The Memphis Grizzlies continued their 4-game road trip looking to avenge Wednesday night’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Who was on deck? The Denver Nuggets with reigning MVP Nikola Jokic — with the higher altitude as well!
While the Nuggets aren’t as high in the standings as they have been the past few years, they still have a potent attack centered around a scoring/playmaking dynamo and a lot of smart off-ball players too.
With 4 rotation players (Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, and Tyus Jones) all out, the “next man up” approach needed to be in high-gear. And it hit that gear. The activity level from 1-9 was extremely good on both sides of the ball, and they also hit outside shots — something that’s been plaguing them since the calendar year flipped. They also benefitted from a MVP candidate and an All-Defense team candidate setting the tempo and delivering when needed most.
Another big win against a Western Conference foe. Let’s grade this game out.
Ja Morant: 38 points (15-26 from the field, 2-6 from 3, 6-8 from the FT line), 6 rebounds, 6 assists, +/- of -3 in 37 minutes (Grade: A)
Ja Morant kickstarted the game putting immense pressure on the Denver Nuggets defense. He got into the paint at will, and he controlled the flow of the game with his probing inside and his driving navigation. He just effortlessly got to his spots, and when that happens, it’s a tough night for opposing defenses.
After scoring 23 points in the first half, he kept pushing the pace in the 2nd half, ignited by a dazzling transition drive past Nikola Jokic. He scored 12 points in that quarter, and though he didn’t maintain his scoring pace in the 4th, he made a great impact with his passing.
It’s still mesmerizing to see him makes passes like these.
Jaren Jackson Jr. on Ja Morant's pass that set up his big three: "I'm always ready for that. I know how much hang time he has. That's the same pass he threw to me in Utah. He looks at me and if he gives me that look, I know I have to be ready."pic.twitter.com/z5tdCd9NPD— Jessica Benson (@jessbensontv) January 22, 2022
The only thing that really stops this from being an “A+” was his 6 turnovers. Nonetheless, it was just another high-level performance from a bonafide All-Star, and a MVP candidate as well.
Jaren Jackson Jr.: 20 points (8-17 shooting, 2-4 from 3, 2-6 from the FT line), 5 rebounds, 4 blocks, 1 assist, +/- of -9 in 28 minutes (Grade: B+)
Jaren Jackson Jr. didn’t have his best stint of basketball during the 1st three quarters, at least offensively. Defensively, he continued his stellar play, swatting 3 blocks just in the 1st half. However, he did get a bit of a tight whistle through the first 3 quarters, which led to a premature exit from the 3rd period.
He picked up his offensive activity in the 4th quarter as he tallied 9 points in the final period, including a huge 3 to really ice the game late in the 4th quarter.
When Jackson gets going like he did late in the game, there aren’t that many big men that can do what he did on both sides of the ball. Offensively, he’s found the balance of attacking the basket and firing from 3. Defensively, he’s nailing down his defensive timing with his rim protection.
De’Anthony Melton: 21 points (6-13 shooting, 2-7 from 3, 7-11 from the FT line), 9 rebounds, 3 assists, +/- of +1 in 27 minutes (Grade: A-)
De’Anthony Melton has struggled since 2022 started. One underlying reason that we aren’t mentioning is the COVID-19 effect. In postgame, he did mention how it did throw off his rhythm, especially since it keeps you away from the facilities.
Nonetheless, Melton’s presence is extremely important right now and going forward — but especially in the here and now with Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, and Tyus Jones out. He made his presence felt and looked more like the “Mr. Do Something” De’Anthony Melton we’ve known over the past 2 and a half seasons.
Melton’s activity was really felt on the defensive glass, as he corralled 9 rebounds on that end of the floor. A mob mentality rebounding is important for teams that want to control the pace and get out in transition, and Melton does just that.
More noticeably, Melton looked more comfortable with the ball in his hands and with his scoring attack. His shot selection was iffy at times, but those shots tend to happen here and there, especially when you’re missing that many playmakers.
All in all, it was a great game from De’Anthony Melton, and it’s going to be interesting to see how he follows it up. He’s a crucial element to the team’s gameplan with his shot-making, his defensive playmaking, and his secondary playmaking. A De’Anthony Melton firing on all cylinders is someone you want in your playoff rotation.
- Ziaire Williams — efficiency!! Ziaire Williams shot 75% from the field, his second-highest field goal percentage on the season. He was confident firing the 3, and he’s picking up on where to run in transition and where to find cutting lanes in the half court. Though he did have miscues defending Denver’s back-cut offense, he also made some nice defensive plays, finishing with 2 steals and a block. There will be up’s and down’s, but this is a good game to fall back on as one where he put a lot of stuff together. (Grade: B+)
- Steven Adams, the tallest task. The “you can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him” saying is common with the league’s stars, and Nikola Jokic is a part of that group. He finished with 26 points on 11-16 shooting, 11 rebounds, and 12 assists. Expecting nothing less from the MVP. Adams, however, had the task of slowing him down; and for the most part, he did. Jokic didn’t score in the 1st quarter, and he only had 3 free throws as well. It doesn’t stand out, because Jokic is an all-time great talent, but Adams did a good job of containing him and taking away shots for him - at least for a while. (Grade: B)