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Report Card: Grizzlies end 2022 with a big win vs the Pelicans

The Grizzlies are going into the New Year with some momentum after another win over the Pelicans at home.

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NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

After a bounce-back win in Toronto, the Memphis Grizzlies welcomed the west-leading New Orleans Pelicans into FedEx Forum for a highly anticipated matchup. Led by the top two picks in the 2019 draft and former AAU teammates Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, both teams look to be contenders in a stacked Western Conference. It also has the potential to become a rivalry in the future, as they both have young cores that are developing together and improving every year.

The Grizzlies came out strong and imposed their will on the defensive end, forcing tough shots and turnovers. New Orleans shot just 33% in the first quarter and turned the ball over seven times, as the Grizzlies got out to a 12-point lead. Offensively, the Grizzlies dominated in the paint, winning the points in the paint battle 18-8 in the quarter. Memphis was the more physical team to start but only led by six at halftime after a deep heave from Jaxson Hayes beat the quarter buzzer.

After a late run in the first quarter, the Pelicans continued to cut into the Grizzlies’ lead in the 2nd quarter thanks to their relentless offensive rebounding, specifically from Wily Hernangomez who had 4 off the bench at halftime. After some clock malfunctions, the Pelicans began to take over and took their first lead of the game. The Grizzlies’ turnovers and inability to knock down outside shots were the biggest issues in the quarter, but late buckets by Steven Adams and Morant gave the Grizzlies a three-point halftime lead.

Despite struggles from the young superstar Williamson who scored just 6 points in the half, the Pelicans were able to find offense from unlikely places including 12 points from Naji Marshall and 7 from Hernangomez. The Grizzlies were led by Morant and Desmond Bane who both had nine points in the first half and Steven Adams with eight points and 13 rebounds. The biggest difference between the teams came at the free throw line, as the Pelicans were 12-16 and the Grizzlies were just 3-3. There was a lot of sloppy play with 22 combined turnovers, but also a lot of highlights ahead of an intriguing 2nd half.

Early in the third quarter Ja Morant left the game after falling on his hip on a drive to the basket, but he would return later. Dillon Brooks, who was playing incredible defense on Williamson, also picked up his fifth foul and was forced to sit. This opened the door for Zion to pick up his play, as he went at rookie David Roddy consistently during the quarter, finishing with 10 points in the quarter. On the other side, Morant continued his third-quarter dominance with 14 points in the quarter and kept the Grizzlies afloat despite some physical plays and scoring runs by the Pelicans.

The Grizzlies opened the 4th quarter with a quick 7-0 run, led by some big plays from Jaren Jackson Jr. on both ends, and got the Grizzlies’ lead back to double digits. The Grizzlies continued to force turnovers and tough shots and run in transition and continued to impose their will on the interior. When Morant entered the game to close, the Grizzlies pushed their lead over 20 and cruised the rest of the way to a 116 to 101 win.

Now for the Grades:

Ja Morant - A+: 32 Points, 13-22 FG, 6-7 FT, 8 Assists, 3 Rebounds, 2 Steals

Morant dazzled again and was able to score inside in a multitude of ways. The floater was on point, as well as the mid-range jumper that has been improving all season. He also carried over some of his playmaking abilities from Toronto as he finished with 8 assists on some high very high IQ passes. He gets an A+ mostly because of his play in the second half, where he scored 23 of his 32 points and kept the Grizzlies afloat when shots weren’t falling from the outside.

Jaren Jackson Jr - A: 17 points, 7-13 FG, 6 Rebounds, 6 Blocks, 3 Steals, +22

Jackson is arguably the most important player for Memphis on a nightly basis because of what he can do on the defensive end. Tonight, his rim protection against one of the best finishers in the league in Zion Williamson might have been his best defensive performance of the season. He also scored 11 points at the beginning of the fourth quarter, which ended up being the difference in the game and attacked his mismatch with Williamson on the interior.

Steven Adams - A+: 10 Points, 21 Rebounds (5 offensive), 3 Assists, 2 Steals, 2 Blocks

Steven Adams is the definition of a star in his role. His job is to go out and dominate the board, and that’s exactly what he did against Jonas Valanciunas tonight. His 21 rebounds are his most this season and just two off of his career-high of 23, while Valanciunas finished with just 6 on the other end. He also provided some great help defense and presence on the interior when any Pelican drove to the basket. He also has grabbed 38 rebounds in his last two games, which is over one-third of the team's total rebounds.

Defense on Zion - A:

Coming into tonight Zion Williamson was on a tear, scoring 43 and 36 points respectively on over 65% shooting. Dillon Brooks got the early assignment on Zion after claiming that he “plays football too” when he was asked about guarding Williamson before the game. Brooks was extremely physical and held Zion to just 6 points in the first half, but it also led to five fouls with nine minutes left in the 3rd quarter. Williamson was able to get going scoring the ball after Brooks left the game, but the Grizzlies team defense made it very hard on him, holding him to just 6-16 shooting and forcing 9 turnovers.

Overall Grade: A

Despite some sloppy plays, the Grizzlies were able to get a strong victory against a top-tier western conference opponent heading into the New Year. They also get their second win over the Pelicans this season, which could be important when it comes to seeding later in the year. After a tough stretch of games, the Grizzlies have now won back-to-back games and finish the 2022 calendar year 31-6 at home, taking some momentum into 2023.

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