How about that start, right?
The Memphis Grizzlies jumped out to a wonderful 22-2 lead in the first quarter against the reigning World Champion Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night on national television. From there, the team was slowly but surely worn down by LeBron James, a march to the free throw line, and a lack of depth for a Memphis team that only had nine players active against L.A. The Grizzlies fouled too much, turned the ball over too much in the pivotal third quarter, and despite the valiant effort were not a match for the Lakers over an entire 48 minute game.
If only this could’ve been predicted...
Memphis up 31-16 to end the first. This is the Grizzlies defense during the winning streak. They imposed their will on the Lakers. Can they do it another 36 minutes with nine active players? pic.twitter.com/v2pPF73lRj— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) February 13, 2021
It turned out to be just a fool’s hope.
Some quick takeaways from a game that feels disappointing...but probably shouldn’t be.
Jonas Valanciunas cares not for y(our) critiques
A monster first frame for the Lithuanian Leviathan was further evidence of what Valanciunas is capable of and brings to the table. No, he isn’t an elite perimeter defender and can be taken advantage of there. But when he is on - as he was early in this game - that weakness is vastly overshadowed by his strength as a scorer and rebounder. Even beyond the offensive prowess and ability to attack the glass, his screen setting for pick and roll partners like Ja Morant is so valuable in terms of creating space for them to work. He makes opposing defenses honor his roll ability and his raw physicality can make even the toughest wing defenders lose sight of their assignment.
Valanciunas is a necessary part of this team’s success in the short term...and if he continues to show that he can take over games for stretches, perhaps he isn’t such a sure-fire departure before “the next great Grizzlies team” after all.
Grayson Allen when you need him
With Desmond Bane out for personal reasons after a death in his family, Grayson Allen returned to the starting lineup. And he did not disappoint his fans tonight as he hit multiple threes at an efficient clip and helped hold his own admirably on the defensive end. The Lakers...got some beneficial whistles (over twice the attempts for L.A. from the charity stripe)...but Grayson largely avoided those issues while making himself available to Ja Morant assists off of dribble penetration. At times, Grayson plays above his head, trying to do too much - kind of like a Dillon Brooks-lite. This was not one of those nights.
Shouts to Grayson. He is doing what Head Coach Taylor Jenkins wants him to (defend without fouling, launch threes) and he is doing it pretty well. When (if?) this team is healthy, he’s made a convincing case to remain in what should be a crowded rotation.
- It turns out, only having nine active players hurts you. Single game plus minus isn’t a perfect stat by any means. But when the starters hover around being net-neutral in terms of +/-, and the bench is four players that are all a combined double digit negative, that’s a trend that is worth paying attention to. Memphis simply didn’t have enough depth to hang with Los Angeles for a full 48 minute game.
- But seriously, it was a tale of two halves. Memphis won the first half by 13. They lost the second half by 20+ points. Sometimes it really is that simple - the Lakers have a championship roster and forced a Grizzlies team down multiple rotation players to play a clean game. They were able to do that for one half. The wheels fell off beyond that. Memphis turned the ball over far too often in the third (six times!) and simply wasn’t able to land the multiple counter punches necessary to hang with the champs.
- Ja Morant looked more like himself. A double double with 22 points and 10 assists? You take that production from your 21 year old leader any night. He made some highlight passes and really shined off ball at times, a sign of trying to help him with the blitzes he has seen of late. It didn’t come in a win, but the concerns that existed about Morant are slowly but surely fading away.
Memphis has quite the busy week ahead of them. It resumes on Sunday in a Valentine’s Day date with the Sacramento Kings.