Monday’s matchup between Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors, on paper, promised to be an anticipated matchup between two of the top three teams in the Western Conference. However, due to injuries to Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, etc. the game lacked star power and a playoff atmosphere.
Both teams started out slow, searching for scoring in the absence of elite offensive talent. The Grizzlies in particular seemed to be leaving everything short, likely due to playing their fourth game in six days.
In the moments when the Grizzly’s offense struggles, it’s usually their transition offense that can help them get going, but Golden States’ ability to run with athletic bigs made it difficult for Memphis to get anything easy.
Memphis, who has scored 30+ in the first quarter of their last four games, managed just 20 in the first period on 28% shooting but held the Warriors to just 16 to take a four-point lead into the second quarter.
The second quarter was full of action. Dillon Brooks got going after being tagged with two early fouls in the first, scoring 15 points going 7-9 from the floor. Brooks was able to get to any spot he wanted on the floor and capitalize on the scoring opportunities.
De’Anthony Melton continued his red hot shooting streak going 2-2 from three in the second quarter and one poster dunk of Kevon Looney near the end of the period.
Melton’s shooting has been a revelation to the Grizzlies’ half-court offense, but his ability to shoot in transition has been really impressive off the dribble and in the catch and shoot.
The 43 point explosion led by Brooks and Melton gave Memphis a 63-37 lead going into the half after Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr had seen enough and was ejected as the teams headed to the locker room at the midway point.
Coming out of the break, Brooks continued to be aggressive hunting his shots and drawing fouls but reminded Memphis fans why he is truly beloved: picking up a technical foul and jawing with Andre Iguodala who refused to join the Grizzlies team last year before the trade deadline. Between competitive conversations with Brooks, Iguodala was showered with boos from Memphis fans who haven’t forgotten that he looked down on the Grizzlies’ rebuild.
The Warriors would make a small run behind the three-point shooting of Jordan Poole cutting the lead to just 18 but after a quick Memphis timeout, the Grizzlies were able to retake control of the game and keep Golden State at arm’s length ending the third quarter with a 95-67 lead.
In the fourth, the Grizzlies continued to stretch their lead with Desmond Bane and De’Anthony Melton taking turns hitting three’s early in the quarter. With a 37 point lead, and an already short bench, Coach Taylor Jenkins pulled his starters with eight minutes to play and this one was over.
Xavier Tillman has been great. In the last three games, Tillman has been asked to step up and played at least 20 minutes in each game. His stats haven’t been eye-popping but his defensive effort has been excellent, there were times against Milwaukee he was either switched onto Giannis or battling for rebounds with him and held his own. As a smaller center, he gives up a lot of size to opposing big men but he always knows where to be and has been a useful pick and roll man offensively. With a guy like Jaren Jackson Jr. who finds himself in constant foul trouble, Tillman could be an interesting off-speed pitch used in a playoff series for 10-12 minutes if asked to step off.
Dillon went full villain. Brooks ended the game with 21 points on 9-15 shooting and got under Warriors players’ skin all night. He picked up a technical of his own in the third quarter but also drew a flagrant foul on a frustrated Nemanja Bjelica. In the absence of the Grizzlies’ star players Morant and Jackson, Brooks thrives in opportunities to step up as a leader of this young team. Monday also seemed to be the most comfortable Brooks has been offensively since he returned from injury.
Another role player-driven win. Without Morant or Jackson in the lineup, playing the fourth game in a week, and a firm grip on the two seed; nobody in Memphis would have faulted the Grizzlies for packing it in for this game in an effort to just get to Wednesday without any further injuries. Instead, Memphis stepped up and dominated on their home floor once again, extending their home winning streak to eight and moving to 18-2 on the season without Morant. The magic number to clinch the two seed is now just one, with a day's rest before heading to San Antonio the Grizzlies can lock up that two seed and get to full health before the playoffs.