Back in action after their first postponed game due to COVID-19 on Friday Night, Saturday night was even more exciting due to the return of Ja Morant. Ja played his first game for the Grizzlies since December 28th and, to the surprise of no one, returned sooner than expected as a boost to the resurgent Grizzlies. Memphis entered the game with a three game winning streak; however, they were welcoming the Philadelphia 76ers, one of the best teams in the NBA in the early part of the season, to FedExForum.
In the early going, the 76ers got off to the more effective start, creating a lead as large as seven in the first six minutes of the game. However, defense and threes helped the Grizzlies reduce the lead to one at 16-15. Both teams went back and forth, as the defense picked up on both ends. However, seven points from Grayson Allen off the bench allowed the Grizzlies to keep the score close. The 76ers ended the quarter with the lead 26-25.
The Grizzlies roared out of the gates in the second quarter and scored 11 points in the first two and a half minutes. The defense once again created havoc and Morant found his way to the basket with ease as Memphis took a 36-31 lead. Both teams would go back and forth to make the score 46-43, as the B Brothers, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, and Brandon Clarke all found ways to contribute. A quick stretch of fouls allowed the 76ers to regain the lead. Thankfully, the Grizzlies stayed with the Sixers, and pulled within one point at 51-50 Sixers with three minutes left. In a stroke of strategic genius, Taylor Jenkins put Morant back in the game for the final three minutes of the half, and it paid off. The Grizzlies went on a 10-3 run and entered half time with a six point lead.
Morant lead all scorers with 12 points, while the Grizzlies also did a good job of keeping the Sixers best at bay as Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons only had 19 first half points. Big areas of benefits for Memphis were outscoring the 76ers off turnovers by a count of 10-0. Memphis also limited the Sixers to only three first half threes. On the concerning side, the 76ers had six more free throws and outpaced the Grizzlies in blocks, 8 to 1. The Grizzlies counter to the 76ers defense in the paint was good accuracy with floaters and the mid-range to keep the offense flowing.
Though Jonas Valanciunas picked up two quick fouls to begin the half, the Grizzlies extended their lead to ten as Clarke got loose for two big alley-oop finishes. The Grizzlies were finding success getting out on the run to begin the second half. The Grizzlies continued to find success getting past the initial defense of Philly to find good looks on offense. Unfortunately, the whistles were not going in Memphis’s favor and it allowed the Sixers to keep the game within single digits. However, the Grizzlies defense once again shined, allowing Memphis to extend the lead to 11 with just over five minutes left in the quarter.
The Grizzlies continued to create chaos on defense, leading to plenty of good looks via turnovers. They went away from getting to the rim. Missed looks from distance plus being in the bonus allowed the 76ers to get within four, but Xavier Tillman’s first career three allowed the lead to extend to seven. The Grizzlies rode the wave of Tillman’s hot play, as they found their way back to the rim and continued playing effective defense. The end result was a 88-76 lead thanks to Allen’s buzzer beating three.
The Grizzlies kept the pace for the first three minutes of the fourth, extending the lead to as much as 13 despite the 76ers converting frequently. The 76ers worked a Grizzlies miscue into a 5-0 run to reduce the lead to 96-88. The Sixers continued their success from the field, as they converted eight of their first 11 shots in the fourth and reduced the lead to four, 100-96 Grizzlies, with just over five minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Grizzlies extended the lead back to seven as the defense once again found its footing. The difference in the fourth quarter certainly was Skake Milton, but the Grizzlies were able to continue converting opportunities due to their effort and energy.
The Grizzlies and 76ers went back and fourth, but the Grizzlies could not find a bucket as Philadelphia went on a 6-0 run to pull within one with 18 seconds left. However, Tillman once again got a huge stop by making Harris step on the baseline for yet another turnover, and the Grizzlies prevailed, 106-104.
Thought Shake Milton had 28 points and Ben Simmons nearly produced a triple double, the Grizzlies really found success in preventing Philly from getting multiple scorers in rhythm due to frequent deflections and turnovers. Seven Grizzlies scored in double figures, including combined 37 points from Allen, Bane, and Tillman. It was truly a team effort for Memphis. Coach Jenkins decisions right before and after halftime also really paid dividends for the Grizzlies.
With Morant back in action, this Grizzlies team has truly survived and prevailed and the wins are continuing to increase as a result.