After a frustrating four game road trip to begin the stretch run of the season, the Memphis Grizzlies finally returned home for NBA action for the first time in over two weeks. They welcomed the Kings to FedExForum Friday night, with revenge on their mind from a tough loss one week earlier in Sacramento.
From the start, Memphis played with a level of energy and aggressiveness that had rarely been seen since before the All-Star Break. Ja Morant, Jonas Valanciunas, and Dillon Brooks all quickly established their impact on the game, as multiple buckets from each player helped Memphis jump ahead 16-7. Brooks and Valanciunas continued their domination on opposite ends of the court to conclude the quarter, as Brooks produced 13 points while Valanciunas corralled 12 rebounds (one shy of familiar face in the crowd Zach Randolph’s franchise record). However, Buddy Hield made sure things remained reasonably close with a few late scores of his own as the Grizzlies led 30-21 at the end of the first quarter.
Unfortunately, the second quarter was not as positive for the Grizzlies. Though Morant provided eight points, the Grizzlies scored 17 has a whole. Personal fouls, turnovers, and questionable shot selection plagued Memphis, as they made only four of their 15 shots. Though the Kings only made seven shots, four were from beyond the arc, along with a plethora of free throws. Despite Brooks returning to form with 18 first half points for Memphis, Sacramento’s balanced and efficient play allowed for them to take a 50-47 lead into halftime.
The start of the second half was similar to the start of the game; however, it was the Kings that seized immediate control. De’Aaron Fox, a notorious Grizzlies foe, remembered who he was playing as he scored nine points to spark a 15-7 Kings run to begin the third quarter. Thankfully, a few well timed timeouts by Taylor Jenkins allowed the Grizzlies to regroup, and their defense came alive. The Grizzlies forced five Kings turnovers in the last half of the quarter, which led to several fast break opportunities for easy scores. Though Memphis was able to cut the lead to as little as four points, the Kings kept pace enough to enter the final frame leading 81-75.
Both teams kept their productive paces alive to begin the fourth quarter. Though the Kings achieved a few quick scores, Dillon Brooks answered with a seven point surge of his own to keep Memphis close. Once the starters reentered the game, quick buckets by Valanciunas and De’Anthony Melton cut the lead to four, followed by a brief exchange of pleasantries between Valanciunas and Harry Giles. The Kings responded with some good looks inside and a Fox three pointer to complete a 7-2 run and extend their lead to nine points with two minutes left.
The Grizzlies again fought their way back, and then Morant decided it was time to once again remind folks who he was. A highlight dunk followed by a clutch recovery, three-point lay up, and free throw conversion pulled the Grizzlies to within one point at 102-101 with ten seconds left. Despite the heroic effort, two Hield free throws iced the game for the Kings, as they escaped with a 104-101 victory as a Tyus Jones last second three was off the mark.
Overall, it was a better performance for Memphis, with Brooks totaling 32 points, Morant producing 20 points and 11 assists, along with 13 points and 25 rebounds from Valanciunas. The Kings balanced attack and bench production proved to be just a bit too much, along with another standout performance from Fox with 25 points.
Despite their improved play, Memphis was not able to achieve a needed victory in their return home. With the Lakers coming to town tomorrow night, the chances to end the losing only steak get tougher in the immediate future.