The Memphis Grizzlies tied their franchise record for wins at 56 with a 141-114 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. The Grizzlies were coming off of back-to-back losses for the first time since February and were determined to right the ship before the end of the regular season.
It was great to get the win, but the return of Ja Morant was the big story on Beale Street. Morant finished with 21 points, 9 assists, and 4 rebounds in the win.
But forget the numbers for a second, the return of Ja Morant was all about getting playoff ready. This was only the ninth time this season that Morant, Bane, Brooks, Jackson, and Adams had all been in the starting lineup together. If Morant had not played in this game or Sunday’s he would’ve had 29 days between his last NBA action and the playoffs. Rebuilding his game conditioning and chemistry with teammates was what was important to take away from this game.
For what it’s worth, Morant’s bounce looked great, there seem to be no long-term effects from his knee injury that held him out since March 18. Despite not finishing as well at the rim I would attribute that more to the rust factor than his athleticism being compromised.
The Grizzlies scored their usual 30 points in the first quarter but did commit six turnovers resulting in 10 points for New Orleans. The real bright spot of the first 12 minutes was Jaren Jackson Jr., who was aggressive offensively.
In the previous few games, Jackson had been settling for shots from distance early in games before getting into the paint. Tonight, he started out driving right at Jonas Valanciunas and Jaxon Hayes. Jackson forcing the issue played a big role in Valanciunas’ early foul trouble.
After establishing his presence in the paint on both ends of the floor, Jackson was able to hit a three to give him 7 first-quarter points as the Grizzlies led 30-18 after one.
Jaren wasn’t the only one aggressive on offense to start. Dillon Brooks led the way scoring 16 first-half points on 7-11 shooting with the majority of his makes coming from the midrange. Brooks was also tasked with checking noted Grizz Killer CJ McCollum. Brooks made him work all night long and held him to only 6 first-half points on an inefficient 2-8 shooting including 0-2 from three.
It was interesting that with Brooks and Melton as his primary defenders for the first half, both played him pretty much straight up rarely switching on pick and rolls instead chasing him around screens and staying on his hip which lead to some added fouls drawn but clearly made it difficult for him from the field.
The starters getting back together was the main attraction but I have to give a lot of credit to Brandon Clarke and Ziaire Williams coming off the bench as well. In 20 first-half minutes, they combined for 20 points while going 8-9 from the floor. All four of Williams’ makes came from behind the three-point line, a new career-high for threes made in a single game for him.
The Grizzlies looked crisp offensively and found plenty of fast-break opportunities in the first half. Memphis shot 55.8% from the field and 55.3% from three with 17 assists on 24 made baskets in the first half to take a 64-47 lead into the break.
Coming out of the half, it was Bane who started finding his rhythm scoring 11 of the Grizzlies' first 17 second-half points. In the first half, he seemed to be the odd man out offensively with Morant trying to knock the rust off and Jackson and Brooks attacking early but still went 2-3 in his smaller role. In the second half, he looked more comfortable and always looking to shoot as soon as he touched the ball.
Bane’s scoring set in motion an offensive explosion from Memphis who outscored the Pelicans 55-33 in the third quarter. The 55 point outburst was the highest scoring quarter in Grizzlies history and the fourth highest in NBA history. The Grizzlies led 119-80 after the third, another Grizzlies franchise record for most points through three quarters.
In the final frame, Ja Morant put on the show everyone in Memphis had been missing. It was actually too many highlights to put in this article. He hit 2 threes, had an unbelievable no-look lob to Brandon Clarke and a volleyball spike of a blocked shot in the span of what felt like 30 seconds. Morant looked incredible in that burst but it would be the end of his night with 8 minutes left in the game and the Grizzlies up 131-90.
The game was out of reach at that point and gave coach Taylor Jenkins a chance to empty his bench. Ziaire Williams was able to add to his point total finishing with 19 and Yves Pons added a highlight blocked shot.
The regular season ends for the Grizzlies on Sunday evening against the Boston Celtics.