The Memphis Grizzlies were without their All-Star Starter Ja Morant on Tuesday night as they took on the pesky New Orleans Pelicans. NOLA has had their way with the Grizzlies during the Morant/Head Coach Taylor Jenkins/GM Zach Kleiman Era, going 1-6 against Memphis entering this contest. Morant’s absence would of course sting, but thankfully for the Grizzlies they continue to roster one of the very best - if not the best - backup point guards in the NBA.
And he did not disappoint in this victory for the good guys. Nor did Brandon Clarke, who shot a nearly perfect 8-9 from the field. Or Steven Adams, who decisively outplayed his predecessor Jonas Valanciunas. Per usual, while one player in particular led the way...he was not alone.
Some takeaways from the 41st win of the season for Memphis, guaranteeing the team a .500 season before the All-Star Break for the first time in franchise history.
Tyus Jones is very important to this team
There were zero rumblings of the Grizzlies shopping Tyus Jones prior to last week’s trade deadline. This makes sense, of course - Tyus is a more-than-capable backup for Ja Morant, and if/when Ja misses time he can fill that void left behind in his own unique way. This carried on in this game, as Jones helped the Grizzlies win this game perhaps more than any other player. Jones scored a career high in this contest while also putting out the usual elite assist to turnover ratio. He maintained the status quo for the Memphis offense while being opportunistic in his own right, scoring 27 points on 17 shots while dishing out 9 assists to only 2 turnovers. That is remarkable efficiency.
He of course cannot do the things Ja Morant can do. But he does not need to. He just needs to be himself as a player to make the Grizzlies offense churn out productivity, regardless of whether or not he is a starter. He was a key contributor throughout the game, but especially at tipping point moments when the Grizzlies needed him most. His presence makes Memphis that much more of a threat to make a run as the playoff push approaches coming out of the upcoming All-Star Break.
A surprisingly decisive win for the Grizzlies front court
Jonas Valanciunas remains a very good basketball player. He was a dark horse All-Star Game candidate for what he has done for this Pelicans team this season, helping keep them in the play-in tournament conversation despite injuries and COVID protocol issues. But in this game, in a showdown that figured to be one that would decide the outcome, the Memphis frontcourt decisively outshined the New Orleans forwards and bigs. Jonas Valanciunas posted a game-worst +/- against Memphis, being picked on not just in the pick and roll but also being decisively out-rebounded. Valanciunas had 4 rebounds in the game - five members of the Grizzlies grabbed more boards (Steven Adams, Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke, Desmond Bane, and John Konchar).
While Valanciunas scored the ball at an efficient rate, he was not impactful in the main way New Orleans needed him to be to put them over the hump in this game. The Grizzlies won the glass decisively in this contest. Them winning the game should not be a surprise because of that reality.
- Jaren Jackson Jr. continues to add to his bag. In this contest he scored off the dribble, from beyond the arc, and in the post. He has had all those moves at his disposal for a while, but his timing and body control are improving while trying to execute them. He is getting better and better every night offensively.
- The Pelicans offense will be scary good. They would benefit from having a member of their starting unit that isn’t trying to score the rock (once Zion Williamson returns in particular - Herb Jones is a great defender, but he’s not a scorer) to help facilitate matters. But Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum (who lived up to his Grizz Killer moniker in this one), and Valanciunas all have very good-to-great scoring talent. Once they fully figure it out and are healthy there are going to be problems with NOLA, especially if they can grow defensively (a big ask).
- The Grizzlies have to make their free throws. At one time in this game Memphis was shooting below 60% from the charity stripe and had only made one more free throw than New Orleans had attempted. That is less than ideal, and will eventually bite Memphis when they’re playing in closer contests against comparable-to-better competition.
The Grizzlies will end their pre-All Star slate Wednesday night against the Portland Trail Blazers at home in FedExForum.