Whenever you’re embarrassed by someone in an athletic competition, you look forward to the next time that person or team shows up on your schedule. This isn’t just unique to professional sports - from rec league to pee-wee to college and everywhere in-between, anyone who has ever stepped foot in “The Arena” knows the feeling. It is somewhere between anger and shame...for whatever reason, you lost a game/race/meet/match you shouldn’t have. You vow to learn from the mistakes made. And you wait until the opponent is back on the schedule.
For the Memphis Grizzlies, the team was the Houston Rockets. They were embarrassed by Houston the last time these two teams had met before Sunday’s matinee showdown. Surely they remembered how that felt - and seemed more than ready to right that wrong.
It wasn’t always pretty. But the Grizzlies got the job done against an inferior opponent...and Memphis is now one win away from 50 on the season with 10 days left in March.
What a time to be alive.
Desmond Bane: 24 points (8-13 shooting, 3-6 from three), 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 steals, +24 +/- in 32 minutes
Arguably Bane’s best performance of the season. He dominated the Rockets on both ends of the floor and was the best player that participated in this contest. What a remarkable statement - who cares that Ja Morant was out and the Rockets are bad? Desmond Bane, the 30th pick of the 2020 NBA Draft, outplayed multiple players that were selected higher than him and have played more NBA basketball than him. None of the Rockets could keep him from what he wanted to do, and his play wasn’t just excellent for himself as a scorer. He thrived creating offense for others as well.
This would be a very good stat line for an All-Star player. Desmond Bane may well be one eventually himself. If this Bane shows up for the playoffs alongside a healthy/locked in Ja Morant, opposing teams are going to have some tough decisions to make about who they let pick them apart. Chances are they’ll pick the likely All-NBA Morant...and Bane looks as if he will make them pay for making that call.
Jaren Jackson Jr.: 15 points (4-9 shooting, 3-5 from three), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks, 1 steal, +11 in 21 minutes
It was a tale of two halves for Jaren Jackson Jr...or maybe more fairly, three quarters and a final frame. Jaren did not make a field goal in the first half of this game and within minutes of the contest starting Jackson Jr. was once again in foul trouble. The Rockets are elite at getting to the charity stripe - they’re first in the Association in free throw attempts. But the fact that Houston did this to Jaren with regard to foul trouble in their last meeting, then Coach Jenkins made a point of it (Jaren sat out a vast majority of that contest), and after saying JJJ had watched tape and learned his lesson in his pregame media availability to do the same thing again if less than ideal.
Sure, Jaren picked things up in the second half offensively. He made three shots from beyond the arc in the 4th quarter to help Memphis close out the game. And Jackson Jr. dealt out 3 assists and racked up 4 “stocks”, continuing to impact things defensively despite his foul issues. The Grizzlies have to be concerned about the course of events for the team when Jaren gets in these foul issues though - teams like Utah and Minnesota are also elite at getting to the charity stripe (as are the Grizzlies, to be fair - 4th in the NBA in attempts, 28th in percentage though).
Are the Rockets giving opposing teams the blueprint to keep Jaren off the floor come the postseason? Or does JJJ simply have a Rockets mental block?
Time will tell.
- Tyus Jones gets an A-. 7 assists, no turnovers, 13 points on 10 shots, a solid +13 while having to anchor multiple rotations with difference types of players. Assuming Jones is gone in free agency (which he may not be, but you’d imagine someone will have a starting role for him somewhere) he will be missed very much when the time comes. Thankfully he’s still a Grizzly for a couple more months or so.
- De’Anthony Melton gets an A. 16 points on 10 shots and a very impressive 7 rebounds in 20 minutes played. He’s one of the very best rebounding wings in the NBA (97th percentile in defensive rebound percentage and 87th in offensive rebound percentage, per Cleaning the Glass) and that holds tremendous value for this Grizzlies team who, outside of Steven Adams, must crash the boards by committee. It works for Memphis - they’re first in the NBA in rebounding by a mile. But in a theoretical world without Adams in the playoffs (depending on matchups and scheme), Melton’s work on the glass will matter even more.
- Dillon Brooks gets a B. Ah yes, Dillon Brooks leads the team in shot attempts and scored 20 points on 18 shots. The Villain is back! In all seriousness, Brooks’ defensive savvy was seen and felt throughout this contest. Holding the Rockets to under 100 points is no easy feat - they’ve only scored fewer than 99 points 12 times this season, and considering how bad the Rockets are that means their offense has been, at least at times, pretty effective. It was the last time these two teams met - 123 points helped Houston win. But Dillon did not play in that contest. This game was a reminded of the good, and bad, of Brooks - and how the good (3 steals, 8-31 combined shooting from Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green) more often than not outweighs the usage/inefficient scoring.
Memphis is off for a couple days after a long road trip. The Grizzlies are next back on the floor at home in FedExForum Wednesday night against the Brooklyn Nets - the main event on ESPN of “Memphis Grizzlies Day” on the network. The secret is out. The Memphis Grizzlies are really, really good.
How good? We will find out soon enough.