This final week of the regular season hits different this time around for the Memphis Grizzlies. The team has nothing to play for, outside of staying in rhythm and competing to improve potential draft selections (which the players surely care nothing about, and the coaches likely do not either). They are the #2 seed in the Western Conference Playoffs that start in a week and a half, and have won their first division championship in franchise history. They’re playing exceptionally well without their best player in Ja Morant, and are siding with health above all else entering the postseason.
So the fact they hung as tough as they did against the Utah Jazz Tuesday night, in Utah, in a game the Jazz needed to win to stop their free fall in to the play-in, is another feather in the cap of the Grizzlies “standard”. Sure, there was plenty to feel not-so-good about - especially offensively in the first half, when the most impactful Memphis offensive player was (checks notes) Steven Adams. Rarely will you win a basketball game when that is the case for your club.
But the team is playing out the slate, attempting to keep their rotations and rhythm while staying healthy. The effort to right the ship when things went poorly was there throughout the game, at least once the first quarter ended. This week, every game they come out healthy and with something to learn and grow from will be a victory for the franchise - regardless of wins and losses.
Some thoughts on this particularly “successful” defeat for Memphis.
A tale of two halves
In the first half of Tuesday night’s game, the Memphis Grizzlies offense was not what fans have been used to seeing this season. There was a lot of rushed shots, and out of rhythm threes, and poor decisions being made in terms of when and where to attack the basket. Things only seemed to go right when noted creator of offense Steven Adams was on the floor - his career-best season as a passer continued in this contest finding cutters and players coming off of screens consistently throughout the game. But as previously mentioned, when Adams running the high post option offense is your best scoring option things are not going well for you in terms of scoring the ball.
Then, the third quarter (in particular - the second was better than the putrid 19 point first as well) came. Desmond Bane, who was relatively quiet in the first half, got going. The same can be said of Jaren Jackson Jr., and De’Anthony Melton, and Memphis looked more like themselves. The thing about a free-flowing offense is that when things get jammed up, it can really muddy the windows in terms of passing lanes and lines of sight for shooting. The Grizzlies cannot afford to have long runs of poor offense as the postseason begins - while their defense is strong, in a seven game series teams will be prepared to pick apart weaknesses in scheme. Memphis scoring 19 points in a quarter in a couple weeks will likely mean a blowout defeat, not a hard fought battle like it did tonight.
The margin for error shrinks considerably. Shooting less than 40% from the field isn’t going to cut it. But at least there were signs of life at times.
Tyus Jones keeps showing his worth
It’s been a popular topic of conversation of late among Grizzlies Twitter/Bloggers/Media types - the value of Tyus Jones in free agency this summer. If the growing consensus that Jones will not have as hot of a market as his worth to Memphis this season would indicate he would turns out to be true, The option of keeping Jones becomes more and more enticing. It wasn’t his strongest facilitation game, but he maintained creating offense for others without making mistakes and giving up possessions. That holds so much importance for a Grizzlies offense that needs every chance at scoring the ball they can get - especially in the halfcourt.
Tyus was the one starter that efficiently scored throughout the game. He hit four three point shots in four attempts. He remained a steadying force that the team missed terribly when he sat. If a front-loaded MLE can get Jones to stay (I remain skeptical - Jones can start for several teams in the NBA, and a sign-and-trade to one of them makes a lot of sense for all involved) perhaps there would be wisdom in that choice, even if Morant and Jones’ fit together is questionable due to size limitations.
$40+ million in the point guard position is less than ideal as cap space shrinks. But so would be not having Tyus Jones there to help keep the Grizzlies afloat in the event Ja misses games in the playoffs, or in seasons to come. At least he will (injury possibility aside) for sure be with the team through the playoffs.
- Mob mentality rebounding is fun. Four players for the Grizzlies had 6 or more rebounds in this game, two of them (Desmond Bane and De’Anthony Melton) being guards. What makes Memphis the best rebounding squad in the NBA is this idea of combining to be a collective force on the glass. Steven Adams is an elite rebounder, but beyond him no Grizzlies big owns the boards. Memphis has several ball handlers and wings that can go clean glass, however - Melton, Bane, John Konchar, Kyle Anderson, etc. That matters come playoffs, and should continue to translate in the postseason.
- Reserves were reserved. One of the reasons the Grizzlies struggled in this game was that Memphis’ vaunted bench unit was inferior to the Jazz reserves by a considerable margin. Jordan Clarkson and Hassan Whiteside dominated the game for stretches, whereas only De’Anthony Melton scored in double figures for the Grizzlies. All four Utah bench players were positives in +/-, while all five Grizzlies reserves were negatives. Single game +/- is very flawed to use in analysis like this...but it aligns with your eyes this time around. Memphis crushes people when their bench can help them pull away. That didn’t happen here.
The Memphis Grizzlies play their final road game of the regular season Thursday night in Denver against the Nuggets.