The Memphis Grizzlies fell to the Philadelphia 76ers 119 – 107 in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the score would suggest. In 24 home games this season, Philadelphia had won 22 times. So, it was always going to be an enormous challenge for Memphis to steal a win at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night. After all, the Grizzlies are a below .500 team on the road this season and were short-handed after sending Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill to the Miami Heat while still awaiting the arrivals of Justise Winslow, Gorgui Dieng, and Jordan Bell. But with Memphis in a playoff race and the young talent playing so well this past month, it was the lopsided nature of this game that was so unexpected.
It was evident from the opening tip that Ja Morant was going to be the clear focus of the 76ers defense, and that Memphis was going to struggle against Philadelphia’s size advantage all night. Joel Embiid seemed unstoppable in the first half, putting up 10 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, and 1 steal in 16 minutes before sitting out the entire second half with “neck stiffness”. His absence mattered little, as Philadelphia dominated the Grizzlies 39 – 22 in the third quarter on 16-24 shooting.
The silver lining for this game was the refusal by these Grizz to throw in the towel. Down by 31 points heading into the fourth quarter, Taylor Jenkins certainly could’ve cleared the bench and rested the starters. The players themselves could’ve easily conceded the game and put it in cruise control for the remaining 12 minutes. Instead, Memphis played their hearts out to only lose by 12 when the dust settled.
Tyus Jones: 13 points on 6-13 shooting, 1-2 from three, 7 assists, 2 steals
Perhaps no player provided consistent production through three quarters for Memphis the way Jones did. When nothing seemed to be working for Memphis, he was the one that seemed to still get the offense flowing at least a little bit. While most of his scoring happened in the first quarter, he still provided good contributions overall the entire game. Most importantly, he had zero turnovers in 20 minutes of action.
Ja Morant: 15 points on 4-12 shooting, 0-1 from three, 3 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 turnovers
Morant struggled mightily in this matchup, as he was hounded by the Philadelphia defense whenever he was on the court. He looked frustrated for much of the night, and was dreadful through the first three quarters. As usual, he elevated his game in the fourth quarter, but it was too little too late. While it’s only been three games so far, his averages for February are down across the board compared to January. Hopefully, it’s simply a small sample size issue and not the “rookie wall” as we approach the All-Star break.
Jaren Jackson Jr: 6 points on 2-9 shooting, 1-4 from three, 2 rebounds, 2 blocks, 4 fouls
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Foul trouble kept Jackson from ever getting into a rhythm Friday night, resulting in a sub-par outing for the talented big man. When he’s focused, he’s capable of dominating. However, he continues to have difficulty playing through adversity. This was highlighted in the third quarter when he had his shot blocked and immediately regressed. He committed a foul almost instantly, and then had a defensive lapse that led to another team foul about ten seconds later. For Jackson to take the next step, he must become mentally tougher.
- Jonas Valanciunas was being dominated by Joel Embiid in the first half, but managed to put together a solid overall game by the end of it. He was the team’s leader during its fourth quarter resurgence, scoring 8 points on 3-4 shooting with 5 rebounds and two blocked shots. With the roster shake-up from this week, Valanciunas will now be looked at as the veteran leader going forward. Grade – B
- Brandon Clarke put together a very respectable outing with his usual efficiency. His 11 points on 4-7 shooting was highlighted by his thunderous dunk in the third quarter despite being hit in the face by Norvel Pelle. He also contributed 5 rebounds and a steal in 23 minutes of game action. Grade – B
- Yuta Watanabe played a season-high 12 minutes against the 76ers and made the most of them. He scored 9 points on 3-7 shooting, with 1 rebound, 1 assist, and 1 steal. More than that, he played with an energy that was largely lacking from his teammates. He hustled on every play, and came very close to a highlight worthy drive to the basket close to the end of the game. Grade – B+