Many say it is not how you start but how you finish that truly determines your success. However, sometimes, unexpected starts can truly determine the end result well before the finish line is in sight.
The second scenario best describes the Memphis Grizzlies play Monday night against the Los Angeles Clippers. Bad shots, turnovers, and injuries all played unfortunate roles in the first quarter, one in which the Grizzlies had more turnovers (8) than made shots (6). Memphis simply dug itself a hole that it could find no way out of, as the 26 point deficit at the beginning of the second quarter turned into a 27 point win for the Clippers.
The highlights of the first quarter were few and far between for Memphis. They made only one of their first 12 shots, a stretch of play that lasted nearly eight minutes of game time and resulted in a 19-6 Clippers run to begin the game. To make matters worse, Brandon Clarke was replaced by Gorgui Dieng just four minutes into the contest and would not return due to an issue with his hip. While the Grizzlies were struggling, Kawhi Leonard put on a clinic early in the quarter and the Clippers bench extended the lead as the quarter drew to a close to take a commanding 40-14 lead.
A 9-0 run to begin the second quarter allowed the Clippers to extend to their lead to 49-14 with nine minutes left in the first half. Ja Morant would score eight of the Grizzlies next twelve points while the Memphis defense finally found some semblance of success, making the score 53-26 at the five minute mark. Leonard once again found his stroke to keep the Clippers lead around 30, but Tyus Jones would provide six needed bench points while Josh Jackson chipped in three points of his own. The end result was a 66-37 halftime lead for the Clippers. For Memphis, this was only the second time they had scored 37 points or less in a first half since 02/06/2018.
As the second half started, though it was far too late, the Grizzlies started to find their rhythm. The Grizzlies spread out the scoring throughout the early going of the quarter, and Jackson showed his range with two made threes. However, the Clippers paced their scoring right with Memphis, until a 7-3 Memphis run made the score 81-57 with just over five minutes left in the the quarter. A battle of the bigs led to multiple baskets from Montrezl Harrell and Dieng, while both teams clamped down defensively as they each scored nine points the rest of way to make the score 90-66 at the end of the third quarter. While the Grizzlies were still way behind, an encouraging sign was their bench production, especially the offensive outburst from Josh Jackson.
The Clippers’ bench found its own success to begin the fourth quarter, as Landry Shamet, Lou Williams, and Harrell all contributed to a 15-6 run by Los Angeles in the first five minutes of the quarter. The Clippers continued their success from beyond the arc, and achieved their biggest lead of the night with the score reading 111-74 with just under six minutes of regulation left. At this point, Taylor Jenkins had emptied the bench, and the Grizzlies reserves made the most of their opportunities. Marko Guduric, John Konchar, and Dusty Hannahs each scored to help the Grizzlies produce a 13-5 run of their own. Guduric would add in two more threes, while the Clippers would knock down a few of their own from long range to end the game. The final score was 124-97 in favor of Los Angeles.
This easily was one of the worst nights of the season for the Grizzlies starters. Kyle Anderson, Jonas Valanciunas, and Dillon Brooks all struggled from the field. Though Morant had 16 points, he also produced a season low assist total of one. The Grizzlies, first in the league in assists per game, failed to produce more than 20 assists for only the fifth time this season. Though the Clippers are one of the best teams in the league both defensively and overall, the Grizzlies simply were out of sync offensively. In order for them to right the ship quickly, they must avoid slow starts that are much harder to overcome against good teams in the NBA.