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Quick Recap: Memphis had no answer for Jokic and Co.

The 2-time MVP and his supporting cast threw haymakers Memphis couldn’t counter.

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Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

No. 1 in the West vs. No. 2. The Memphis Grizzlies faced the Denver Nuggets in the Mile High City in this premier NBA matchup. Entering the game, how Coach Taylor Jenkins decided to defend the back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic would be the biggest key to the game. Whether it would be Steven Adams, Jaren Jackson Jr., or a combination of both, Memphis had to find a way to quiet The Joker and offensively, exploit Denver’s 27th-ranked defense.

1st Quarter

Ja Morant got the Grizzlies going with a layup over former Dunk Contest Champion, Aaron Gordon. But it was Denver who got out to an early 2-11 lead forcing Coach Taylor Jenkins to call an early timeout at the 8:23 mark in the 1st.

The Denver Nuggets are an offensive powerhouse. They rank 3rd in offensive efficiency anchored by Nikola Jokic. This was always going to be a difficult defensive matchup for Memphis, even with Jokic’s co-star, Jamal Murray, out.

Memphis’s defensive struggles continued as they did their best T.I. impression letting Denver have whatever they liked offensively. The Nuggets were a scorching hot 9-15 from the field and once again, forced another Grizzlies timeout with 5:21 left.

Unfortunately for the guys with Memphis across their chests, Denver didn’t cool off, and Memphis couldn’t buy a bucket to close the quarter. At the end of the 1st, the Grizzlies trailed 14-35.

2nd Quarter

More of the same for both teams as the 2nd quarter got underway. Former Grizzly, Jeff Green posterized Ziaire Williams, and Memphis called their 3rd timeout in hopes of reversing their fortune.

The Grizzlies found a slight spark after a quick 5 points from Jaren Jackson Jr., and JJJ getting his 3rd block of the game. Though Ja found Z for an alley-oop finish of his own, Memphis couldn’t further capitalize on offense after getting a few defensive stops.

Let’s address the elephant in the room though.

With 5:12 left in the 2nd, Memphis had been called for 13 fouls. Denver had been called for 5. Memphis had shot 1 free throw, 1. Denver had shot 18.

Math isn’t my strong suit. I failed Geometry in my freshman year of high school. But 1 is a lot less than 18.

Fouls aside, Memphis had to tighten up defensively and find ways to create better looks on offense. Denver’s off-ball movement and actions really troubled Memphis who hadn’t communicated well enough to defend effectively up to this point.

Unfortunately for Memphis on offense, this wasn’t Wheel of Fortune. Even if vowels were 3s, Memphis couldn’t buy one going a measly 3-15. Sure, a few of those 3s were late shot clock heaves. But the Grizz had open looks that they couldn’t cash in. To go back to the free throw disparity, Denver finished the half 12-20, while Memphis went 1-3 from the line.

At the end of the 1st half, the scoreboard read 40-55 in favor of Denver.

3rd Quarter

How the Grizzlies started the 3rd quarter was going to be pivotal for the rest of the game. Would they come out firing and make a game-defining run? Or would they come out flat allowing the Nuggets to extend their 15-point lead?

Early on in the 3rd, we got our answer. After a pair of Ja Morant free-throws, yes, free-throws, Dillon Brooks scored back-to-back-to back buckets to cut the lead to 9. But foul trouble reared its ugly head for JJJ. He picked up his 4th foul only 3 minutes into the quarter sending him to the bench.

Seeing Memphis’s best defender head to the bench must have had Nikola Jokic’s mouth watering because he immediately helped push the Denver lead back to 14. Each time the Grizzlies would jab their way back in this boxing match, the Nuggets would deliver a haymaker. Memphis needed a haymaker of their own.

But it didn’t come. Instead, Denver kept Memphis on the ropes extending the lead to 20 with 3:34 left in the 3rd.

Nikola Jokic controlled the game like he was playing 2k. Joker only had 11 points up to this point in the game, but he also had 8 assists, 7 rebounds, and 2 steals. We haven’t seen someone with his size and passing ability perhaps ever, and the Grizzlies had little to no answers so far.

Ja Morant ain’t half bad either.

31 points and 9 assists through 3 quarters were keeping Memphis in this game as the Grizzlies ended the 3rd down 71-84.

4th Quarter

Memphis started the 4th with Ja, Dillon, Ziaire Williams, Brandon Clarke, and Jaren Jackson Jr. With Jokic on the bench, Coach Jenkins left Ja in the game hoping he could lead this unit to a comeback.

As the 4th quarter went on, Brandon Clarke began to leave his mark on the game. He was pretty quiet having only played around 5 minutes prior to the start of the quarter. But he was key as the Grizzlies cut the lead to 8 with 6:10 left.

Just after that sentence was typed, Denver delivered another haymaker. Aaron Gordon hit Memphis with a quick 1-2 punch to push the lead to 13.

While Jokic has been great, his co-stars have been the story. Aaron Gordon was just mentioned, and he was fantastic. Bruce Brown, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Christian Braun, Bones Hyland, and even Jeff Green made massive impacts on the game.

On the other hand, Ja Morant got little to no help from his supporting cast. The Grizzlies had only 2 other players score in double figures. Jaren Jackson Jr. was phenomenal defensively with 5 blocks and 3 steals. His foul trouble was the issue that kept him off the floor as he only played 22 minutes. Brandon Clarke was effective when in the game, though he also didn’t see the floor much. Dillon Brooks provided a spark, but costly fouls forced him on the bench in key moments.

Memphis fell in the Mile High City 91-105.

The Grizzlies travel to Phoenix, AZ for another late-night game Friday night at 9pm.

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