As a stream of Memphis fans funneled out of the FedExForum on Thursday night, the sounds of victory were evident and – to some extent – healing on multiple fronts.
“Let’s go – GRIZZLIES! “Let’s go – GRIZZLIES!
The victory was a much-needed, 131-110 win over the NBA’s defending Champions, the Golden State Warriors. And while Golden States’ provocative forward Draymond Green refuses to call Warriors-Grizzlies a rivalry, the win was no less satisfying.
“It was a great team victory,” said Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins. “The strength of this team is togetherness. With guys out, we have to rally with each other. I thought we gave ourselves a chance for some victories on the road. It just didn’t go our way.”
Going into the game, the Grizzlies were the losers of three in a row, all on the road and in the wake of Ja Morant’s high-profile absence following a disturbing, Instagram-shared outing at a Denver-area night club. The slide dropped Memphis (39-26) into a tie for second place in the Western Division.
As the Grizzlies seek to weather All-Star guard Morant’s absence, they also are adjusting to the season-ending injury to key reserve Brandon Clarke and the extended absence of starting center Steven Adams.
Morant, the Grizzlies have announced, will continue to be away from the team for at least the next four games. Adams, who had a medical update this week, is set to be reevaluated in four weeks.
“Pray for #12” and other signs of support for Morant added to the spectacle of what has become must-see TV when the Grizzles and Warriors match up.
Xavier Tillman, who has been starting at center with Adams unavailable, framed the team’s mentality awaiting the return of Morant.
“Everyone has to play to win and up to their ability,” said Tillman (10 points, 8 rebound). “Tyus (Jones) for his play making and getting guys involved. JJ (Jaren Jackson Jr.) has to put up even more buckets and numbers. Des (Desmond Bane) has to be on the ball more and help take care of it.
“It is a next man up mentality, but not putting too much emphasis on it.”
The Grizzlies have been one of the best teams scoring in the first and third quarters. They are the worst in the fourth quarters. Before the game, Jenkins told his players they needed to be better in the first three quarters and execute better in the last.
The message registered with the Grizzlies as they connected on 8 of 14 from deep and scored 48 points in the first quarter to lead the Warriors 48-28. They scored 51 points in the third quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers but could not hold on to win that game.
The Warriors’ superstar, Hall-of-Fame-bound Stephen Curry scored 29 points against the Grizzlies and may have had much more if not for a switch to the hounding defense of Memphis’ Dillon Brooks (DB).
“We have a lot of faith in what DB can do for us defensively on Curry,” said Jenkins. “…the minutes he wasn’t on him he (Curry) got a little too loose. Bringing him back into the game changed that a little bit.”
A Warrior’s 21-6 run to start the second quarter cut the Grizzlies lead down to five points (54-49). That’s when Memphis went to Brooks on Curry. Memphis opened up an 11-point lead (68-57) with 1:56 left in the first half. Curry scored 12 points in the quarter and Memphis led 77-59 at halftime.
Brooks, on guarding Curry, said, “He was the only one getting going. I told the coach in the second half match my minutes with his minutes. They can’t have those runs again. I was diligent with my coverages and making him shoot a lot of threes. I was fighting through all of the illegal screens they were setting.”
The Warriors made another push on a 13-2 run to start the third quarter. With 8:40 left in the quarter, a Klay Thompson three-pointer made it (79-72), forcing Memphis to call timeout. Memphis led 99-93 heading into the fourth quarter, which has been particularly troubling as of late.
However, that was not to be the case on Thursday night. With 3:43 left in the game, Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr called off the troops with the Grizzlies up 120-103.
Curry’s 29 points led all scorers. Jordon Poole had 22 points, Green had 16 and Thompson had 14 points for Golden State.
For the Grizzlies, who have one of the best home records in the league, all five starters finished in double-digits: Jones 22 points (11 assists), Jackson and Bane had 21 points and Brooks scored 14 points.
Memphis, which made 18 three-pointers and never trailed, also got 15 points and seven rebounds from Santi Aldama off the bench.
Green and Brooks sparred verbally with jabs extended by social media leading into the game. Green, who has a podcast, essentially labeled Brooks a nobody, saying the Grizzlies had not won anything of note yet and that Brooks was not that good.
“We want to see them in the playoffs,” said Brooks after the game. “My teammates showed me what he said. It was some funny stuff. … I feel like the stuff I said were facts. We will see at the end of the year. I know I am a better player than him.”
The Grizzlies will host the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday (March 11), with tipoff set for 7 p.m.
Memphis travels to Dallas to face the Mavericks on Monday (March 13).