Los Angeles made an adjustment defensively to put Kawhi Leonard on the primary ball-handler and blitz pick-and-rolls harder. When they have lineups like Patrick Beverley, Kawhi, Paul George, Nicolas Batum, and Serge Ibaka out there, it’s frightening defensively. None of those players are even average defenders; they’re all great defenders with good size (or in Beverley’s case, tenacity).
Then Kawhi Leonard flipped a switch where he basically turns into the NBA’s Terminator and just destroys anything in his path on either end of the floor.
Nonetheless, the Grizzlies didn’t get the win here, but at least they split these two games — which bodes well for momentum into the final week before the All-Star break. Now, let’s grade some of the more intriguing performances.
De’Anthony Melton: 16 points, 6-12 shooting (2-6 from 3), 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 24 minutes, +/ of -8 (A-)
De’Anthony Melton wasn’t a member of the 10-man rotation in the Grizzlies win on Thursday night, and with Justise Winslow out for injury maintenance, he showed why he should be in there.
His defensive activity was nice as usual, taking on the challenge of guarding a much bigger Kawhi Leonard in spurts. Offensively, he showcased his improvements as a live-dribble creator from last season. He took two 3-pointers, which is always a plus to see them capitalize on open looks from deep. He also did a great job weaving through the defense and finding a spot for a clean look in the mid-range, and he also sticked to his game as a transition attacker as well.
Melton’s performance highlights a significant storyline for the Memphis Grizzlies, and that’s the depth crunch that’ll be made with a fully-healthy roster. Melton was the casualty the game before, and he showed last night that he’s a NBA rotation player deserving of minutes. Coach Taylor Jenkins knows these decisions are only going to get harder as players gain chemistry and take advantage of opportunities, and Melton is a prime example here.
Jonas Valanciunas: 22 points, 9-17 shooting, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 33 minutes, +/- of -8 (B+)
Jonas Valanciunas wasn’t necessarily the model of efficiency he usually embodies, but that’s more of a product of the coverage he was facing. The Clippers did a great job using their length to collapse inside to either force a tough shot or to get the ball out of his hands.
However, he remained a productive piece to the Grizzlies’ system and typically generated a bucket whenever the Grizzlies needed it. He continues his stellar play this month, as he’s notched his 9th double-double of the month (6th consecutive).
Jonas Valanciunas is playing some of the best basketball of his career, and he deserves more recognition.
Ja Morant: 20 points, 7-20 shooting (2-6 from 3), 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 33 minutes, +/- of -11 (B-)
Ja Morant had a solid game with some nice flashes — including a sweet transition lay-in against Kawhi Leonard, and a smooth behind-the-back pass in the pick-and-roll. However, the Clippers did have his number, and with what they threw at him, it was expected. They had Kawhi Leonard guard the Grizzlies’ point guards to use his size to disrupt their attacks as a scorer and playmaker. For the most part though, he did a good job of getting into the lane, but he just often struggled against the Clippers’ length.
Though the efficiency wasn’t there, I like how Morant is staying aggressive looking for his shots. He’s in the midst of a shooting slump, but he’s doing the right thing: shooting his way out of it. And with the law of averages, he’s bound to connect on a couple, as he did tonight.
The shot will fall, and the efficiency will rise. The young guard continues to show flashes of the star talent that’s in him.
Tune in Sunday as the Memphis Grizzlies travel to Houston to take on the Rockets.