The soaring Memphis Grizzlies tend to rule in the paint. Take Tuesday night’s smashing of the Los Angeles Clippers at FedExForum as a timely reminder.
Riding a three-game winning streak, Memphis routed the Clippers 135-109, the first time in franchise history that the team has scored 130 or more points in back-to-back games. The Grizzlies (38-18) are 20 games above .500 for the first time since the end of the 2014-15 regular season.
Memphis dominated in the paint with 78 points, holding the Clippers to 46 points in that key scoring area. And as is standard operating procedure for the Grizzlies, All-Star starting guard Ja Morant led the charge with plenty of back-up.
Dazzling the home crowd and a mushrooming national fan base, Morant was masterful: 30 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists. He did not play at all in the fourth quarter, with the Grizzlies leading by 30 (100-70) when he left the court.
Morant, who now has scored 30 or more points in 9 of the last 10 games, made his way repeatedly into the paint with a variety of finesse and power moves, some of them dazzlingly. His exit came two minutes after the Clippers’ Marcus Morris Sr. sent him crashing to the floor on a dunk attempt. Morris was hit with a flagrant 2 foul, which carries an automatic ejection.
“I thought that was a dangerous play,” said Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins. “Ja (Morant) was vulnerable in the air, and if you watch the tape, I think it speaks for itself.”
The play drew an animated response from Jenkins, noting “great respect between myself and the officials to navigate that and all that stuff. They knew the force I was coming with to protect my guy, and I thought they went through the appropriate protocols and got the call absolutely right.”
The foul triggered a protect-our-own response from the Grizzlies bench, prompting Jenkins into holding players back.
As a head coach, obviously, you have a lot in your brain and when a moment like that happens, it just clicks in,” he said. “It’s just natural instinct to make sure you’re protecting players on the floor and players that are off the floor as well.”
Morant has no plans of abandoning his aggressiveness in the paint.
“It was a great sight to see that they (his teammates) have my back. I am pretty sure they know I would do the same for them at the end of the day. Regarding the play, I am not worried about it. I am actually cool with Marcus Morris. I got up. I played on concrete all my life.”
The Grizzlies’ ability to score in the paint is tethered to being able to pose a three-point threat, which Morant reflected upon.
“We have a lot of guys on the floor who are able to space the floor and knock down the three-ball,” he said. “You try to give up something, and once we get going behind the arc, it is going to be a very long night for you.
“Coach (Jenkins) always tells us ‘when we have the ball, play downhill, continue to be aggressive’. Every time we touch the paint something good always happens. Getting a bucket in the paint, kicking out to shooters as the defense helps and getting a wide-open three.”
Memphis forward Jaren Jackson Jr. was forceful in the paint, pairing 11 rebounds with 26 points.
The Grizzlies had 55 bench points, reaping 18 from Brandon Clarke, 11 from Kyle and 10 from John Konchar. Clarke, who also had 7 rebounds and 3 blocks, dissected Memphis’ success in the paint.
“Playing with players like Ja Morant and (center) Steven Adams; Ja is leading the league in points in the paint, just following off that. Steven plays so well with him in the paint, I am also a very good player in the paint and Jaren Jackson Jr. is also. Our team is just built for guys that are good at scoring in the paint,” he said.
“Then we have guys Like Desmond Bane, Ziaire Williams and Jaren that can shoot the ball as well. We have a good inside-out attack. Our game in the paint has been very good this year, something that teams have struggles with against us. We have guys that are really good at getting in the paint.”
Shooting the floater in the paint has become a Memphis stamp.
“Ja stole his little drive left float from me,” Clarke said jokingly.
“I do love being able to shoot that little floater. I feel like every time I shoot it, I should make it. I feel like our team has the best float team in the league. We have Tyus (Jones), Ja, me, Desmond, Jaren, Kyle (Anderson), De’ Anthony (Melton). I feel like our team in terms of shooting and making floaters has been at a very high level this year.”
Memphis currently sits comfortably in third place in the Western Conference and has a 6-game lead over the Dallas Mavericks for the divisional championship.
Clippers’ guard Reggie Jackson (12 points, 3 assists) offered this opposing player assessment:
“They move at a high pace, they get up and down, and they really use their legs,” Jackson said.
“It’s not even just their pace but how well they’re spaced within their pace. You can tell they work on it and they’re great at using all their weapons and their ability to make the right reads. They have a lot of talent but their continuity is what makes them a tough team right now.”
Memphis next hits the road for three games before returning home to face the Portland Trailblazers on February 16.
GALLERY: Photos by Warren Roseborough/The New Tri-State Defender