Coming into last night’s game, it was tough to be optimistic. The Memphis Grizzlies were coming into this game on a five-game losing streak, showing obvious signs that they were banged up. Then, they had to take on the Western Conference’s best team, the Los Angeles Lakers, as the Grizzlies are trying to hold onto the 8th spot without Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke, and Justise Winslow.
The Memphis Grizzlies rose to the occasion and punched adversity in the mouth.
From the outset, their halfcourt play was superb. There was a nice dose of patience, poise, and aggression within their offensive sets. In addition, they made great reads and switches defensively, stifling the Lakers and holding them without a bucket until a little over 7 minutes left in the 1st quarter.
They ultimately dominated the majority of the game, thanks in large part due to Ja Morant’s brilliance and Jonas Valanciunas’ dominance on the glass.
On a night where the Grizzlies gave out Ja-oggles — or Ja-noculars, for technicality’s sake — the rookie guard showed out. He put in moves against Davis, LeBron, and Caruso, and he even attempted to end AD’s career at the rim.
It was an awesome game that erased some doubts about the Grizzlies’ ability to hold the 8th seed.
Ja Morant Proves Why He’s Rookie of the Year Frontrunner
Over the past month, there’s been a lot of hype around Zion Williamson and if he could chase down Ja Morant for Rookie of the Year.
Despite his fellow South Carolinian’s brilliance this season, Ja showed why the ROY race is his to lose. Recency bias has hidden the fact that Morant garnered All-Star recognition all season long, with plenty of national analysts saying he got snubbed. On top of that, he’s charged a Grizzlies team with low expectations coming into the season to the 8th seed in the West, while also morphing the culture throughout the roster.
Last night’s game only solidified his case.
He came out the gate with sheer aggression, attacking at any chance he had to score. He collected 9 points, 4 assists, and 3 rebounds in just the first quarter. He turned the jets on in the 3rd quarter, extending the Grizzlies lead to as much as 20. Overall, he finished with a strong 27-point, 14-assist performance, while joining elite company in the process.
Tonight @JaMorant joined Trae Young and Luka Doncic as the only rookies since the start of the 2011-12 season to record 20+ points and 10+ assists in consecutive games.— Grizzlies PR (@GrizzliesPR) March 1, 2020
Throughout the game, Morant controlled the pace. He sliced and diced the Lakers in the pick-and-roll, leading to a plethora of easy buckets for Jonas Valanciunas. He also showed strong 3-level scoring prowess, an area that’s been up-and-down for most of the season. He hit a career-high 4 three’s, and he also converted on some smooth mid-range jumpers off the dribble.
Nights like last night just capture a small picture of how special Morant could be.
Jonas Valanciunas Is a Monster on the Glass
For the second consecutive night, Jonas Valanciunas notched a 20-rebound effort — the first back-to-back 20-rebound performances in franchise history.
His dominance on the glass limited the activity of the Lakers’ bigs, as Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee, and Dwight Howard combined 21 rebounds.
Valanciunas on his approach when having to deal with active, great rebounders like AD, McGee, Howard pic.twitter.com/FmsemAi8Ya— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) March 1, 2020
As mentioned above, Valanciunas feasted on pick-and-rolls with Morant, following him down the lane for easy finishes. It just seemed like he had his way with the Laker big men, which is unheard of, given the defensive excellence of the 3.
Over the past 3 games, Valanciunas is averaging 17 points and 18.3 rebounds. Though it’s not sustainable, that level of production is huge, as they’re missing 3 crucial members of their frontline.
Games like this only validate how underrated Jonas Valanciunas is, and how he’s a top-10 center in the league.
- Dillon Brooks notched his third straight performance with 20+ points, finishing with 24 points on 9-24 shooting. Though the percentages aren’t great, Brooks’ ability to score at 3 levels was solid tonight, providing a perimeter spark alongside Morant. I was also impressed with his physicality defending LeBron and Anthony Davis, especially against AD in the post.
- Best for last, John Konchar.
Wow. The Grizzlies’ two-way player sparked the game with his second quarter performance. It all started with a block on Dwight Howard, which came out of nowhere. He was just all over the place keeping possessions alive with second-chance opportunities — all 3 of his rebounds came on the offensive end. He also drilled a 3 that energized FedExForum and the Grizzlies bench.
- Performances like that are super sweet.
Ultimately, the Memphis Grizzlies handled an awesome Los Angeles Lakers team wire-to-wire, without 3 starter-quality players. That’s mightily impressive, and this win could prove to be huge in the last month-and-a-half of this playoff push.