With the Grizzlies currently third in the Western Conference standings after winning 22 of 27 games, it is hard to get excited about a moral victory despite a loss. Yet, on Wednesday night, despite a 126-114 loss to the Bucks, it was hard not to feel proud and encouraged once again about Memphis.
Without Desmond Bane, Tyus Jones, and Kyle Anderson, the Grizzlies were missing three critical components to their success. The Grizzlies struggles from beyond the arc and at the line also showed up as obstacles at times. Yet, the Grizzlies franchise cornerstones would keep things close, taking over offensively in the second half. And though it did not result in a win, once again, Memphis proved to themselves and many others just how much they have progressed this season.
Let’s hand out a few grades:
Ja Morant- A+
If you were to ask Ja Morant how he would grade his performance, it would likely not be as high due to the end result of the game. However, there is simply not much more you can ask of the Grizzlies superstar in this game. 33 points, 14 assists, 8 rebounds and only 1 turnover. Morant became only the sixth player in NBA history to have that many points, assists, and rebounds in a game with only one or less turnovers.
And the biggest reason to be excited is that Morant showed that he could take over the game once again against one of the league’s best teams. And last night, he both did it at times with his passing and his scoring. Yes, it was not enough to ever put the Grizzlies in a true position to win the game, but even with Giannis playing at an MVP level for the Bucks, Ja was just as impressive for the Grizzlies.
No matter who he shares the court with this season, Morant consistently looks like one of, if not the, best player(s) on the court every game.
Jaren Jackson Jr. - A
It truly was a tale of two halves for Jaren Jackson Jr. In the first half, despite a few defensive highlights, nothing was working for Jaren offensively. However, in the second half, Jaren could not be stopped. After only two points in the first two quarters, Jaren scored 17 points in the third and 27 total points in the second half. He was relentless getting to the basket and finding his shot, as he only had two threes and was 9-10 from the line while scoring 29 total points.
Jackson Jr. also had nine rebounds and four blocks, even denying Giannis at the rim while also taking on the former MVP on a few drives of his on to the basket on offense. Jackson Jr. played like one of the best big men in the league in the second half of the game. This was the second most points he and Morant have scored together in a game, and only the second time they both scored 25 or more in a single game. Jackson Jr. once again showed he can take over games offensively at times just as much as he can defensively.
Brandon Clarke- B+
It is hard to give out a lot of A’s in a loss for Memphis, but it is also hard to deny how good Clarke looked on his end. 14 points, four boards, two steals, two blocks, 66% from the field in just 25 minutes of play. It is truly enjoyable to see Clarke play once again like he did as a rookie, and perhaps be even better this time around with his contributions outside of scoring.
Clarke’s offensive efficiency certainly is valuable. But his contributions on defense should not be overlooked. Not only in terms of his efforts on the boards, but Clarke’s effective activity with his hands and footwork are leading to blocks and steals and allowing the Grizzlies to turn defense into offense quite a bit when he is on the court. He is a big reason why the Memphis bench continues to remain effective even with key players missing.
Non-paint scoring- D
While the Grizzlies recent play has been incredible, their struggles from beyond the arc and at the line cannot be ignored. With both Bane and Jones missing last night’s game, it was almost guaranteed that Memphis would struggle from distance. Outside of Morant, the Grizzlies were 6-30 on three point shots. Outside of Morant and Jackson Jr. from the line, the Grizzlies were 3-10.
As a roster, the Memphis Grizzlies are consistent and elite when it comes to creating a possession advantage to win games. That ability shows their level of winning is no fluke. However, to truly make the most of where they will likely be positioned in the playoffs, the Grizzles will need to improve from distance and the line. Being fully healthy certainly helps, but there is plenty of room to grow in each of these areas for the entire roster.