In a game that was a lot of fun to watch (and carried a lot of potential playoff implications), the Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers put on one hell of a show. It was a back and forth affair right up until the end, with the likes of Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Damian Lillard. and Jusuf Nurkic battling throughout the night. In the end, the Grizzlies survived and solidified further their spot in the current Western Conference playoff standings.
Some quick takeaways from a 130-128 win for Memphis -
Jaren Jackson Jr. can once again ball
Entering the 4th quarter, Jackson in 18 minutes of play had 15 points on 10 shots. He kept that level of play through the final frame, ending his 25 minutes of play with 23 points on 14 shots without a made three and with two massive late free throws to finish things out for the Grizzlies. He took guys off the dribble, showing the ability to create for himself as if he was a large wing. He was very active defensively, not posting the monster numbers but making an impact with his communication and movement. He is not showing much, if any, rust after missing all of the season leading up to Wednesday’s debut against the Clippers.
It was a source of frustration for many Grizzlies fans, how long Jaren sat. But the performance team for Memphis is doing some pretty good work this year getting players back at 100%, even if they’re taking a bit extra time to make sure they are there. And more than wins and losses in this particular season, getting a healthy Jaren Jackson Jr. back in the fold matters. As his workload increases, the Grizzlies will almost surely improve.
Ja Morant is special
For once, Ja Morant got some star treatment on his way to a big night from the charity stripe (10-12 from the free throw line). He backed up that “love” from the officials (and there were some legit fouls of course) with a performance worthy of supernova status. He had a double double going in to the fourth quarter and was a masterful force of nature on the offensive end of the floor. Over 30 points scored overall with only one made three? Double digit assists as the team struggled from three overall? That means you are getting to the basket and creating not just on kickouts to shooters. In and around the rim, where there is less space to operate, you’re getting teammates open looks.
Morant was fantastic against Denver, but other than that it has been an average or worse road trip for Ja. This game was a reminder of what he is capable of, even with his screen setting Lithuanian partner in the pick and roll Jonas Valanciunas still out.
- I wish I was as confident as Dillon Brooks. Trash talking the mighty Damian Lillard and launching pull-up threes at key moments takes a ton of self-belief. But Dillon succeeded more often than not in this game on both ends of the floor. A return to form for Brooks that the Grizzlies desperately needed.
- Jonas Valanciunas was missed. For the second game in a row (and arguably third, if you count the Nuggets game) you could clearly see that Jonas’ role in the rotation was not easily filled. It’s not that those that ate the minutes were bad - Xavier Tillman had flashes of brilliance offensively and defensively, Jaren showed out, and even Brandon Clarke (who struggled with his post defense against Jusuf Nurkic) had flashed of success. It is that where Jonas shines - rebounding, post scoring - could’ve benefitted the Memphis roster in his usual minutes. Coach Jenkins says Jonas should be back soo. That’s good.
- Why not more Melton? As the game closed, Coach Jenkins started with Grayson Allen instead of De’Anthony Melton or Desmond Bane at the traditional “2” spot. That was curious, considering the fact that Grayson had a rough night (1-6, 0-5 from three) and the style of play fit Melton’s skill set while De’Anthony was in a better shooting rhythm (2-5 from three in particular). Eventually Melton returned, but it could’ve been done earlier.
This isn’t an argument for Bane - he was off as well. It’s a simple question - if you have depth, and clear indicators that one player is better than the others in a specific game, why not reward that performance more consistently? There may be more to this situation.
Memphis will be spending the weekend in Portland, as their next game is against these same Trail Blazers on Sunday afternoon.