The Memphis Grizzlies entered Sunday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder looking to extend their win streak to three. The game started quite strangely as both teams came out wearing white jerseys, but after a quick wardrobe change the Grizzlies returned to the floor in their dark blue uniforms.
Dillon Brooks also returned and started for the first time since early January when he suffered a sprained ankle. With Brooks back, the Grizzlies injury report was blank while the Thunder were missing eight players, including rookie standout Josh Giddey.
The Grizzlies started strong in the first quarter, scoring 38 points on 59% shooting and opening up a 12 point lead. However, the 2nd quarter was very different. The Grizzlies seemed disengaged against a Thunder team hungry for a win, similar to their game against the Houston Rockets. The Thunder won the 2nd quarter by five, led by 8 points from Lindy Waters III and 7 from Darius Bazley.
In the second half, the Grizzlies began to build a bit of a lead. Unlike the 2nd quarter, the Grizzlies were more engaged on defense and moved the ball well. For the game, the Grizzlies finished with 30 assists on 48 made baskets and held the Thunder to 42% from the field and 31% from three. The Grizzlies could never get out to a commanding lead, and the Thunder made a late run, cutting the Grizzlies lead to as low as six. However, the Grizzlies made clutch plays down the stretch to secure a 125-118 win.
Dillon Brooks—B: 15 Points, 4 Assists, 6-14 FG, 1-3 3-PT
In his first game back, Dillon Brooks looked a little rusty, as expected for someone who has not played in over two months. Still, the flashes of everything you hope Brooks to be going forward were there. His shot was a little off, but he could get in the paint and got a couple of easy dunks to help him get in a rhythm. The most important part of Brooks’ game is his intensity and hustle on both ends of the floor, and it was clear that he had not changed. Brooks also continued to show increased levels of facilitation in comparison to previous years with some impressive assists. Dillon Brooks will have to be better going forward for the Grizzlies to get to the ultimate goal of winning a championship, but in terms of a first game back, I was impressed.
Desmond Bane— A: 21 Points, 7-15 FG, 3-5 3-PT, 8 Rebounds
Bane was in a bit of a slump coming out of the All-Star break, but he has returned to his regular play in the last few games. He scored in the paint, on the fastbreak, and from behind the arc against the Thunder, including a late three-pointer and clutch free-throws to seal the game. He led the team in scoring and grabbed eight rebounds, one away from his career-high. Bane has now scored 20 or more points in four of the last five games and continues to increase his odds of winning Most Improved Player.
Ziaire Williams—A-: 11 Points, 4-8 FG, 3-5 3-PT, 3 Assists, 3 Rebounds
One of the main worries with Brooks coming back was how it would affect Ziaire Williams. Since being inserted into the starting lineup on January 9th, Ziaire Williams’ scoring average has jumped from 5.5 PPG to 9.4, and his 3 point shooting has improved. He has also developed incredible chemistry with Ja Morant, who often finds Williams for easy dunks and open threes. Going back to the bench after being in the starting lineup for over two months could be a difficult transition for any young player, especially one who just turned 20 in September. However, he answered some of those questions and was able to find open shots from behind the arc with the second unit. Ziaire Williams could give the Grizzlies some much-needed scoring off the bench in a 6th man role going forward, and it is exciting to see his development.
Ja Morant—B+: 17 Points, 10 Assists, 5 Rebounds, 7-14 FG
Morant’s streak of 20-point games ended at 22, but overall he played well. This game seemed to be the return of “pass-first” Ja Morant that we have seen in the past. Even though he was not as aggressive offensively, his ability to get other players involved allowed six other Grizzlies to score in double figures. Even though this was not an iconic 40 point game filled with highlight dunks and deep three-pointers, his overall performance was more than sufficient to get the Grizzlies a win while helping his teammates get in a better rhythm.
Jaren Jackson Jr.— B: 18 Points, 5 Rebounds, 5-13 FG, 2-4 3-PT
When Jaren Jackson Jr. is involved offensively, the Grizzlies often win. This contest was no different. Jackson hit two three-pointers early in the game and got off to a hot start but cooled off later in the game, making just two of his next nine. Defensively he was solid; even though he did not get the average block numbers, he still altered crucial shots at the rim that could have been the difference in the game. Jackson also did a good job staying out of foul trouble, playing over 30 minutes with a plus/minus of +20.
Free throw shooting: A+
The most frustrating part about the Grizzlies’ season has been their inability to hit free throws. The Grizzlies have shot just 73% from the free-throw line on the season, bad enough for 28th in the league. In this game, they shot 18-20 from the free-throw line, including clutch free throws from Desmond Bane to seal the game. If the Grizzlies can get this part of their game together, the sky is the limit.
Final Grade: B+
The Memphis Grizzlies will continue their road trip on Tuesday when they travel to Indiana to play the Pacers at 6 PM Central Time.