The Memphis Grizzlies headed to Atlanta on a four game winning streak with a 24-12 road record on the season. Despite the Grizzlies success away from home, an Atlanta team without Trae Young or John Collins won 120-105.
The Grizzlies found themselves down early, facing their largest deficit of the quarter at 17-6 before Morant and Bane combined for 13 straight points to get the offense started and cut the lead to just three.
Atlanta’s early shot making allowed them to set their defense and pack the paint to make it hard on Morant and company to get inside.
An early all-bench lineup from Coach Taylor Jenkins closed the first quarter and struggled to create any offense as the Hawks extended their lead 34-27 after the first quarter. I personally could go without seeing that lineup ever again.
After a flagrant foul early in the second quarter by Dillon Brooks, the Hawks again pushed their lead to 11.
The Hawks lead would reach 18 before forcing a timeout from Jenkins.
The Hawks continued to make shots and their defense frustrated the Grizzlies who looked completely disjointed on offense, most noticeably on a 20 foot hook shot from Steven Adams off of an inbounds play with 2 seconds left on the shot clock.
Despite the defensive focus on Morant, he would finish the first half with 14 points and 4 assists but his 3 turnovers was indicative of how difficult the Atlanta defense was making it on Memphis’ young superstar.
Desmond Bane added 10 points of his own in the first half as Atlanta led 67-48 at halftime.
Coming out of the break with a steep hill to climb, the Grizzlies increased the tempo by getting to the rim and creating transition opportunities defensively. Morant asserted himself by scoring Memphis’ first 9 points in the third quarter.
The defense of the Grizzlies turned the water off on Atlanta, opening the third quarter on a 15-6 run cutting the lead to just 10 with six minutes remaining in the third.
The Hawks would then respond with a 16-3 run of their own to continue to keep the Grizzlies at arm’s length taking a 91-72 lead into the fourth quarter.
Jaren Jackson Jr. was quiet much of the night due to foul trouble (shocker) but came out in the final period aggressive, hitting a three and getting into the paint for 8 points early in the period.
The Grizzlies would make one final push to trim the Hawks lead back to just 11 but Atlanta continued to make shots and turn Ja Morant over to pull back away with another 8-0 run.
A pair of threes from Desmond Bane and De’Anthony Melton would stop the bleeding to make the score 103-92 Atlanta with five minutes remaining and forcing a Hawks timeout.
Coming out of the timeout, another three and a steal for Atlanta would hammer the nail in the Grizzlies coffin.
JJJ is addicted to fouling. Jackson had five fouls early in the fourth quarter and the foul trouble completely took him out of the game offensively. For stretches he was an absolute ghost making no effort to get into the paint until his 8 point burst in the fourth. This was another game where Jaren had a distinct size advantage against Danilo Gallinari and he was too content to stay on the perimeter and settle for threes even in lineups without Steven Adams.
Maybe Ja actually was hurt? Most Grizzlies fans wrote off Morant not playing in Indiana as a good move to rest their young star during a stretch run to the playoffs but Ja would head to the locker room early in Atlanta. Morant had a real problem getting off the court and was clearly experiencing tightness in his back. This has been the number one fear of all Grizzlies fans that a long season with Ja’s play style could lead to injury. With a half game lead for the 2-seed hanging in the balance, the Grizzlies need to weigh the cost-benefit of pushing Morant back on the floor, expect him to miss Sunday’s game in Houston to get ready for a big showdown with Brooklyn next week.
Throw the tape out. The Grizzlies didn’t look ready to play from the jump tonight and were out shot, out rebounded, and out hustled throughout the game. Coach Jenkins should chalk this up as a bad game and burn the tape on this game. The only thing to take away from it is that teams are going to be packing the paint come playoff time to neutralize Morant and shooters have to step up and make shots.