Houston, did the Grizzlies have a problem.
It was probably after what was approximately Russell Westbrook’s ninetieth layup of the first half that I really began to realize how far the Memphis Grizzlies have fallen in the short time since the All-Star break. Because nearly every single issue that has plagued them was on full display in their demoralizing 140-112 loss to the Houston Rockets
For the first quarter, the Grizzlies did their best impersonation of the offensively hapless Memphis Tigers, as they continued their inexplicable rejection of the offensive principles which they have embraced all season. They shot just 27% from the field while managing just a measly 4 assists as the Rockets coasted to a 35-18 lead behind 13 points from Russell Westbrook.
And then Westbrook in particular exposed how soft the Grizzlies have been on the perimeter defensively over the last several games, bulldozing and slicing through Grizzly defenders like swiss cheese. He got to the rim with a furious ease, rocking the baby and taunting like a ruthless schoolyard bully all while he did it. Once the demolition was over, James Harden and Westbrook had combined for 46 points and given the Rockets a totally insurmountable 73-48 halftime lead.
To be fair, the Grizzlies’ competitive fire is one of the few attributes that have remained consistent even over the losing streak, as they would make several rallies to cut the deficit to as low as 18 in the second half. But a combined 66 points from Harden and Westbrook, 23 points on 9-12 shooting from Austin Rivers, and one of the greater three-point barrages in NBA history (23-50 from beyond the arc) was far too much for them to overcome.
There really just isn’t much else to say. With the Grizzlies missing two of their four best players in Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke, they simply are not even good enough to truly compete with a team of the Rockets’ caliber. They were already an overachieving team that was due for significant regression, but injuries have made that regression even more difficult than expected.
However, a few bright spots still existed in the darkness, which was supposed to be a key theme for the 2019-2020 Memphis Grizzlies during the entire season, not just one game. Ja Morant continued to flash his amazing abilities as a playmaker, totaling 9 assists. Dusty Hannahs showed that he can possibly be a legitimate NBA contributor, scoring 8 points and making 2 threes in just 6 minutes of garbage time.
The growing pains, like Dillon Brooks scoring 22 points on 26 shots in one of the most carefree performances that I’ve ever seen, will continue for the young and short-handed Grizzlies. But the future remains very bright, regardless of whether they eventually make the playoffs or not.