This Grizzlies roster continues to exceed expectations. Embarking on one of the longest and toughest road trips in franchise history, many felt simply earning two wins would have been a success. Instead, the Grizzlies have gone 4-2, continuing a very impressive stretch of play in April. Memphis is currently playing their best version of balanced basketball this season, and perhaps under Taylor Jenkins to date. The result is a postseason birth that not only is becoming more of a reality, but also a pursuit of the playoffs that is becoming more fun to witness by the day.
Similar to their victory on Friday in Portland, the Grizzlies were able to gain a lead, withstand a strong run from the Blazers, and earn a victory from solid play late in the game. With that in mind, let’s hand out a some grades to a few folks who fueled another great effort from Memphis.
Jonas Valanciunas- B+
Jonas Valanciunas returned to the lineup after missing three games due to being put into the league’s concussion protocol following last weekend’s games. With Jaren Jackson Jr. out due to scheduled maintenance in his return from injury, Valanciunas was clearly needed against the tough inside play of the Trail Blazers.
Though Jusuf Nurkic found success throughout the game on the boards, Jonas was actually the bigger factor early as the Grizzlies built their lead. Three early threes (tying a career high) from Valanciunas and 13 first half points aided the Grizzlies in getting an 11-point half time lead. As others stepped up their games in the second half, Valanciunas supported the cause with eight more points and producing another double-double. It will be exciting to see Valanciunas and JJJ finally playing some minutes together once again tonight and beyond.
Ja Morant- A
In a second straight matchup that featured one of the best current and future “Faces of the Franchise” in the NBA in Damian Lillard and Ja Morant, it seems logical to suggest it was Morant who emerged as the better player in each game. After making both franchise and NBA history in the first game (33 points, 13 assists, 0 turnovers), Morant once again stepped up in the clutch as he lead the Grizzlies with 28 points.
Beyond Fourth Quarter Ja, Morant also continued two other encouraging trends. As he has now done many times in both March and April, Morant played at his best against a playoff caliber team. He also continued his significant improvement shooting the three, as he is now 24/54 from three in the month of April. While it is fair to say that Morant has struggled at times this year, he has clearly improved his overall effectiveness on both ends of the court as of late.
Grizzlies Bench and Balance- A
For only the fourth time this month, the Grizzlies made less than 13 threes in a game. While they clearly struggled from beyond the arc in the other three contests, last night’s performance should certainly be considered a success. The Grizzlies produced 50 points in the paint, 24 points from the free throw line, and 36 points while shooting over 50% from three. While Portland is one of the NBA’s worst defenses, the Grizzlies continue to show they are becoming more balanced offensively and better at finding high percentage looks. With this balance, Memphis is achieving an offensive consistency that can withstand comeback attempts like Portland had in the fourth quarter and still result in the Grizzlies finding ways to win.
A big key to that consistency last night was the Grizzlies bench. Both benches scored 28 total points. However, the Memphis reserves produced 13 assists on the night compared to just two from Portland’s bench. That allowed the Grizzlies to achieve and maintain a lead for most of the game, and allowed the starters to remain fresh to generate needed offense down the stretch. This also shows that the Grizzlies’ reserves continue to find different ways to contribute on a nightly basis.
Memphis should be satisfied with the weekend sweep in Portland, even if it is simply a step toward a bigger goal. The Grizzlies are playing quite well, and are doing it finally with a fully healthy roster in tact.