Entering Thursday, the Memphis Grizzlies and the Boston Celtics had been two of the best teams in the NBA since January 1st. Boston is first and Memphis third in net rating, with the teams going a combined 41-15 record during that span.
The NBA world had been buzzing all week about the Ja Morant tour that had produced 40.5 points per game on 53.4% shooting over the last four games.
But, the anticipation for the nationally televised matchup was all for not in what ended up being arguably the clunkiest game in some time for Memphis as the Celtics outlasted that Grizzlies 120-107 behind 37 points from Jayson Tatum.
The Grizzlies started the game flat, shooting just 35.2% from the field in the first half while allowing offensive rebounds to the Celtics bigs. They made a push in the third quarter but when it got down to crunch time, the Grizzlies were out of gas.
The game was a let down in the national spotlight, but there were some bright moments too.
Lets get to the grades
Jaren Jackson Jr. - 20 points (9-18 FG, 1-2 FT), 7 rebounds, 1 block
With Ja Morant struggling early, Jackson stepped up to lead the offense against Boston. He opened the game with 7 points in the first quarter and 11 in the half, showing a wide array of finishes with both hands while hunting mismatches.
The NBA’s leading shot blocker recorded only one denial on Thursday but it was a full court chase down of Jayson Tatum that sent the message he would not be giving up any easy buckets.
GOLD CHASE DOWN BADGE ACTIVATED pic.twitter.com/UvgtxFRPbv— Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) March 4, 2022
Despite leading the charge early offensively, Jackson contributed to the team’s poor three point shooting going 1-5 for the game and his lone make coming in the first 90 seconds of game action. Jackson has hit a slight shooting slump going 2-10 from behind the line in his four games since the All-Star break.
For the Grizzlies to make a push for the second overall seed in the West, Jackson will have to continue to anchor the Memphis defense while improving his 3-point percentage.
Kyle Anderson - 6 points (3-7 FG), 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 6 steals
Anderson was the first man off the bench for coach Taylor Jenkins after Steven Adams rolled his ankle in the first quarter. Slowmo had his hands in the cookie jar for all 24 of his minutes, finishing with 6 steals. Only five other Grizzlies have recorded 6+ steals in a single game.
Anderson was the only player with a positive plus/minus who recorded at least 20 minutes for the Grizzlies. His defense and lookahead passes created some of the few fastbreak opportunities the Grizzlies had on Thursday.
The only thing Kyle did wrong against the Celtics was shoot. His shot mechanics have regressed so badly that even Michael Kidd-Ghilchrist is concerned. Luckily, he limited himself to one three point attempt (bonus points) and got his scoring done on the interior.
Looking at the long term for Slowmo, his offensive limitations could be the deciding factor in whether or not the Grizzlies retain him this off-season. We saw on Thursday this team still needs more half court offensive help and if Anderson doesn’t show improvement on that end it may spell the end of his tenure in Memphis.
Ja Morant - 38 points (13-29 FG, 8-8 FT), 4 rebounds, 7 assists
Thursday is a real litmus test for those who watch games and those who read box scores. Yes, Ja went for 30+ again. Yes, he had another highlight dunk that had even opposing fans on their feet.
Yes, he even hit four threes.
But, this was not a good Ja game. He started 0-6 from the floor as Boston dared him to shoot threes. Morant obliged and proceeded to go 0-7 from distance until late in the third quarter. He would finish 4-12 from three, but since he is averaging only 4.5 three point attempts per game this season the Celtics took him out of his comfort zone of getting into the lane with a head of steam.
Morant did pick it up in the second half as the NBA’s leading third quarter scorer went for 16 to open the second half and 14 straight to end the period.
Starting the fourth quarter the Grizzlies found themselves down 83-72 and it was Morant versus Tatum for the rest of the game. Ja would score another 14 in the final quarter but he and the Grizzlies ran out of gas while Tatum surged for 21 points in the period.
Final Grade: D+
Memphis came out flat and didn’t do any of the things that had led them to this huge run since January. They were out rebounded, out hustled, and stifled in their half court offense.
This is a game where Dillon Brooks was sorely missed. There was a lack of energy from tip off and Dillon usually steps up in those moments on both ends of the floor. Brooks should return to the lineup soon enough to aid in the playoff push.
Despite the loss, Memphis remains only half of a game back from Golden State for the two seed. With nine of their next ten opponents sitting below .500, and a sputtering Warriors team, the Grizzlies are still in great position to push for that spot before the postseason.
Memphis returns to action Saturday at home against the Orlando Magic.