This Memphis team has been resilient all year, truly embracing the next-man-up mentality. But Friday raised the bar to an entirely new level. Phoenix is having a historically great season and the Grizzlies were unfazed en route to their 55th win of the season.
In the absence of Morant, Jackson Jr., Bane, Jones, and Adams let's look at who stepped up and grade their performance.
Dillon Brooks - 30 points (11-28 FG), 7 assists, 4 rebounds
We all knew with a long list of injuries coming into the night that Dillon Brooks had to have a big game and he did. Brooks carried Memphis offensively with 30 points, it wasn’t the most efficient scoring night we’ve ever seen in the Forum but in 48 minutes somebody has to take shots and Brooks has never been scared to do that even in the biggest moments.
DILLON THE VILLAIN pic.twitter.com/bxHMNHDbgI— Bally Sports: Grizzlies (@GrizzOnBally) April 2, 2022
The battle between Brooks and Devin Booker was fun to watch all night. Booker eclipsed 40 points but Brooks made him work for every bit of it. I think Brooks would take 40 points from any opposing player as a personal affront, but the win is all that anybody will remember. The physical back and forth between the guards came to a head in the third quarter when Brooks did what he does best and was able to bait Booker into a technical foul.
Xavier Tillman - 13 points (5-10 FG), 7 assists, 6 rebounds
Tillman has sneaky been one of the best bench guys for Memphis in his last three appearances. Against Indiana, Tillman went for 16 points, 5 rebounds, a block, and a steal in 24 minutes. In the Milwaukee game, he scored just 6 but added 3 assists and 11 boards and played some great defense both on the ball and in the help including a few good sequences against Giannis. Then in the Warriors matchup, he had 5 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal.
Against most opponents, Tillman gives up size. At only 6’8’’ he is undersized for the backup center role he occupies but he just knows where to be and can move people inside to get in position to rebound. He also has shown flashes of being an adequate pick-and-roll man offensively.
But the greatest attribute Tillman has is his ability to stay ready. In the first 13 games the Grizzlies played in March, Tillman only appeared in 8 but finished the month with that great three-game stretch before recording another DNP on Monday in San Antonio.
Friday he was asked to step up once again, this time as a starter against the best team in the NBA. Tillman delivered with 13 efficient points, 7 assists, and 6 rebounds - 3 of which were offensive.
His defense on Deandre Ayton shouldn’t be overlooked either, Ayton scored just 9 points and got few easy looks.
Tillman has continued to stay ready all month long and going into the postseason there may not be a ton of room for Tillman to get big minutes in a shortened rotation but coach Taylor Jenkins will be able to throw him out there at any point in any situation with confidence knowing he’ll be ready.
Santi Aldama - 12 points (5-8 FG), 1 assist, 5 rebounds
As a lifetime Tennessee Vols fan and ‘Yves Pons just needs minutes’ truther, I was fuming for the first 10 Aldama minutes Friday. But the kid just kept making plays, being in the right spots, and fitting in really well as another exceeding-his-role guy for the Grizzlies.
Then the dunk happened and I was sold.
Now I’ll be forever jaded that Aldama is some sort of bizarro Pau Gasol for as long as he’s a Grizzly. Another guy who just got plugged in and was not afraid of the big stage or the reigning Western Conference Champion. Congrats Zach Kleiman you’ve done it again, finding another diamond in the rough who just needed some of that Memphis polishing.
De’Anthony Melton - 17 points (4-13 FG, 3-8 3P), 3 assists, 6 rebounds
Melton looked human against Phoenix for the first time in two weeks. He too was asked to step up into a role he is unfamiliar with as the starting point guard. Melton’s ability as an offensive initiator leaves much to be desired, but let’s cut Melt a break; he’s been on a shooting streak so hot we couldn’t expect him to sustain it forever and he also had to defend one of the best point guards in NBA history for much of the night and held up well.
I think we all had the question of whether Melton can step into a backup point guard role next season, if Tyus Jones isn’t retained, answered with a resounding no. Melton is at his best playing off the ball cutting off screens as a catch and shoot scorer. The sooner the calvary arrives to allow Melton to slide back into that role, the better.
Team Grade: A+
This grade is a true TEAM grade. A ton of guys stepped up in to fill the necessary holes on Friday. Even assistant coach Darko Rajakovic had to step up after Taylor Jenkins was ejected in the first half.
The Grizzlies had absolutely nothing to gain by winning this game (and the Suns had nothing to lose, but they were healthy/all their stars played) but those are the times when Memphis steps up the most. From the opening tip, they were the aggressor, the more physical team, the alpha on the floor.
This win may not mean much but it speaks to the culture in the Memphis Grizzlies organization that takes “next man up,” to a whole new level. This team didn’t even have a true point guard and still recorded 30 assists on 46 made field goals.
It’s an unbelievable achievement that this depleted roster went head to head with the best team in the league and came out with a convincing win. From Kleiman down to Aldama, this was an A+ team victory.