Wow, it felt good to be back in the arena for playoff basketball — well, kind of playoff. FedExForum increased its capacity to 40%, growl towels were back, and the Grindhouse was rocking. No pumped-in crowd noise was needed.
The Memphis Grizzlies came out swinging, rolling out to a 38-19 1st-quarter. The San Antonio Spurs made adjustments and trimmed the deficit. It was a back-and-forth game throughout, but the Grizzlies showed resiliency and came away with a big-time win.
It was awesome to see this young squad rise to the occasion in a high-stakes game, as experience can sometimes play a factor in these moments. Now, on to the next one.
But first — grades:
Dillon Brooks: 24 points (10-21 shooting), 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, +/- of +14 in 40 minutes (Grade: A)
Dillon Brooks stepped up and embraced the big moment. In a “do or die” game, Brooks answered the call and rose to the challenge on both ends of the floor.
Let’s start with defense — where he’s getting more and more recognition. He’s put on some great individual matchups this season, but especially over the past few weeks with Steph Curry and Luka Doncic. He added DeMar DeRozan to his list of victims. He was the primary defender on the All-Star wing, who was held to 5-21 shooting overall last night. He maintained strong attention to detail and made sure he was uncomfortable when getting to his spots. He also made some strong contests, despite DeRozan’s elevation.
Offensively, Brooks did make that thunderous dunk in the 1st quarter to get things rolling. However, he did an excellent job of getting to his spots in the mid-range. He was a vital part of the Grizzlies’ 4th-quarter, as he strung together great shots at the rim to keep the offense humming.
When young players enter these high-stakes games, how they respond is usually a mixed bag. For Dillon Brooks, he showed he’s built for the moment.
Jonas Valanciunas: 23 points (10-16 shooting), 23 rebounds, 3 blocks, +/- of +26 in 38 minutes (Grade: A)
Jonas Valanciunas keeps showing why the center position will not die.
Valanciunas was a man on a mission last night, just obliterating the Spurs on the glass as a scorer and rebounder. He corralled 5 offensive rebounds, or as the popular term “Kobe assists” — as Sports Illustrated’s Chris Herring would say. He was also physical with the Spurs’ 3-headed monster of Jakob Poetl, Drew Eubanks, and Gorgui Dieng at center.
Valanciunas stood out defensively as well. He made some big stops at the rim, taking advantage of the Spurs’ paint-oriented offense to alter shots in drop coverage. His teammates and Coach Jenkins also praised his communication in pick-and-roll coverage as well. He even stonewalled some switches.
He was easily the most important player of the game last night. The team fell apart without him, as they lacked a presence on the glass when he was out of the game.
Valanciunas is an old-school center. He would probably be a multi-time All-Star in another era. Don’t let that cloud the fact that he’s an impactful player towards winning going forward.
The Bench: D
The bench has always been a strong suit for the Grizzlies, but they just haven’t had it the past few games.
Desmond Bane and Tyus Jones had solid games. Bane made some big hustle plays, though his outside shot wasn’t falling. Jones made some crucial shots in the 4th quarter, giving the team good minutes in the time without Ja Morant.
However, the rest wasn’t pretty.
Aside from a good driving layup, De’Anthony Melton wasn’t his usual “do something” self. Xavier Tillman didn’t look ready for this moment. Grayson Allen was horrendous, and it probably wasn’t a good idea to play him after 3 weeks out.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Coach Jenkins goes on Friday against Golden State. Does he shrink his rotation? Does Brandon Clarke — who received a DNP-CD last night — find minutes?
The bench won’t be this bad. They’ve proven to be instrumental for the team’s success. However, they should explore staggering as many minutes with the starters as possible.
The playoffs push continues, as the Grizzlies have a chance at redemption tomorrow against the Golden State Warriors.