Last night was just the embodiment of sports.
There were a rollercoaster of emotions from last night’s game: stress, agony, excitement, and ultimately relief. The Memphis Grizzlies found themselves in familiar territory, facing a team depleted of core guys and filled with end-of-the-roster players instead (sans Buddy Hield). They kept them hanging around for far too long, fell behind a bit, and gave them too much confidence. However, the Grizzlies ripped off a 14-2 run to close the game and seal the deal.
And you know what they say? A win’s a win.
Let’s get on to grades.
Jonas Valanciunas: 24 points (8-10 shooting, 8-8 from the FT line), 13 rebounds, 3 assists, +/- of +22, 33 minutes (Grade: A)
There was just no answer for Valanciunas in this one. First, let’s start with his meme-able moment, after his rumbling dunk down the lane:
Valanciunas’ efficiency was off the charts. He just bulldozed opponents inside to get exactly where he wanted around the rim, no matter how many defenders were sent at him. He was just a consistent source of offense and rebounding when the team needed it, as he’s been all season.
There have been a few gripes about his low volume, for a player who's one of the focal points of the offense. It’s fair to point out that they rely a lot on more pick-and-roll than post-ups, so they could allow Ja Morant or Kyle Anderson to work — whether it’s drive-and-kick, self-creation, or Valanciunas rolls. Should they look to post him up more? Sure, but it’s also worth noting that they also result in teams just sending double teams over to make sure the ball’s out of his hands.
Nonetheless, Jonas Valanciunas is going to make the most out of the looks and opportunities he gets, and that sort of efficiency and reliability have gotten the Grizzlies where they are now.
Dillon Brooks: 30 points (13-28 shooting, 3-7 from 3), 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, +/- of +10 (Grade: A)
Dillon Brooks brings the juice every night. When the 1st half looked a bit lethargic, he kept his foot on the gas to keep the team in the game. It’s a massive part of him just being the energetic force the Grizzlies rely on every night. Here’s what Coach Jenkins had to say about him bringing it all 48 minutes, during postgame:
It is awesome to have that. We have a lot of guys with that spirit. But obviously we talk about DB being one of our spirit leaders. He brings it every single night, every single day. He is the ultimate competitor...We try to rely on DB every single night to bring that edge. I am happy that the rest of the group was able to do that as well tonight.
You can complain about the shot attempts all you want; taking 28 field goals may not be the most ideal scenario for this team. However, his aggressiveness and his willingness to put pressure on the drive helped the Grizzlies hang around while his teammates were in the mud. So when things started to clear up and they were able to gather some stops, they were in a position to not fight from too far behind.
His 3-level scoring and defensive edge have been huge for the team’s success this year, but especially over the past couple months. How he responds in these postseason settings is going to be fascinating to watch.
Jaren Jackson Jr.: 12 points (5-11 shooting, 2-4 from 3), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 5 fouls, +/- of -2, 20 minutes (Grade: C)
This isn’t me being harsh on Jaren Jackson Jr., as I’m always going to take the flashes for a player that had to rehab a long injury in the middle of the pandemic.
I’ll touch on those first. He, once again, did a great job of finding his 3-point shot. I’ve been impressed with his ability to relocate for open triples. He also showed off a nice bag of post skills. More importantly, he’s continuing to crash the glass extremely well — even being more aggressive with put backs.
I wanted to use this space to talk about his fouling.
Yes, it’s been an issue for him. Last night, he had avoidable frustration fouls called on him. Picking up 5 fouls in 20 minutes is going to be hard for him to stay on the court and be a two-way impact in close games. Will this continue to plague him? We’ll see. Here’s a historical comparison I found:
A comparable player for JJJ with his fouling is Kings DeMarcus Cousins. He had a similar foul rate, even slightly higher, and still managed to be an insanely productive All-Star. Key for Jaren is hitting a high gear of productivity, despite foul trouble— Parker Fleming (@PAKA_FLOCKA) May 14, 2021
Will it stop him from reaching his ceiling? Don’t go that far. Jaren Jackson Jr. will be fine as he matures and picks up different defensive nuances to avoid fouls.
- Kyle Anderson (A): There aren’t enough good things you can say about Kyle Anderson’s game this season. He hit massive 3’s last night, while also being an extraordinary secondary playmaker.
- Brandon Clarke (A-): He was on the wrong end of a run, which tanked his +/-. However, he looks back to being his normal, springy self around the rim. Just in time for the postseason.
- Ja Morant (B): Ja Morant put his foot on the glass in the 1st quarter then disappeared completely in the 2nd. His intensity and urgency picked up in the 2nd half, as he did a great job managing the comeback in the final period.
- Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman (D): They’re lumped together here, because they just looked like rookies last night. They made uncharacteristic mistakes, and they looked off last night.
- De’Anthony Melton and Tyus Jones (C-): “Mr. Do Something” didn’t do a whole lot last night, as it looked like he couldn’t get into any sort of rhythm or flow. And the same goes for Tyus Jones, who was just super quiet in those 10 minutes.