The Memphis Grizzlies entered a key Southwest Division contest with the Dallas Mavericks Sunday evening with a lot on the proverbial “line” - well, as much as there can be in a game in late January. Luka Doncic’s Mavs were up 2-1 on the Grizzlies in the season series entering the game, and a victory would clinch the valuable tiebreaker for Dallas. That may or may not matter in the long-run, but in the short-term Memphis wanted to gain more ground on the suddenly better Mavericks (funny how health and depth help with winning) and slow some of their momentum.
But that was not meant to be.
Despite another relentless performance from Ja Morant, the supporting cast around him was not able to rise to the occasion as they did against the Nuggets and Dallas won the night. Memphis shot 37.4% from the field as a team, and 16.7% from beyond the arc. That is far too little to beat a strong squad like Dallas.
Here are some takeaways from the contest.
Ja Morant refuses to lie down
In the first half of this game, the offense for Memphis was particularly weak. Ja Morant had 15 points on 16 shots - not great by any definition, but also not the end of the world in terms of scoring. On the other hand, every Grizzlies player not names Ja Morant had a combined 19 points on 34 shot attempts. That, safe to say, is a miserable outing. More of course is needed, especially from De’Anthony Melton and Jaren Jackson Jr., who were a combined 6-26 overall in the game.
Again, Ja finished 14-31 from the field and with 35 points. That is pretty impressive considering the circumstances. But he made six more shots in one more attempt than those two COMBINED. And those two, when Memphis is fully healthy, will be key contributors to the playoff rotation. Players like Killian Tillie and Santi Aldama - who both saw double-digit minutes in this game - will not.
Jaren in particular must find ways to be more viable offensively on a more consistent basis. With Desmond Bane out he is counted on for 20-ish points. 10 on 17 shots cannot keep the Grizzlies in games, no matter what Ja does to will the team to attempted victory.
A possible lesson learned
Kristaps Porzingis played the best game I can remember him playing as a Mavericks player against Memphis. 15 points, 8 rebounds, 6 blocks...on both ends, Dallas’ resident unicorn was a problem for the Grizzlies. But it wasn’t just Porzingis. The Mavs registered 12 blocks in this game, a lot for a squad that averaged 3.8 per game (29th in the NBA, per basketball-reference.com) entering this game. Memphis also was not able to get to the free throw line in the wake of all these attempts being rejected - only 19 free throws were attempted for the Grizzlies, who average 22 per contest usually (and the last few were late in the game when the contest was decided).
This all adds up to potentially iffy officiating (which, if you saw the game...yes) but also on a larger scale a need for Memphis to prioritize getting in to the bodies of defenders more consistently and try to initiate/create contact. Porzingis is 7’3”, and other Mavericks have length, but the Grizzlies gave too much credit to that size and either faded away or went straight up as opposed to in to defenders to try to draw fouls. A growth point for a young team that had even less experience than usual in this game - dribble penetration and paint points only get you so far. Part of efficient scoring is getting to the charity stripe.
Part of that is outside of their control. But the part they do have control of needs to be prioritized.
- Steven Adams “hurt” the offense more than usual”. Porzingis was able to play more free safety close to the rim on dribble penetrators and slashers than normal in this one because of the lack of range that Adams provided offensively. This has more to do with missing the players the Grizzlies were missing than anything. But thinking ahead to a possible playoff series, could Adams’ strong screening and offensive rebounding be negated by his lack of a perimeter shot? Something else to keep an eye on.
- Ziaire Williams and John Konchar did what they could. Williams was tasked with defending Luka Doncic early and often. Konchar grabbed double-digit rebounds once again. But neither player should be a starter for a team with playoff aspirations. Again, none of this is their fault, and their effort and willingness to fight in adverse situations is a great reflection of the Grizzlies “culture”. But Memphis couldn’t match the talent of the Mavericks in this one.
- Two days off ahead helped Memphis “hang around”. Ja Morant played 41 minutes in this game, only the third time this season he has logged roughly that many minutes. He played the entire second half until he was pulled within the last 2 minutes of the game. The Grizzlies needed him to play that long just to maintain a 14-16 point deficit. Without him, the game would have been far more of a decisive win for Dallas than it already was, even with the trademark fight that Morant and company continued to play with.
The Memphis Grizzlies will be back in action Wednesday night in San Antonio against the Spurs.