That game was...interesting.
It had the makings of a doozie — a disappointing one eerily similar to losses to the Oklahoma City Thunder, a resting Los Angeles team, or the Steph-less Golden State Warriors. The first half felt lethargic and boring, like no one really wanted to be there. However, the Memphis Grizzlies locked in defensively and took care of an inexperienced, injury-riddled Orlando Magic team.
Let’s get on to some grades.
Kyle Anderson: 13 points (6-14 shooting, 1-4 from 3), 6 rebounds, 3 blocks, +/- of +13, 28 minutes (Grade: B+)
Kyle Anderson gets a high grade here, simply because he was the lone starter over the course of the game that didn’t really harm the team at any point.
The shooting numbers don’t tell the story — and also not many people shot particularly well — but he was deliberate with his offense. He picked and chose his spots quite well, and he did a good job putting pressure on the defense off drives.
Defensively, he really set the tone. He swatted 3 shots, including a sweet block on a poster attempt by Gary Harris. As he takes on the role of the 4 more in these smaller lineups, his rim protection and rebounding are imperative, especially as one of these is a sore spot for Jaren Jackson Jr.
His rock-solid consistency night in and night out is integral to the team’s success.
Dillon Brooks: 20 points (7-18 shooting, 3-9 from 3), +/- of +22, 34 minutes (Grade: B)
I’m only docking Brooks here, because he forced it a bit too much in that first half. He was doing a good job of getting to his spot, but there was an extra pass or two he could’ve made.
However, Dillon Brooks’ mentality didn’t change, and shots started falling.
He continued to hunt for his shot in the mid-range, while only balancing it with in-rhythm 3’s off passes. The biggest thing though was his energy, as he is the spiritual leader of this team. He kicked up the intensity a bit defensively, applying pressure to Cole Anthony to get him uncomfortable in the 2nd half.
As evident through his team-high +/-, his energy and tenacity are contagious, and it’s a tone-setter. It’s a big reason why he leads the team in on/off-court differential (+7.4, per Cleaning the Glass).
You never how to worry about Dillon Brooks’ intensity or interest any night. He gives it all.
Dillon plays hard, whether he's playing well or terribly. Always plays hard.— Joe Mullinax (@JoeMullinax) May 1, 2021
Rest of the team: C+
I usually give 3 grades, and given the kind of loss it was (an ugly one), it felt weird to just harp on 3 good performance. However, they won, so there should be no individual call-out’s either. So let’s lump the rest together and quickly highlight the good and the bad for a C+ — which is basically the law of averages between really good and pretty bad performance, with the + there for the win.
Ja Morant came out a bit slow and was outplayed by Cole Anthony for the first half, but he did a great job managing the game and kicking up the intensity in the second half. Desmond Bane had a good spot there in the first quarter, but you could tell the 3 quick fouls threw him out of his rhythm, leading to probably his worst shooting performance of the season. De’Anthony Melton continued his shooting struggles, though had success as a shot-blocker and rebounder. While Jonas Valanciunas had another double-double, his impact wasn’t as resounding as it should’ve been against Orlando’s inexperienced frontline.
The two men of the hour — Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow — had interesting games. Winslow continued to struggle, and given his minutes total (11), his spot in the rotation in the next game or 2 will be worth monitoring. Tyus Jones didn’t shoot well, but you could sense a different flow to the game, as he was actively looking for his teammates and maintaining good pace.
The two best guys aside from Anderson and Brooks were Brandon Clarke and Xavier Tillman. Clarke looked closer to the one we’ve known since 2019, as he’d been a slump this month dealing with nagging injuries. He scored an efficient 9 points and was active defensively. Tillman continues to be awesome on both ends of the floor, while expanding his game to the 3-point line. There needs to be minutes for him, somehow.
All in all, it was an ugly game full of pretty good and mediocre performances. However, a win is a win. And while they’re in this playoff push, you’ll take the win whichever way you can.