What a tough loss.
A Grizzlies victory to kick off their run in Orlando would have been meaningful. They would be ahead of Portland in the Western Conference standings by 4.5 games, but now their lead stands at 2.5. The Grizzlies’ trademark effort and energy that Memphis faithful are accustomed to persisted throughout, but in the end they had no answer for the dribble penetration of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who combined for 62 points and 15 assists. As a result of the attention that Portland’s elite backcourt duo drew from the defense, the Blazers made Memphis pay from beyond the arc. As a team, they connected on 13 of 30 triples (43.3 percent).
Even though the game went into overtime, 140 points is too many to give up - at least if you wish to come out on top. Memphis’ team defense was lackluster at times, as Portland more often than not seemed to get whatever looks they wanted. With that being said, the Grizzlies offense was a totally different story. In particular, the young core stepped up in a major way in the absence of Tyus Jones. A few Grizzlies managed to put together magnificent scoring performances.
Let’s give out some grades for the team’s first regular season outing since March 10.
Jaren Jackson Jr. : 43 minutes played, 33 points, 10-22 shooting (6-15 from three), 3 rebounds, +8 +/-
This kid is such a pleasure to watch.
The entirety of Jaren Jackson Jr’s extensive offensive arsenal was on display Friday. He buried three-pointers from well behind the line, knifed his way to the rim for pretty finishes, and even made his way to the charity stripe with consistency (seven makes on nine tries). Jackson Jr. exposed slow-footed defender Jusuf Nurkic all evening long, proving he is a matchup nightmare for big men in this league. The Blazers’ giants do not possess the quickness to stick with Jackson Jr. either inside or outside the arc.
Jaren was aggressive looking for his shot right from the opening tip, which is a hugely encouraging sign. The Grizzlies are going to need him to continue to serve as a dependable, high-usage scorer if they want to reach their first postseason since 2017. He was far from flawless, though. Foul trouble has followed Jackson Jr. since the scrimmage games, and he racked up five of them versus the Blazers. Also, he was lackluster on the glass.
Brandon Clarke: 34 minutes played, 21 points, 7-8 shooting, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks
Brandon Clarke was a stabilizing force on both sides of the floor for Memphis. He feasted inside as usual, converting on a number of his patented floaters. Not to mention he put Zach Collins on a poster (and then received a technical foul for staring him down). Furthermore, with a team-high seven rebounds in total and two on the offensive glass, Clarke was the only Grizzly who found success battling for boards with the likes of Nurkic and Collins.
The 23-year-old basically played a flawless game. But Grizzlies fans know this is not exactly an uncommon occurrence. Clarke is an insanely intelligent basketball player who has a knack for making plays that impact winning, and he made his fair share of them against Portland. Brandon is a perfect complementary piece alongside Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., and the show he put on to begin the re-start for Memphis backed up this sentiment.
There is no question that the Grizzlies must pick up their defensive intensity, and folks should be confident they will. All in all, Memphis looked solid after such a long hiatus. Their blue-collar identity and selflessness were on full-display. This team played hard and for each other. Young clubs are going to struggle defensively at times, especially when facing off against an elite backcourt with years more experience. Was this defeat tough to swallow? Absolutely. But nobody in Memphis should be hanging their heads in shame.
Four of the five Grizzlies starters scored in double figures. Their collective offensive attack was impressive and something that will be pivotal to overall success as the stakes get higher. Obviously Memphis has some things to work on (namely limiting defensive lapses), but they could have fared much worse.
Grizzlies Grade: B