Last night’s game felt different — unlike almost any other game the Grizzlies had this season. Aside from January’s contest against San Antonio, there was a sense around the city that this game had huge playoff implications. There was almost a sense of nervousness that the worst was going to happen.
The Memphis Grizzlies did not disappoint at all.
Ja Morant, or #Headband12, immediately dazzled and attacked with 6 quick points. For his first basket of the game, he crossed Trevor Ariza out of his shoes:
He continued to wow the crowd with incredible dimes — the kind of dimes that made him pull the “goggles” celebration out of his bag. In fact, he had a stretch where he had 3 straight gorgeous assists in as many possessions:
Ja Morant hands out 3 DIMES in 90 seconds pic.twitter.com/xP4QzgwlF3— ClutchPoints NBA (@ClutchPointsNBA) February 13, 2020
His vision is not just elite for his age; it’s elite in general. His ability to take over games with his playmaking is captivating, unlike anyone we’ve seen in franchise history. Meanwhile, the other big star for the Grizzlies last night was Brandon Clarke.
The Grizzlies’ “other” stud rookie scored 27 points — tying his career high — on an uber-efficient 12-14 shooting. In addition, he collected 6 rebounds, 2 steals and a block. He feasted on the Trail Blazers’ razor-thin frontcourt. He found his way to the paint super easily, finishing on many dunks and alley oops.
As Jonas Valanciunas and Jaren Jackson Jr. were struggling with their shots, Clarke’s breakout here was huge in solidifying this win.
A few other players that impressed as well were Gorgui Dieng and Josh Jackson. In his Grizzly debut, Dieng showed how he’ll be valuable for this team. He played great in his role as a 4th big, as he spaced the floor to hit 3s, protected the rim, and used his mobility to defend and blitz the pick-and-roll. His role will be huge, as he gives the Grizzlies more size without sacrificing spacing, and he also prevents Brandon Clarke from taking too many minutes at the 5.
Jackson’s numbers don’t pop out the box score, but his +16 +/- highlights how he impacted the game. He was all over the place — crashing rebounds, ball-hawking defensively, playing good help defense, and serving as a good secondary playmaker. He made a few passes that caught my eye, particularly this one:
Seeing Jackson find his role and niche on the defensive end has been nice, and his passing in last night’s game brings optimism around his non-scoring offensive arsenal.
The biggest takeaway from this game was how the Grizzlies held on pretty much wire-to-wire in a high-pressure situation. The adjustments they make on off nights — whether it was Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, or the team’s outside shooting — shows the maturity and basketball IQ of both the players and the coaching staff. As their outside shot wasn’t on, they dominated the paint and blitzed Portland with 76 points.
Though the schedule will get tougher, the Grizzlies’ composure and overall play the past few months gives me optimism for this playoff push. Last night’s game was just another indication of that.