What a way to leave town for 11 days! An 11th straight win – matching a Grizzlies franchise-best – and securing the victory on a defensive stop on the last play of the game.
With the 115-114 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the bag, Memphis (31-13) now hits the road for its longest road trip of the season. First stop, Los Angeles to take on LeBron James and the Lakers for the first time this season on Friday.
Summing up the game from the Cavaliers’ point of view, Cleveland head coach J.B. Bickerstaff, former coach of the Grizzlies, said, “There were some small things that we let get away from us – 19 turnovers, offensive rebounds, things like that … against a team like this, you just have to be careful of. But we put ourselves in a great position down the stretch. They just made one more play than we did.”
That play came courtesy of Dillon Brooks, who blocked Cleveland’s last shot, a long-range jumper by the troublesome Darius Garland (24 points, 14 assists, 5 rebounds). As the ball floated down to the FedExForum floor, the clock ran out and Brooks let loose with, well, a roar.
“It is a good feeling,” Brooks (8 points, 3 rebounds) said of the game-saver. “My teammates and coaches trust me to be the prime defender. The clock was running down and I knew I had to find a way to get the stop.”
Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins had no trouble identifying the bottom line. “We found a way,” he said.
“I told the guys afterward that that’s a great team win. That’s a great team that we just played and competed against for 48 minutes. They go off to a double-digit lead in the first quarter … We go up 19 (points). We kind of lose that lead going into halftime. They went on some kind of 12-point-gap run to finish the half. They take the lead, and then (we) just (had) the poise and composure down the stretch when it was kind of chaotic”
The Grizzlies started very sluggishly, falling behind 13-3 and looking as though they were trying to run through mud. Desmond Bane, who had 28 points in the previous game, played only two minutes in the first quarter because of two fouls he picked up early.
Memphis picked up the pace and edged ahead by a point (31-30) heading into the second quarter. In a span of just over four minutes, the Grizzlies went on a 20-0 run and flexed up to a 19-point lead (58-39). The second-best defensive team in the NBA, the Cavs clamped down and reeled the Grizzlies to within seven (68-61) at halftime.
That man – Garland – tied the game with a layup with 1:09 left in the third quarter but missed the and one. Lamar Stevens gave Cleveland its first lead (91-89) of the half and that is how the third quarter ended. Memphis scored only 21 points in the quarter as they plummeted from seven up to two down
As the playoffs-feeling game wound through the fourth quarter, a put-back slam by the Cavaliers’ Caris LeVert (23 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds) opened a 9-0 run that forced a Grizzlies timeout. Sparked by Bane (25 points, including 5 of 8 from deep), the Grizzlies regained the lead and they led 109-107 with 3:41 left.
During the last three minutes, each team had an opportunity to extend a three-point lead but could not. Ultimately, Steven Adams (13 points, 9 rebounds) scored what became the winning basket for the Grizzlies when he grabbed the rebound of a Morant layup attempt.
The win was secured by the defense as the Grizzlies forced the Cavaliers into an inbound violation ahead of Brooks’ crowd-pleasing, game-winning block of Garland’s victory-seeking shot.
The pacesetting Morant finished with 24 points and 8 assists. Jaren Jackson Jr. had 15 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocked shots.
Santi Aldama (16 points, 7 rebounds) was a force off the bench.
“I think it’s part of working every day,” Aldama said of his stellar outing. “This is what I work for, this is what we work for. I was just feeling comfortable. I’m feeling more comfortable every day … making shots, driving the ball, decision-making. … I think that work is starting to show.”
The 11-game winning streak matched the one of last season.
“We have to focus on the present,” said Morant. “The streak this year and last year is definitely big time. We have to continue to go and win the next one.”
Bane expressed a similar thought pattern.
“We just take it game by game,” he said. “Last year, obviously, was our first time doing it, so there was a lot of excitement, but it’s a new season. We’re trying to set new heights and do new things.”
Friday’s game against the Lakers is set for 9 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN.