The Memphis Grizzlies commenced their seven-game road trip in style. After a neck-and-neck first two stanzas between Chicago and Memphis, the Grizzlies broke open the game in the third and scored 37 points, which catapulted the road team to a 126-115 victory over the Bulls. It was a showdown defined and decided by the three-pointer, as both teams combined to make 30 treys, 17 for Memphis and 13 for Chicago.
After a heartbreaking loss at the hands of Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, the Grizzlies are back in the win column. Let’s celebrate the decisive victory by handing out grades to some standout performers.
Dillon Brooks- 29 minutes, 32 points, 12-for-19 shooting, 2 rebounds, 2 assists
Despite what the scoreboard suggests, the Grizzlies usual contributors had difficulty finding the net in the early going. Kyle Anderson missed all five of his first-half threes. Jonas Valanciunas attempted three field goals across the first 24 minutes of play. Grayson Allen and Ja Morant converted just four of their 11 shots by halftime. Despite this, Memphis found themselves even with the Bulls at the break, 61-61. Why is this the case? Well, Grizzlies fans should largely thank the offensive fireworks put on by perhaps their most polarizing talent, Dillon Brooks.
Brooks is what he is at this point in his career, for better or worse — an ultra-streaky scorer and a hard-nosed, overzealous defender. However, when at the top of his game, he’s capable of buoying Memphis’ offensive attack, and he did just that at crucial junctures. Brooks showcased his three-level scoring chops all night long — aggressive takes to the cup, spot-up threes, and mid-range pull-ups allowed him to pile up the points. And it’s worth mentioning that Brooks wasn’t forcing looks often in this one. Instead, he let the game come to him for the most part and played patient and poised on that end.
Brooks’ scoring tear didn’t cease during the second half. He dropped an astounding 15 points in the third quarter and spearheaded a run that saw the Grizzlies gain some breathing room. Brooks had the hot hand throughout and finished with unquestionably one of his finest scoring displays of the season.
Additionally, Brooks flashed his unheralded playmaking capabilities as well. Rookie Xavier Tillman served as the beneficiary of some heady dishes from Dillon, one on the break and another in the half-court. These plays parlayed into a bucket and two free throws for Tillman, which jumpstarted a solid night for the rookie.
Xavier Tillman- 17 minutes, 14 points, 4-for-6 shooting, 2 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block
Brandon Clarke sat out Friday’s contest with a hip impingement. As a result, Xavier Tillman saw a slight uptick in minutes — an expected outcome sans both Clarke and Jaren Jackson Jr. But what came as a pleasant surprise was the tremendous success Tillman had putting the ball through the net.
It’s easy to forget the maiden season Tillman has enjoyed amid all of the positive storylines percolating in Memphis. A career season from Valanciunas notwithstanding, it’s Tillman who has cemented he belongs as a long-term fixture with this group of Grizzlies. Opportunistic scoring and suffocating interior defense have defined Tillman’s career in Beale Street Blue thus far, and the former shined through on Friday. Now, Tillman by no means lit the world on fire. He wasn’t the second-best Grizzly on the floor or even close to it. Why is he on this report card, then? Tillman made the most of his opportunity and then some.
His 14 points in total marked his highest scoring output in April. What stood out even more than the points themselves was the efficient manner in which Tillman generated his baskets. The X-Man buried four of his six attempts, including two threes, an aspect of Tillman’s repertoire with the potential to reap massive rewards on the next great Grizzlies team. Not to mention he sank all four of his free-throw tries.
While it was Tillman’s offense that stole the show, he performed characteristically well with on the other end. Compiling two steals — one of which led to a thunderous dunk on the break — he guarded with active hands and mucked up Chicago’s passing lanes with his length. Tillman even blocked one shot for good measure, which served as the icing on the cake for what was a commendable all-around game for a player who has yet to scratch the surface of his apex.