The Memphis Grizzlies entered Sunday’s clash with the Phoenix Suns looking for both consistency and change. The hope was for the offense, one that had scored 40 points in the first quarter in each of the past two games, to continue finding success early and often. The other hope was the the offense would remain consistent enough to not squander a big lead. Furthermore, Memphis hoped that it would be able to limit the Suns production from long distance.
The Grizzlies accomplished their goal. The efforts of a few individually, as well the Grizzlies collectively, helped to seal the win. As the Grizzlies head back to the Bluff City, lets head out a few grades on the some much needed performances.
Jonas Valanciunas: Grade A
After a quiet offensive night against the Clippers, Jonas Valanciunas made it clear he was not to be denied two nights in a row. He became a clear priority for Memphis. While the Grizzlies as a whole could not match their production from the previous two contests, Valanciunas was the reason they were able to take control of this game early. Scoring 13 points in the first quarter and 18 of the Grizzlies first 34 points, Valanciunas tied his career high for threes in a game within 15 minutes of the opening tip.
Though he eventually would slow down in the second half, this was one of the few times Valanciunas looked like the version of himself that dominated for the Grizzlies last March. This proves that Valanciunas can be the force on any given night, and further proves this version of the Memphis Grizzlies may have the most resourceful offense in franchise history. Though the rest of the roster had slow starts, Valanciunas carried the team on his back until some of the other players were able to find success. His early production proved to be the difference as the Grizzlies held of the Suns in the end.
Dillon Brooks: Grade B
As the Grizzlies offense was rounding in to form in December, it was the play of Brooks in a supporting role that really helped Memphis stay consistent. For a 10 day period, it seems Brooks was the one of the top two scorers each night, allowing Memphis to take control of games with consistent scoring. However, as is the case with streaky scorers, Brooks would then hit a bit of a cold stretch. Before Sunday night’s game, Brooks had shot over 45% from the field just twice in his previous 10 games.
However, for the second straight night, Brooks was quite productive from beyond the arc. Brooks finished with 19 points, including five three pointers. It was the second straight game that Brooks had made five or more threes, a feat that only Mike Conley and Troy Daniels have accomplished for Memphis in the past five years. Brooks’ success came as the Grizzlies as a whole had a bit of trouble firing on all cylinders. As Valanciunas cooled off, Brooks heated up at the perfect time for the Grizzlies to take the lead heading into halftime.
Taylor Jenkins: Grade A for Adjustments
A big reason for the Grizzlies success since the beginning of December has been a big improvement in effective halftime adjustments from Taylor Jenkins and his coaching staff. The success from these adjustments has mostly been felt on the offensive side of the ball. However, over the weekend, the Grizzlies’ biggest success out of halftime came as a result of their defense.
Just as the Clippers did Saturday night, the Suns made less than a third of their shots. The Grizzlies were active and consistent, and Phoenix could not get comfortable. The result was a 16 point advantage during the third quarter on Saturday night, followed by a 14 point advantage Sunday night. These defensive efforts were much more critical Sunday night, as the Grizzlies built enough of the lead to hold off the Suns surge in the fourth quarter.
Grizzlies Perimeter Defense: Grade A
Just like their success finding stops after halftime. Memphis has also did a good job preventing open looks from long distance over the weekend. The Suns were just 6-26 from beyond the arc, one night after the Clippers were 7-30 on three pointers. It was the 10th time this season the Grizzlies held their opponents under 30% on threes. Memphis is 6-4 in those games, including 4-1 over the past three weeks. This shows that the Grizzlies defensive units are improving in their ability to defend the perimeter, another big factor as they have gone 10-9 since the start of December after starting the season 5-13.