Today was the day — the day that we have all had circled on our calendars since the re-start schedule was released weeks ago. Though the Grizzlies came up short in their first of eight seeding games in Orlando, they put up quite the fight against the healthy Trail Blazers and provided a glimpse into the future of what this roster holds.
There is nothing like the heart pumping nervousness that comes from cheering on your team after a four month hiatus. With the bubble setup and seeding games, essentially every game going forward is a playoff game for Memphis. Think of the seeding games as one series, with the possibilities of a 2-game series against the wanna-be 8 seed, and first round matchup against the Lakers extending the theater.
Portland came into this game hungry and rearing to go. Their roster has been ravaged by injuries this year but now is healthy for the first time in ages. Damian Lillard and co. were chomping at the bit to prove they are every bit the team that earned their way to the Western Conference Finals a year ago.
The game was full of momentum swings, with both teams going on significant runs with the intentions of putting the other away.
Blazers guard CJ McCollum retains his throne as king of the Grizz-killers. His 33 points on 66% shooting were devastated the Grizzlies. Off the bench, Gary Trent Jr. made the most of his 26 minutes by adding 17 points on 8 shots.
Terry Stotts kept his rotation tighter than Taylor Jenkins, opting to insert 8 players into the game compared to the 10 that Jenkins experimented with. It was clear on the Grizzlies side of things that Tyus Jones was severely missed and Jenkens was searching for a way to fill the gap left by the steady second unit floor general.
Regulation ended in thrilling fashion with Portland veteran Carmelo Anthony missing a wide open three pointer — on a night when he shot 70% from the field — and Ja Morant slipping on a fast break and failing to get off a potential winning shot.
Overtime was not quite as pretty and Portland made quick work of Memphis on their way to a 135-140 victory for the team from the PNW.
TIME FOR MY 5 TAKEAWAYS
Tempo, Tempo Tempo
Similar to several of the scrimmage games in the prior week, there were a plethora of fouls called on both sides. With the lack of fan noise and distractions to minimize the player interactions, the officials were incredibly strict and whistled four technical fouls for actions that would easily have gone under the radar during normal circumstances.
Two of Memphis’ starters, Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Anderson were both limited in their play due to collecting five fouls each. Neither player was able to reach the 20 minute mark, which gave extra minutes to Brandon Clarke and Grayson Allen.
Valanciunas made quick work on the offensive end while in the game and scored 16 points in 14 minutes on 4-4 shooting and 7 free throws.
Speaking of free throws, the Grizzlies only shot 76% from the line, while Portland hit 85% of their gimmes. Between the two teams, there were 84 free throw attempts. On the local broadcast, Brevin Knight exclaimed multiple times for the referees to take a step back and allow the guys to play the game how it is meant to be played.
These fouls killed the tempo of the game, which is a key metric to the Grizzlies success. According to Cleaning the Glass, Memphis was plus -8.2 points per 100 possessions in transition in the game. This is good enough for the 90th percentile among all teams. On the flip side, Portland was completely average in transition.
On the flip side, Portland thrived in the halfcourt and was on pace for 111 points per 100 plays, which is worthy of the 90th percentile among all games played this year. You may have already guessed, but Memphis struggled in the halfcourt, putting up totally average scoring numbers.
Key: the more transition, the more scoring for Memphis. This was especially true in this game because the two slowest starters were glued to the bench with fouls and replaced by their more athletic backups.
Jaren is the man
Portland came out of the gate hot and scored 35 points in the first quarter. The only reason the Grizzlies were still hanging in at that point was Jaren Jackson Jr. For the first time since his season-high game in December (43 points against the Bucks), Jackson eclipsed the 30 point mark and ended with 33. For the third time this season, Jackson hit 6 triples. His shooting in this game opened things up to allow Morant to make an impact in the second half.
Throughout the game, Jackson made smart decisions on his shot selection and only once took a deep two. The rest of his shots were near the rim or from beyond the arc.
Though he is not always the strongest finisher at the rim, on this sequence he deftly maneuvered his way to a left-handed slam. This was one of his more impressive drives this season that ended with a bucket to show for his efforts.
The beast is awake
The Ja Morant we have all been waiting for has entered the building. Though he started slow, Morant completely took control of the game for Memphis and showed his true leadership abilities.
Morant played 40 minutes and led the Grizzlies in both scoring and assists, racking up a double-double with 22 and 11. He shot poorly from the field but was perfect from the charity stripe.
His performance was peppered with phenomenal plays.
With Kyle Anderson and Jonas Valanciunas playing limited minutes due to foul trouble, Morant, Brooks, Melton, Jackson Jr., and Clarke played 35 possessions and nearly 16 minutes together per PBPstats.com.
This lineup is likely the core of the future but was outscored by 8 points in their time together. The three point shooting with that group on the floor was an atrocious 2 of 15. However, they did convert on 11 of 19 two-pointers, with over half of those assisted.
Surprisingly, this lineup had only played 67 possessions together this season prior to the Portland game. I think that we can expect much more from them in the future as they log more minutes as a unit and continue to develop their budding chemistry.
The lineup that made the most impact in the game and played the largest role in the Grizzlies third quarter comeback consisted of Grayson Allen, Jaren Jackson, De’Anthony Melton, Ja Morant, and Brandon Clarke. This lineup outscored Portland by 13 points in their four and half minutes together in the third quarter, and was 11 points better than the Trail Blazers for the game.
This lineup hadn’t played together since January due to various injuries, but I would venture to guess that Taylor Jenkins will go back to this group more frequently as the Grizzlies fight for their playoff lives.
Dillon is not the bad guy
NBA Twitter was furious with Dillon Brooks and his performance. Sure, he shot poorly from the field again, only hitting 6 of his 16 attempts. He did make plenty of bad decisions and took off-balanced mid range shots that made me cringe. However, he did not led Dame Lillard go off. Lillard is the fifth leading scorer in the league, putting up 28.9 points per game on 45.7% shooting. Friday against Memphis, Lillard scored 29 points on 45.5% shooting. It may not sound great to hold someone to their averages, but when it is a guy as explosive as Dame, that is a solid day’s work.
Also unsung by many was the maturity that Brooks showed on multiple occasions when he actually made the extra pass. DB was second in assists on the afternoon for Memphis with 4.
BC is Big-Time
Brandon Clarke showed out in a big way for the Grizzlies against Portland. Though undersized against the Trail Blazers’ bigs, he handled them well and led the Grizzlies in rebounding with seven. In addition, Mr. Efficiency cashed in on his 8 shots and scored 21 points with the help of seven made three throws.
He always knows how to be in the right place at the right time.
This sequence of events outlined below will stay in my mind for days. With the Grizzlies given the opportunity to inbound the ball and tie up the game, I was pleased to see Taylor Jenkins draw up a play for the two rookies to connect. The finish by Clarke was nothing short of fantastic.
The Grizzlies next play against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday at 3pm.
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