The Memphis Grizzlies hung tough against arguably the very best team in the NBA in the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night. But unfortunately, led by Stephen Curry the Warriors continued to play at that “very best team in the Association” level and the Grizzlies simply did not have the capacity to match that level of efficiency offensively. Curry wasn’t alone - Gary Payton II posted point totals beyond his career high, and the resurgence of Draymond Green continued in terms of his defensive presence and offensive facilitation. As the Warriors get key players back in the fold, they will become even more dangerous.
Some times you run in to a superior squad. Considering the Grizzlies are much more concerned about long-term development internally than external growth (see all the trades made this past offseason), that should lead to an understandable, if not acceptable, outcome when taking on a team thinking title or bust.
Some takeaways from this one.
Flashes of Ja Morant finding his footing
Far too much has been made of Ja Morant’s recent return to the Grizzlies lineup and how he should fit with the team that had found such a rhythm in his absence. There is no question about what that “fit” is - Morant is the best player on this Grizzlies team, or at least the best talent. He is the cornerstone that the franchise is built around. When you’re such a pivotal piece of the future, you don’t adjust what you do, or who you are as a player. Your teammates around you are the ones who must recalibrate.
Sometimes that can lead to awkward moments in terms of execution. But in this game Ja looked more prepared to find himself in scoring positions, willing to attack the rim and find the best shot for his team - which a majority of the time was his own shot. The dribble penetration that Morant can create is the straw that stirs the proverbial drink that is the Grizzlies offense. Drives to the basket opposite his movements, shooters in the corner and below/above the break for three, or his own attempt at creating contact and getting to the free throw line are all solid options off of his own explosion and handle. That’s where things start and end. Ja is that dude.
He looked more comfortable regaining that spot in this game. Which matters a heck of a lot moving forward.
Jaren Jackson Jr. seems to be figuring it out
An efficient shooting night with 5+ rebounds and active movement both on and off the ball spells positive energy for the Memphis Grizzlies and their resident unicorn. The more both he and Morant can play well in the same game, especially in their shared minutes, the better for this franchise long-term. In no way did he settle for long jumpers - he got to the rim often and attempted 9 free throws. That aggression pays off in terms of easy scoring chances from the charity stripe as well as getting opposing teams in to individual/group foul trouble. Very few players in the NBA can outright defend Jaren when he is using all his tools offensively - even all-time great defenders like Draymond Green can struggle.
That was the case in this game. Whether it was Green or another Warriors defender, they rarely had an answer for the size and talent of JJJ. More of that confidence, and consistency, will do wonders for a team fighting for playoff positioning with their two best players being only 22 years-old.
- So...Xavier Tillman needs to be in the rotation. The majority of his time on the floor created opportunity for himself and others on both ends of the floor. He rebounded well and also posted 2 blocks on the evening, showing defensive knowledge of angles and timing considering he is not the longest/tallest defender. He was rewarded for great play in this one with an increased role. That probably has to continue.
- De’Anthony Melton provided the spark. As poorly as he played against the Thunder on Monday night, especially offensively, Melton was that good in this game. 20 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals, and unquantifiable energy and “stickwithitness” (shoutout Brevin Knight) that helped keep the Grizzlies in this game, especially when Stephen Curry was out of the game. It wasn’t enough, but it was still encouraging.
- Stephen Curry is ridiculous. 46 points on 22 shots. Just remarkably efficient scoring from the best shooter in the history of the NBA. Ja got the best of Steph on the Play-In stage earlier this year. Curry showed just how special he can be in this one.
Memphis has now lost three games in a row. The Grizzlies will next be in action on Sunday against the Sacramento Kings.