In a preview of the NBA Finals series that plays throughout the recurring nightmares of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, the Memphis Grizzlies and Cleveland Cavaliers played a fun basketball game on Tuesday night. Memphis was on the second night of a back to back after knocking off the Brooklyn Nets, and it showed at times - the Grizzlies seemed to lose their legs and 50/50 balls at the most inopportune times. Memphis also missed newly minted Western Conference Coach of the Month Taylor Jenkins, who was with his family at a memorial service for his wife’s father. Brad Jones served as the acting head coach, and filled in admirably.
Some quick takeaways from a big win against a good team.
Aggressive Jaren Jackson Jr. remains the best Jaren Jackson Jr.
Jaren Jackson Jr. had one of his better offensive games in a while against Cleveland on Tuesday. One of the main reasons is he was looking to create offense for himself off the dribble on the perimeter. Rookie of the Year favorite Evan Mobley is awesome, but he is not used to defending someone the size of Jaren with the handle that Jackson Jr. is capable of putting on display. Jaren embraced physicality and got the the free throw line several times while also converting at the rim when fouls weren’t called. JJJ did not depend solely on three point looks - he wanted to get down hill and attack the lane/rim.
That Jaren creates problem for opposing defenses. Because other than Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant (both much better than Jaren at the moment), Jackson Jr. is without comparison with regard to what he can do with the ball in his hands at his size. Once Jaren gets used to passing out of these drives, he may be unguardable.
Patience. He’s 22. Remember that the next time he shoots 5-15.
Ziaire Williams returned from a prolonged absence in this contest after dealing with an ankle injury and then the league’s Health and Safety Protocols. But he did not look as if he had too much rust in this game, as he played arguably his best game of his NBA career against the Cavaliers and made buckets when it mattered most, scoring half his 10 points in the 4th quarter. He was more active offensively, and even when he got a shot rejected or made a mistake he looked as if he was trying to execute something beyond simply standing in the corner to shoot a three (although he did make a big one of those in that final frame). Ziaire must have been a good student of the game in his absence from the floor.
Jarrett Culver also surprisingly contributed for the Grizzlies for the second night in a row. He flowed to the ball on defense especially, deflecting passes and snagging rebounds. His two points won’t set the world on fire, but again, this is called “unexpected contributions”. Culver being on the floor in a competitive NBA game and making positive contributions at this stage of his career is a solid step forward, regardless of what his long-term prospects are.
- Ja Morant is still awesome. The blog is called Grizzly Bear Blues, so we can’t lead off with Ja discussion ALL the time. But rest assured, even with his total points scored lower than it has been of late he still made a major impact on this game. All-Star Ja Morant was out in full force in Cleveland - especially late as he closed the game with two made buckets sandwiching a big steal - and he had a fun showdown with Cleveland All-Star hopeful Darius Garland throughout the night.
- Rookie year Brandon Clarke is definitely back. 13 points, 9 rebounds, and a springy alley-oop pass from Ja had Grizzlies fans feeling like it was 2019-2020 all over again. But this version of Clarke may be even better than he was as a rookie - BC understands the speed of the game much better on the defensive end of the floor especially, and his minutes alongside Jaren Jackson Jr. feel especially disruptive on defense (he blocked Kevin Love to close the game). A fun guy to watch when right.
- The Cleveland Cavaliers are very fun. Mobley, Garland, Jarrett Allen, the ghost of Kevin Love...this team is playing very well. The future is bright for former Grizzlies Head Coach J.B. Bickerstaff’s crew. This is a great development - Bickerstaff failed in Memphis, but it was nowhere near all his doing. He deserved another opportunity, and it’s wonderful to see him thriving.
The Grizzlies are back home in Memphis for their next game, welcoming the Detroit Pistons to FedExForum Thursday night.