The Memphis Grizzlies hosted the Phoenix Suns for the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day game yesterday afternoon, and though it wasn’t the same having this moment with in a pre-pandemic world, the organization did a sensational job hosting virtual events and making the day feel special.
And on the court, the Grizzlies put on a show on a national stage.
The Grizzlies and Suns matchup was always going to be fun, but would the circumstances allow it? This was Phoenix’s first game in a week, due to contact tracing with the COVID-struck Washington Wizards. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies’ latest opponent — the Philadelphia 76ers — had their game yesterday canceled due to contact tracing with Memphis. Jonas Valanciunas was also added to the inactive list yesterday to enter health and safety protocols.
So it was a bit whirlwind prior to tipoff.
However, the show went on. We got to see Ja Morant versus Chris Paul, a battle between this generation’s “Point God” and the young guard looking to take that mantle for the next era. Xavier Tillman got to make his first start as well. And we got to see the Memphis Grizzlies get a dub on national TV.
So that’s cool! Let’s do some grades.
Ja Morant: 17 points (5-10 shooting, 1-2 from 3), 10 assists, 2 steals, 34 minutes, -11 (Grade: B+)
Ja Morant didn’t have the greatest game, as indicated from his low shot volume and plus/minus. However, Phoenix did do a good job throwing multiple looks at him, including the veteran Chris Paul and the stretchy wing Mikal Bridges.
Despite all that, Ja shined when it mattered most — winning time.
4th quarter Ja was on display, and it was so unique because it wasn’t necessarily a scoring takeover from him. Towards the end of the game, he made an excellent read to zip a pass to an open Grayson Allen in the corner for the trey-ball. 30 seconds later, Ja had a mismatch, after an Xavier Tillman screen, where Ayton had to take the switch. He demonstrated a killer instinct to take it to the rim over a bigger Ayton to bring the game to 3.
Ja Morant led the show for the Memphis Grizzlies, reminding everyone that this young team is fun as hell and ready to compete.
Grayson Allen: 16 points (4-8 shooting, 2-5 from 3), 6 rebounds, 3 assists, +12 in 26 minutes (Grade: B)
As our Site Manager Joe Mullinax alluded to in his recent post, Coach Taylor Jenkins is going to play Grayson Allen no matter what, and probably more than De’Anthony Melton and Desmond Bane (who the Grizzlies have more monetary/draft investment in). That’s because he plays the Grizzlies standard: play hard defense, move the basketball, and let it fly from 3.
Grayson Allen did just that in this one.
The 4 first-half turnovers do knock him down a grade, but Allen did what was expected from him tonight. He made plays inside the arc, and he spaced the floor.
He also made two crucial plays in crunch time — one being his dagger in the corner to give the Grizzlies the lead, and the other was a defensive possession where he stonewalled Chris Paul and forced him to give it up near halfcourt.
He played Grizzlies basketball there, and as long as he continues to do so, you’ll continue to see Grayson Allen minutes.
Xavier Tillman: 12 points (5-8 shooting, 1-2 from 3), 6 rebounds, -7, 29 minutes (Grade: A)
Xavier Tillman had a strong first start, and his impact goes beyond the box score.
Granted, he did capitalize on his scoring opportunities, and even knocked down a trey ball to make the defense honest. And he was a nice rebound presence as well. Where he caught my eye was his defensive impact.
The poster from Deandre Ayton may overshadow it, but Tillman did force him into shorting a few post shots early in the game, even a post hook instead. In addition, he was caught in every center’s least favorite spot: a switch on Chris Paul. The veteran tried to fool the young rookie and lead him to his victim list of ankle-breakers and nutmegs. However, Tillman stood his ground, and he even came away with a knock-away in isolation as well.
Xavier Tillman is wise beyond his years, and he’s going to be hard to keep off the floor if he keeps this up.
- Brandon Clarke (A): Brandon Clarke flashed the upside many raved about in his rookie season. He dove to the rim for easy hoops, made plays off the dribble, and was a factor on the glass and defensively. He still possesses elite role player upside.
- Desmond Bane (B): Desmond Bane did what was asked of him: he spaced the floor, made plays off the dribble, and made a defensive impact. Another strong outing for the rookie and the “Start Desmond Bane, You Cowards” crowd.
- Tyus Jones (A): Jones had a quietly steady game, leading the team in +/- (+17). His scoring and playmaking led to him getting crunch time minutes alongside Ja Morant.
- Dillon Brooks (C-): It was not Brooks’ night, but a trend I want to watch with him: how else is he impacting winning. In this one, he came away with 3 assists (against 1 turnover), while forcing Devin Booker into an uncharacteristic, uncomfortable shooting night.
Tune in Wednesday, as the Memphis Grizzlies take on the Portland Trail Blazers in Portland.