 tonight including his utter annihilation of Aaron Baynes after an unusually quiet first three quarters (for real, this could be dunk of the year; Ja finally caught a body!).
Dillon Brooks led the Grizzlies in scoring with 27 points on 10-18 shooting. They shot 48% as a team and 41% from beyond the arc. They held the Suns to 39% shooting and 26% from three. Frank Kaminsky and Ricky Rubio led the Suns with 24 and 22 points respectively.
Here is one more takeaway from tonight:
The Clarke and Melton Combination
Tonight was really the first time that Brandon Clarke and De’Anthony Melton had ever played extended minutes next to each other, and it paid dividends. They were a team-high +22 and +18 in a game the Grizzlies only won by 7. Expect to see them leading the Grizzlies bench unit for the foreseeable future.