Rejoice, Grizzlies nation. For the first time since 2017, your Beale Street Bears have secured a postseason berth. It took an overtime period and some fourth-quarter hiccups to earn the victory, but a win’s a win. Ja Morant and crew will head to Salt Lake City, Utah, to take on the Jazz Sunday in Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
The Grizzlies-Warriors matchup was nothing short of a thriller. It was a see-saw of emotions as Memphis opened the play-in battle clicking on all cylinders only to see Golden State respond with runs of their own. This status quo held up for the game’s entirety as the two teams took turns swapping momentum until the overtime period when the Grizzlies finally took charge. While there were a small number of Grizzlies who stand out as the top performers, it was a team effort through and through. After laying an egg the game prior versus San Antonio, the Memphis bench bounced back with 40 massive points.
In celebration of the franchise’s most significant win in years, let’s hand out some grades:
Ja Morant: 35 points (14-29 shooting), 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals (Grade: A+)
The noise inside San Fransisco’s Chase Center doesn’t quite match up with Oracle Arena, but the Warriors crowd was rocking on Friday night. Elimination games on the road are as mentally challenging as they are intense. Simply put, some aren’t cut out for the bright lights, the national stage, and the overwhelming pressure inherent with playoff hoops. The audacious Ja Morant isn’t one such individual.
A brilliant stretch of scoring by Morant defined the first six minutes — he accumulated ten points on torrid 4-for-5 shooting from the field. Four points stemmed from his patented dribble-drives, blowing by Andrew Wiggins one time and Juan Toscano-Anderson another. With the Warriors bigs hesitant to help onto dribble-penetration due to Valanciunas’ rebounding prowess, the Grizzlies had free reign to knife to the rim frequently. But it was two long-range bombs that highlighted Morant’s opening performance above all else. Golden State’s game plan was to allow Morant excess room to fire from distance, and credit to the youngster, he made the opponent pay for this decision.
While Morant’s scoring is what stole the show, it was a multifaceted display from the 21-year-old. He forced turnovers, coming up with four steals and even more deflections. Morant rocked the Ja-ggles as well when needed, characteristically locating three-point snipers and setting them up with pin-point dimes. Morant’s showing will go down in the history books as a night when the superstar-in-the-making answered the call.
Dillon Brooks: 14 points (7-22 shooting), 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals (Grade: A-)
As the heart and soul of this Grizzlies bunch, there should’ve been little doubt Brooks would bring his A-game on Friday. Particularly on the defensive end, considering it was clear it would be Brooks’ assignment to defend Curry. Just a few nights removed from holding perennial all-star DeMar DeRozan to a paltry 5-for-21 clip, Brooks had a similarly tangible impact in limiting the scoring brilliance of the best shooter ever to lace them up, Stephen Curry.
Players of Curry’s ilk are near impossible to shut down entirely. And with talented running mates Klay Thompson and Kelly Oubre Jr. down for the count, Curry was no doubt going to let it fly early and often. He did just that, but Brooks made him work for just about every point. From the opening tip, Brooks stuck to Curry like white on rice. During a run-of-the-mill game, it’s customary for Brooks to make rotations onto other players when necessary — not tonight. Brooks didn’t leave the former MVP’s sight and didn’t play help defense more than a small handful of instances across 53 minutes. A majority of defensive possessions for Brooks consisted of him jostling chest-to-chest with Curry on the perimeter — this effort exerted did not go in vain.
For perspective on just how much Brooks took Curry out of his rhythm, at the end of three quarters, Curry found nylon on three of his 11 field goals when hawked by Brooks. Against everyone else? A significantly more precise 6-for-11 mark. That’s 27.7% compared to 54.5%, utterly massive discrepancies in lethality. It was a tale of two defenders for Curry on Friday: Brooks and the secondary irritants. Had the NBA champion hovered around the 50% range for the entirety of this contest, it’s difficult to picture the Grizzlies would have been in this game for long. Kudos to Brooks for his All-Defensive Team caliber job guarding Curry.
As for the offensive side of the ball, Brooks couldn’t quite find the range from three — zero of his four treys fell. Inside the arc, he fared much better, taking smaller and scrawnier Warrior defenders to the rim and finishing through them with brawn. The efficiency wasn’t there from Brooks Friday, but he still positively affected the game by putting constant pressure at the front of the rim, even if the looks weren’t falling as much as he’d preferred.