While I’m probably going to be representing a minority here, I’m going to be honest: I did not enjoy this Memphis Grizzlies game. The extreme rust of the first half evoked the gross college game in my mind, and then Ja Morant’s injury pretty much took me out of the second half (more on this in a second).
Of course, I don’t mean any disrespect to the Minnesota Timberwolves, who were tenacious and feisty all night long. D’Angelo Russell in particular gave them the offensive punch they needed to come through, as he had 37 points and 9 assists - including 24 in the fourth (granted, much of it came on straight-line drives and layups, but again, more on this in a minute).
But I have some (likely controversial thoughts) for my report card grades.
Ja Morant—C: 20 points on 7-25 shooting, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, -1
The picture above is not the moment when Ja severely tweaked his hip late in the third quarter before briefly exiting the game. But it is indicative of what the night held in store for Morant. He would then miraculously to the game for the 4th quarter, demonstrating his unrelenting toughness.
He should not have done so.
Up to the 4th quarter, the Wolves’ physical defense had generally rendered Ja ineffective, but he actually managed to come alive offensively in the 4th quarter while basically playing on one leg, scoring 12 of his 20 in the frame.
The problem, however, is that he literally could not move side-to-side on defense anymore, which made Taylor Jenkins’ decision to have him guard Russell throughout much of the 4th quarter all the more confounding. Russell played a great game, and he deserves credit for his performance, but he didn’t score 24 points in the fourth quarter alone just because he was having a particularly hot night.
Ja obviously showed immense toughness for virtually willing the ball into the basket while being severely hobbled, but hardly any amount of offense is going to compensate for total immobility on defense. Sometimes a coaching staff has to save a player from himself, and the Grizzlies did not do that last night.
Ziaire Williams—A, 21 points on 7-11 shooting, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, -7
Ziaire’s comfort level is truly a night-and-day difference from what it was earlier in the season. He’s found a role, and he’s embraced it. He takes shots within the flow of the offense, he valiantly takes on difficult defensive assignments, and he runs the floor with the fervor of a cultist and the grace of a gazelle.
I wouldn’t have minded him taking some more of Kyle Anderson’s 14 minutes in this game.
Jaren Jackson Jr: A-, 21 points on 6-15 shooting, 11 rebounds, 2 steals, 3 blocks, -7
Jaren continues to vastly differentiate himself from the player he was two years ago, proving to be a more physical presence who does most of his work on the interior. Jaden McDaniels and Jarred Vanderbilt took turns being his punching bag inside the paint on offense.
Each of his three blocks last night brought to mind the infamous quote of Robert Oppenheimer, who himself was quoting Hindu scripture after witnessing the first atomic blast: “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”
Bring the ball into the paint, ye opposing teams, and despair while Jaren Jackson Jr. is on the court.
- Kyle Anderson—F: 2 points on 1-3 shooting in 14 minutes. He looks like a total shell of himself from a year ago offensively.
- De’Anthony Melton—B: 12 points, 5 boards, and 6 assists. He stuffed the stat sheet, but some boneheaded ball-handling and the lack of a victory keep him from an “A”.
- Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke - B: Quality front-court play from them both.