The Memphis Grizzlies hosted the Boston Celtics for their final game of the regular season on Sunday night. The Grizzlies opted to rest their starters on the second night of a back-to-back that had no bearing on Memphis’ playoff standing.
The Celtics won 139-110 but it gave some Grizzlies an opportunity to show out in a nationally televised game. Let’s look at who shined and grade their performances.
John Konchar - 17 points (7-11 FG), 10 assists, 13 rebounds
Konchar recorded his first career triple-double in 39 minutes, showing off his wide array of skills that have made us fall in love with Jitty. His rebounding ability from the guard position happens to be my favorite - Konchar averages 4.5 rebounds per game in 17.6 minutes. The only two players who have more total rebounds this season coming off the bench are Tyler Herro and De’Anthony Melton, each of which averages more than 20+ minutes off the bench.
Konchar was also asked to step up as a distributor, recording 10 assists. The last time the Grizzlies went with their skeleton crew against Phoenix on April 2 with no Ja Morant or Tyus Jones it was De’Anthony Melton in the defacto point guard role and Konchar didn’t record a single assist. The Grizzlies would win that game against the Suns, but it was clear Melton struggled to initiate the offense and coach Taylor Jenkins made the adjustment to allow Konchar to be the lead facilitator against Boston.
Defensively Konchar recorded 2 steals and a block but his interior defense was exposed at times against Boston’s bigger wing scorers. There aren’t many nights Jitty will be asked to guard players the caliber of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but they got anything they wanted in this game. Still, the triple-double was an exciting bright spot in a game that had few.
Santi Aldama - 20 points (7-16 FG), 4 assists, 10 rebounds
Aldama posted 20 points and 10 rebounds in 31 minutes to remind us he is the new Pau Gasol (just kidding...maybe). He looks awkward at times and doesn’t move well but neither does Kyle Anderson and he’s still effective in his role for Memphis. Aldama is just always in the right spot and rarely makes bad decisions. Aldama also added two three-pointers to his stat line against Boston, his first game with multiple three-pointers in his career.
I think Aldama is what we always wanted Killian Tillie to be, and has proven to be much more durable. Going into next season I could see Aldama as a fourth big man playing spot minutes in times of Jaren foul trouble similar to how Xavier Tillman has been used this season. I could also see him leading the G League in scoring instead if Memphis decides he needs another year on the same developmental track as this season.
Ziaire Williams - 18 points (6-18 FG, 4-11 3P), 1 assist, 4 rebounds
Williams started slow against Boston going into halftime with only 5 points despite leading the team in shot attempts. I liked his aggressiveness to continue to hunt for his shot and he never hesitated from deep despite his misses. When he is on the floor in a smaller role come playoff time that’s what you want to see out of him, he doesn’t do much for you rebounding and is still a work in progress on defense. When he’s on the floor he can’t pass up shot opportunities.
Coming out of the half, he scored 13 points in the third quarter including 10 straight for the Grizzlies in 11 minutes of game time. He hit 3 threes in the period and capitalized on some transition opportunities. Those kinds of scoring bursts are what he has to provide coming off the bench for Memphis if he wants to stay on the floor during the playoffs.
In these games towards the end of the season where he has been the Grizzlies best offense option in some lineups, I’ve been watching to see if there are times he knows he has to step up and how he responds. In the closing minutes against the Suns, he responded well, it could have looked like stat-padding in garbage time to some but I thought it was good experience to develop his shot creation when he is the best scorer on the floor.
He had that same flash in the third quarter against Boston. I don’t know how much of it will see in the postseason but for the long term, it’s a good sign that he knows when to step up and doesn’t shy away from those opportunities.
Yves Pons - 6 points (3-7 FG, 2-6 3P), 1 assist, 2 rebounds, 3 blocks
Pons recorded his highest minute total on the season in an effort to keep the rotation short and rest the starters. His last two nights were filled with a ton of almost highlights. Against New Orleans on Saturday, Pons had two uncontested dunks that he was unable to convert that could have brought the house down.
Sunday he had three separate goaltending violations that were a half-second away from being massive blocks. In all of these near highlight real moments, Pons showed off the explosive athleticism that makes him a tantalizing future prospect.
The 2020 SEC Defensive Player of the Year had some bright moments for the Memphis Hustle this year, averaging 9.2 points per game but more importantly shooting 38.7% from three. His athletic ability is something that can’t be taught, but improving as a shooter could turn him into a real floor spacing/transition weapon for the Grizzlies in the future. Against Boston, Pons hit two threes including one late that gave Konchar his triple-double.
Also, shout out to coach Jenkins for challenging a foul call with 41 seconds left in an inconsequential blowout game to take a foul away from Pons on one of his three high-flying blocks, a hilarious way to stand up for your young players.
Team Grade: B-
The on-court performance wasn’t great. Memphis shot just 38.2% from the field, 31.9% from three, and went 17-27 from the free-throw line. Those stats don’t add up to winning basketball but you can’t expect much more from the load management replacements.
With that being said, the decision to rest the entire starting lineup and play key bench players limited minutes deserves an A+ for playoff preparation. Sure, the Memphis Grizzlies could have gone for a Franchise record-setting 57th win of the year against Boston. But this season is already a success and will be remembered regardless of if it is the most wins in a season.
What wouldn’t be a success is if Ja Morant had reaggravated his injury and missed the first-round series. It was the right move to rest the starters after a long season and gave the organization an opportunity to see what they have in deep bench guys like Tillman, Aldama, and Pons going into next season.