On Wednesday night, the FedExForum was hopping. In addition to it being a throwback night visible through the physical jerseys and ascetically pleasing court, it was a night reminiscent of playoff basketball in Memphis.
Entering the matchup, the two teams were separated by three games in the standings — Memphis leading the Blazers and holding onto the 8th seed.
New Grizzly Justise Winslow summed up the night beautifully. The house was packed, largely due to the $25 Pinnacle level ticket deal that the Grizzlies were running.
Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant started the game on fire and earned 7 of his 9 assists in the first half. Morant displayed the flashiness that we’ve come to expect from the young prodigy and the chemistry with the rest of the squad seems to only be growing. Though he struggled from the field, shooting 9 of 23, Morant drew so much attention from the Blazers defense that it allowed other guys — namely Brandon Clarke — the opportunity to shine.
In fact, Clarke provided the real offensive firepower with his insane ability to get open off the fake pick and roll. On most of his alley-oop plays, he showed screen near the elbow, but the screens were rarely used by the ball handlers. Oh well, he was still able to drift away towards the goal for an easy bucket on multiple occasions. Clarke tied a career high with 27 points and shot 12 of 14 (lol, yes that’s correct) from the field. Every single one of those makes was at the rim, and several were dunks.
Unfortunately, we’ve been witness to a Dillon Brooks struggle ever since he signed his extension before the trade deadline. I’m sure this won’t last, the encouraging fact is that Memphis is still finding ways to win.
Is it a coincidence that Brandon Clarke had a breakout game in Gorgui Dieng‘s first appearance for the Grizzlies? You tell me. Per PBPstats, the pair shared the floor for 13 minutes last night and using WOWY have a positive net rating of 54.81. It doesn’t mean anything, but yet it does. Dieng’s ability to play against opposing team’s sizeable centers while still stretching the floor allows Clarke to go against a more size-comparable defenders, against who his is likely more athletic. Hence the destruction at the rim.
When playing a team like Portland who has All-Star caliber players in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, the coaching staff is presented a chance to showcase their abilities as well as the players on the court. Portland was on the second night of a back-to-back, and Coach Taylor Jenkins gameplanned accordingly. He played 10 guys, threw multiple defenders at the red-hot Lillard and forced other players to beat Memphis. Anfernee Simons was up for the challenge, hitting 6 of his 7 threes, but Memphis held Lillard to 20 points on 7 of 19 shooting and MCCollum to 23 points on 9 of 25 shooting. Big thanks for Carmelo Anthony for going 1 of 15, that was pretty helpful for Memphis too.
Only Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. played over 30 minutes for Memphis while all 5 starters for the Trail Blazers saw over 30 minutes of run.
Lillard eventually left the game with what appeared to be a groin injury in the waning minutes. He later announced that he would forego participating in the All-Star game and 3pt contest. Although there is a decent contingent of NBA Twitter that was pushing for Morant to be his replacement, Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker was named to that spot by commissioner Adam Silver.
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