The new look Grizzlies, led by a pair of 20 year olds, tipped off in earnest on Wednesday night in Miami.
Erik Spoelstra’s Heat squad was short newcomer Jimmy Butler (personal reasons) and Dion Waiters (team suspension). Even without those two recognizable names, the Heat were able to pull away from the Grizzlies after three close quarters in what ultimately ended up a 101-120 game.
Memphis jumped out to a 32-24 lead after the first quarter in an uncharacteristically high-scoring initial frame. The Grizzlies even held things together through three quarters, holding on to a one point lead entering the 4th quarter.
It was then that the wheels fell off and Miami had an offensive explosion while the Grizzlies struggled on both ends of the floor.
Miami outscored Memphis 37-17 in the 4th quarter to win easily.
Last season, the Grizzlies struggled mightily in the 3rd quarter of many games so fans should be accustomed to seeing three solid quarters and one flaky one. This game was no exception for the young team.
Here are 5 takeaways from the debut of Ja Morant in a grizzlies uniform.
What Ja is and isn’t
Ja Morant IS an incredible distributor and finisher at the rim. The opening game was a mixed bag of results for the rookie point guard. While earning 4 assists and shooting 6/12 from the field, all of his buckets came at the rim. His second score was an acrobatic in-air behind the head layup off a pass from Jae Crowder.
Morant took it to the rim consistently and forced a lot of contact. Somehow he only shot 4 free throws in a game where there were 64 fouls called between the two sides.
Morant’s performance was enough to earn him the Bass Pro Shops Trophy Game award.
Now, for what Ja isn’t.
He is not the answer on defense against big-bodied guards like Miami’s Justise Winslow, who led all scorers with 27 points and also added 7 rebounds and 7 assists.
Winslow consistently took advantage of his 6’6″ frame and scored over and through Morant at will. Morant even struggled to guard fellow rookie Tyler Herro when matched up against him. There was too much arm swiping and not enough fighting through screens and moving of feet from Morant.
Morant also got welcomed to the NBA by Chris Silva, a rookie out of South Carolina. Ja may be able to out-jump most opponents, but his thin frame and the fact that he is at a height disadvantage will be weaknesses he will have to figure out.
Letting it fly will be awkward
We all know that Taylor Jenkins is determined to usher in this new era of Grizzlies basketball through a 5-out (yes, we are stealing that name for our column) offensive scheme.
The goal of this modification in playing style is for Memphis to find their way to the modern NBA through an increased amount of three point attempts and pace.
Last year’s Grizzlies played at a pace of 97.15 possessions per game, which was good for dead last in the NBA. Last night, they played much faster at 112 possessions.
While one mission was accomplished, the main goal of this increased pace was not realized as the Grizzlies shot a putrid 5/32 from behind the arc. That’s 15.6%, you guys.
A basketball game is four quarters
I don’t make this a point to insult your intelligence, I just want to point this out in hopes that the Grizzlies will come across it and remind themselves of this fact next time they take the floor.
While the game mostly felt competitive, with 15 ties and 10 lead changes, the Grizzlies endured a scoring drought over 4 minutes while giving up a 17 point run to Miami.
The Grizzlies seemed to be jumping at every pump fake the Heat through at them, which was a certain cause for many of Miami’s free throws.
Brandon Clarke impressed me with his ability to alter shots while not being drawn in by too many fakes.
Tyus Jones – backup PG extraordinaire
For the first time since the start last season when Shelvin Mack was randomly (and very shortly) balling out. I feel good about the Grizzlies backup PG slot.
In 24 minutes of play, Jones scored 15 points and dished out a team high 7 assists while going +6 in +/-. He shot 6/12 from the field, with all but one shot in or adjacent to the paint.
Jones looks to be a solid player who takes care of the ball and can help keep the flow of the game going when Morant is on the bench.
So. Many. Fouls.
I get that it’s a new season and the officials are also getting their game legs (whistles) under them. I’m going to chalk the high amount of fouls called up to that logic.
As a point of reference, whistles were so abundant that the home crowd even started a “ref, you suck” chant that could be heard through the TV.
In total, 31 fouls were called on Memphis and 33 on Miami.
A trio of Grizzlies were whistled for 5 fouls: Jackson, Brooks, and Valanciunas. JV only played 16 minutes in the contest, but the decision to pull him was also related to load management due to him recovering from a foot injury.
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