For the entire first half of the Memphis Grizzlies’ game against the Golden State Warriors on Sunday, the young bears of Beale Street looked as if they were begin to cool down a bit. Sure, it was an early start and Memphis was coming off a highly emotional victory over the San Antonio Spurs. Even so, Golden State is a really bad basketball team right now whose only offensive weapon is D’Angelo Russell (he had 34 points on this night), and the Warriors have no incentive to be good with their injury situation. Memphis was not executing offensively as a team, turning the ball over far too much and being careless on both ends of the floor.
Then, the third quarter happened. And just like that, the Grizzlies went from lukewarm to red hot once again.
Memphis has won five straight games for the first time in the post-Marc Gasol and Mike Conley era. The Grizzlies are quite literally once of the best teams in the NBA in the last 10 days. They’re also one of the youngest teams in the NBA. They’re also far better than they should be at this stage of the rebuild.
Could it all end within the next week or two? Absolutely. But for now, there’s no doubt that this is pretty freaking fun to watch.
On to the grades.
Jonas Valanciunas: 31 points on 13-17 shooting, 19 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 steal, 1 assist, +24 in 29 minutes
On a night where the team offense of the Grizzlies was sporadic at times, Jonas Valanciunas was Memphis’ North Star. He dominated throughout the contest, making his presence known in the paint and in a variety of ways. He scored off the dribble and off put-backs from misses. He continued possessions. He defended well, not being the liability he has been at times earlier this season. He, in short, was the man.
Golden State had no answer for Valanciunas, and Jonas has the skill set to carry the young Grizzlies roster at times when necessary. It was indeed necessary against the Warriors, and JV did not disappoint.
Ja Morant: 11 points on 4-12 shooting, 10 assists, 7 rebounds, 5 turnovers, 1 steal, +14 in 30 minutes
One of the most fun things about Ja Morant’s development this season has been how he has learned to impact games when he’s not shooting the way he’d like. This is a positive sign, because as the years go on Ja will go from “fun Rookie of the Year front runner” to “focus of opposing gameplans”. Those days may soon be coming as it is. When Morant isn’t able to put the ball in the bucket, to truly be elite he has to find places to contribute to team victories.
Passing the ball is an area where he already excels, and this game was no exception. Against the Warriors, Ja’s focus on the glass was the nice thing to see. He is wise beyond his basketball years - he embraces the right kinds of physical contact to suck defenses in, he times his passes exceptionally well to maximize space for shooters, and he can get by most defenders off the dribble with relative ease.
But basketball is a broader game than offensive dominance. And games like this one show that Ja gets that. That’s a good thing.
- De’Anthony Melton remains Mr. Do Something. Credit Brevin Knight on the nickname that fits Melton quite well. In 20 minutes off the bench De’Anthony had 10 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. He is so malleable with any lineup Taylor Jenkins chooses to utilize, and his contributions pop off the screen and box score. Phoenix really, REALLY, must have hated Josh Jackson. GRADE: A
- Bad Dillon Brooks showed up. Not “fun” Dillon Brooks. 3-11 from the field, 0-6 from beyomd the arc, 0 assists, 2 rebounds in 26 minutes of play. Where Ja found ways to make Memphis competitive beyond scoring, Dillon did not. A lot of the hate Brooks gets is unwarranted - he remains outside of his ideal role of a 6th-man type reserve (which may never happen in Memphis). But he must get better at figuring out ways to get the Grizzlies in winning opportunities when his shot isn’t falling as long as he is a starter. GRADE: D+
The Memphis Grizzlies will be tested Tuesday night when James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and the Houston Rockets come to FedExForum. But all Grizzlies fans should be ecstatic that there is meaningful basketball being played by Memphis at the halfway point of the season. Midseason grades should be fun to do this week - safe to say the Grizzlies are honor roll bound.