The Grizzlies and Nuggets met at FedEx Forum in an important matchup for two teams that hoped to cement their playoff positions as the second half of the season starts. The Grizzlies got off to a great start against Washington on Wednesday night, and had another opportunity on Friday Night to use their strengths to create problems for one of the better teams in the Western Conference Friday.
Both Memphis and Denver started off fairly slow in the first quarter, as the Grizzlies were doing well to prevent Denver’s cuts off Nikola Jokic’s passes from working. However, Denver did find success countering the Grizzlies’ defense at the rim by hitting shots from deep. As the Grizzlies prevented Jokic and Jamal Murray from finding good looks at the basket, Michael Porter Jr. scored nine early points. However, the Grizzlies kept pace until the bench units entered the game.
This is when Brandon Clarke decided to take over.
After Denver went up 22-17, Clarke scored twelve points via two threes and two and-1’s as he helped the Grizzlies finish the quarter on a 14-4 run to take a five point lead through one quarter. The Grizzlies continued finding success at the start of the second, extending the lead to as much as nine. However, five quick points from Denver made the score shrink to four three minutes into the quarter.
Both teams struggled over the next few minutes, but the Grizzlies extended their lead to six with four minutes thanks to four quick points from Dillon Brooks. The lead reached eight points, but the Nuggets worked their way back thanks to some lucky bounces and six straight points from Jokic to end the half. The Grizzlies lead was reduced to two at halftime, 55-53.
Jokic led all scorers with 17 points and seven rebounds for the Nuggets, while Clarke scored 16 and Jonas Valanciunas had 10 points and seven rebounds. They were the only three players who had double-digit points through two quarters. Ja Morant struggled, with only four points and one field goal on seven attempts. However, the Grizzlies limited the Nuggets to 6-20 from three and outscored Denver by ten in the paint to earn the lead.
The third quarter not did not begin well for Memphis. The Nuggets outscored the Grizzlies 15-5 due to five Memphis turnovers and an overall out of sync offense over the first six minutes. Though the Grizzlies defense started to produce some stops, the offense still struggled, as Memphis had as many turnovers as they did points eight minutes into the quarter. Unfortunately, after a Morant three, the Nuggets once again found success through a 9-2 run to make the score 79-67. A big quarter from Porter Jr. And Will Barton really fueled the increasing lead for Denver.
Fortunately, the Grizzlies decided its not how you start a quarter, but how you finish it. A 10-2 run by Memphis, with a 42-foot three from Morant to end the third, allowed the Grizzlies to cut the lead to four points heading into the fourth quarter. Both teams experienced slow starts to the quarter, as neither team scored until Brooks hit a three at the 9:30 mark. Both teams continued to struggle from the field, as they combined to score only nine points on 3-18 shooting until 6:24 was left on the clock with Denver ahead 86-82.
After a timeout, both teams began to find their stroke, as the Grizzlies cut the lead to one thanks to three made threes, one from Melton and two from Dillon Brooks. The Nuggets and Grizzlies stayed close, but Denver found its rhythm from three as they made three straight from beyond the arc in 90 seconds. After a three of his own, Jokic added a quick two to give Denver the lead 103-99 with 34 seconds left. However, A De’Anthony Melton three and a block by Clarke on Jokic gave the Grizzlies a last second opportunity to win the game. Unfortunately, though it seemed the ref signaled a foul on Jokic on Morant’s drive to the basket, no foul stood. The Nuggets escaped with a 103-102 victory.
The Grizzlies defense played very well on the evening, especially on Jamal Murray, holding him to 1-14 and three points. However, Michael Porter Jr. and Will Barton combined for 42 points to support Jokic’s 28 points and 15 rebounds. Memphis shot well overall, but committed five more turnovers and fouls each than Denver did in the game. Brandon Clarke scored 20 points along with three blocks, and the Grizzlies bench outscored Denver 40-24. In the end, Memphis simply made more mistakes, and could not overcome it in time.
Though the result was disappointing, it was a very good game in which Memphis once again showed it belonged on the court against one the league’s better teams. With Oklahoma City next on the schedule come Sunday, the Grizzlies should be in a good place to get above .500 once again.