Expectations weren’t particularly high for the Grizzlies as they entered the second game of their “series” against the Los Angeles Lakers at FedExForum. The Grizzlies were debuting their City edition jerseys, paying tribute to the late Isaac Hayes. The new uniforms looked great, especially with the throwback court from the Pyramid days.
With a lengthy injury report highlighted by Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Justise Winslow, expectations weren’t high for Grizzlies facing off the defending champion Lakers who got even better over the past offseason. The Grizzlies held their own in the first matchup on Sunday for 3 quarters and some change before LeBron James took over down the stretch. Last night? Things went better/worse.
The Grizzlies shot a putrid 1-11 to start the game but were able to end the first quarter with the lead thanks to Gorgui Dieng, De’Anthony Melton and Desmond Bane. The Grizzlies went back and forth with the Lakers all game up until the final seconds. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, LeBron James and Anthony Davis (52 combined points) were too much for the undermanned Grizzlies.
All season long, Jenkins has been talking about the “next man up” mentality the team has had amidst the adversity in playing without Ja, Jaren and the other injured Grizzlies. Last night the next man up was Gorgui Dieng. Dieng was crucial in the first half when the Grizzlies were trailing. Dieng went into the halftime break with 11 points, 4 rebounds and 2 steals. Dieng was able to get whatever he wanted going up against Montrezl Harrell. Dieng ended up scoring just 2 points in the second half as the Grizzlies offense went through their guards.
Dieng has been a steady presence for the Grizzlies the last few games, which could pay off huge for the Grizzlies. I wrote over the offseason that Dieng would be a viable trade candidate for a contending team that could make the salary work. Some of our loyal commenters didn’t think it was realistic and that Dieng would only be a trade candidate for a team looking to dump salary.
With the way he’s played the last few games, Dieng has certainly improved his trade value and the Grizzlies look primed to have a handful of suitors for the big man on a $17 million expiring contract. After the game, Dieng told the media he prides himself on bringing consistent energy to every game and that the bench has to play hard and it’s what he wants to do. Dieng says the goal of the bench is to “play together and play hard”.
Another positive sign for the Grizzlies was the play of the bench. The bench combined for 36 points after scoring 26 points in the first half. Getting nearly 40% of your scoring off the bench is a good omen that the Grizzlies bench is back after struggling in the first few games of the season. Tyus Jones and Brando Clarke, members of last years bench mob, were thrown into starting roles with the Ja and Jaren injuries. Tyus and Clarke combined for 20 points in the start and look to be back in the groove they had last season.
Taylor Jenkins said post game that the bench is “crucial” for the Grizzlies and pointed out he has a ton of different options and rotations depending how the game is going. With nearly all the members of the bench unit playing well, the Grizzlies depth will certainly help them until Ja, Jaren and the others return to form.