When you are hot and heavy in the thick of a playoff race, you will surely take victories any way you can get them. But for the Memphis Grizzlies, that was still way uglier than it needed to be.
The Orlando Magic are short-handed as a roster even when they are fully healthy. But with key players missing Friday’s first half of a home and home back to back between themselves and the Grizzlies, they competed “admirably”. I place “admirably” in quotes because it was ugly basketball in the first half, and Memphis’ struggles defined the “competitiveness” of the contest more than Orlando’s execution. But still, they are pros. And they did not lie down.
Thankfully, the better team pulled away in the second half to the tune of a big 92-75 victory paced by a massive third quarter. But it wasn’t as easy as the final score suggests.
Some quick takeaways.
A note on Justise
You’ve read enough about Justise Winslow on GBB recently. But in researching for this gig at times you come across interesting numbers. Did you know that Justise Winslow - yes, that polarizing Justise Winslow that led to many of you agreeing with NATHAN CHESTER OF ALL PEOPLE - is currently posting a career high in usage rate? It’s true - his 21.6% usage rate is higher than De’Anthony Melton, Kyle Anderson, and Grayson Allen. Even a Winslow supporter can acknowledge that given Justise’s current woes, that makes absolutely no sense.
Of course, part of that is role. He’s been asked to initiate offense, and at times he tries too hard in that point forward role to do that. But in this game he had a chance to play with Tyus Jones, allowing for him to be off the ball once again, and he was still forcing threes and pushing ill-advised drives to the lane. He must prioritize finding his rhythm and allowing for others to make plays off of his extra pass. Being more selective will help his game round in to form as long as the team gives him minutes.
The first half of this game was especially bad. He wasn’t the reason they struggled as a team - they all were pretty rough. But he surely is not helping his own cause. And when you are the scapegoat, folks look for reasons to confirm their opinions. Winslow gave them some additional ammo in this game.
Dillon is there, through good times and bad
Dillon Brooks was one of those Grizzlies that the team needed more from coming in to a key third quarter. Brooks was 2-7 from the floor in the first half, not hitting a single three and ending the first 24 minutes of the game with a frustration technical foul. Four points from a player like Dillon in a half simply is not enough for the Grizzlies to be able to compete on most nights.
Then, the third started. And while multiple players executed better (Xavier Tillman comes to mind), it was the energy and swagger of Dillon that really stood out.
Brooks is a constant nuisance defensively for the opposition, and there’s no denying that the Grizzlies feed off his energy. As he picked it up, so too did Dillon’s teammates on the defensive end as Orlando was awful offensively in the second half especially. Brooks posted a 10 point third, as the scoring and defensive intensity turned up to the tune of a 36-15 third quarter. That holds remarkable value - when times are tough? You can rely on Dillon to continue to compete. It won’t always result in a win. But it will lead your teammates to believe that a bad tide can always be turned.
- Ja Morant needs to score more early. Hard hitting analysis, right? But Morant didn’t score his first field goal (on an impressive windmill alley-oop) until late in the second quarter. Memphis struggled mightily without his offensive production. That can’t be a thing for such a stretch of time as the Grizzlies push for the postseason.
- Double double streak - resume! Jonas Valanciunas got back to his elite rebounding and efficient scoring ways in this one. Maybe it was because Z-Bo himself Zach Randolph was in the house. Maybe Jonas just recommitted to the glass, where he had issues the last two games against Denver and Portland. However it happened, it was a welcome sight.
- Slo-Mo knows how to work. Another night where Kyle Anderson puts up solid numbers on both ends of the floor. He is a match-up nightmare depending on the opponent, with his handle and shot making opposing front lines have to pick their poison for how he facilitates offense. Three blocks remind you of that 7’3” wingspan as well.
The Grizzlies are right back at it tomorrow night against this same Orlando Magic team, this time in sunny Florida. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 PM CT.