On a special day, the Grizzlies lacked special play.
Prior to tip-off, the Grizzlies presented former NBA All-Star Caron Butler, WNBA legend & Hall Of Famer Sheryl Swoops, NBA Champion and Hall Of Famer from the Boston Celtics Robert Parish, & the NFL's first black quarterback to go to a Super Bowl & also the first to win in Doug Williams with the 15th Civil Rights Museum's Sport's Legacy Award. As the Grizzlies were busy hosting events on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, New Orleans recognized opportunity to close the 4.5 game gap between the two.
When the time came for tip-off, the Louisiana boys came & took full advantage, carving out a double digit win 126-116. As a result, NOLA moved to within 3.5 games back of the young “Drip N Slime” Grizzlies, who still sit at 8th in the Western Conference playoff race.
With Monday's 10-point loss also coming at the hands of a conference & division rival in the Pelicans, the Grizzlies are now just .5 games ahead of the San Antonio Spurs for the final playoff spot. Every game is crucial at this point, despite All-Star weekend still being about 2 weeks from now.
The starting lineup for the Grizzlies was Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Jae Crowder, Jaren Jackson Jr, and Jonas Valanciunas. The NOLA Pelicans rolled out a starting lineup of Lonzo Ball, J.J. Redick, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram, & Jaxson Hayes. Right out of the gate the Grizzlies came out striking first & matching the Pelicans high scoring output at least when the starters played the first quarter.
The Grizzlies started the game early recognizing the mismatch Jonas had on the rookie from Texas Jaxson Hayes. Morant slowed it down & dumped it off to Jonas Valanciunas as he posted up Hayes old school style & gave him bucket after bucket. Even Jaren Jackson looked to get to the line early as he attacked Brandon Ingram early going to the post. The problem is, when things slowed down offensively the young Grizzlies group just don’t bring the energy & didn’t seem mentally prepared.
From there, Alvin Gentry - one of the best offensive minds in the NBA - sat back & allowed Jenkins to move around the board first. Then, Gentry a true veteran made a few moves on the chess board that nobody was expecting. He subbed out Hayes & went with rookie big Nicolo Melli, who stretched Jonas out like a rubber band on the perimeter.
With Jrue being well-rested after being out the past couple of weeks, he returned like a mad man, shooting from deep ten times & hitting on seven of those shots. By halftime the Grizzlies looked up, they were being baptized 69-50 at halftime & NOLA had took the Grizzlies under the water from deep a whopping 14 times.
The 2nd half served the lowest moments of the evening for the Bluff City as the Grizzlies went down as much as 25 points despite guys like Dillon Brooks punching back to the tune of scoring 31 points. Even he made game-costing mistakes with the game on the line with roughly a minute left in the 4th quarter.
The Grizzlies eventually got the game down to three late in the closing stretch, but for every one of Jaren Jackson Jr's 19 points there was a Brandon Ingram there to counter with 25 points. When Tyus Jones came in to punch in nine points there was a Josh Hart there to counter with ten, and when De'Anthony Melton scraped out 10 points, Nicolo Melli returned 15 more points back. After a while it adds up & this game it proved to add up to much to out match at the end.
Not to mention missteps like Jenkins failing to make the adjustment in time of taking Jonas out of a game Gentry turned into a shootout & replace him with the better fit for center in this game, which was clearly Jaren Jackson who still managed to score 19 points in 30 minutes played. Jaren was much better equipped to not only help defend Melli on stretching the court but could also come down & consistently counter from deep on the other end.
This is a game your young superstars may have to play heavy minutes & not keep them at a strategically looking clean 30 minute cap in the case of Jaren. What's the point of having young fresh legs if you aren't willing to go the distance with them in a division rival & playoff contention game? Gotta be willing to blow the pipes out every now & then when you have a Ferrari right? If it's any consolation, the Grizzlies did win the battle of rebounds 51-43 so maybe their lack of effort was a tad overstated, so maybe it was even more so on coaching, but all in all they still lost the war of points by double digits when the final horn sounded.