When you are a good team down by 20 points – at home – with barely a minute left in the first quarter, the road back is marked by a coach’s admonition: “Just keep it even-keeled.”
At least that was the way it was for Memphis Grizzles against the Los Angeles Clippers at FedExForum on Friday night. Trailing 34-14 with 1:14 left in the opening quarter, the Grizzlies rallied to win 108-94.
Memphis (49-28) will ride the satisfaction of the comeback onto the court at the United Center in Chicago Sunday afternoon, where they will play the Chicago Bulls (37-40).
“I think we got a little bit of a spark there at the end of the first,” said Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins. “Made a couple of subs, and I just kept telling the guys, ‘We’re starting to feel the pace and physicality and the urgency that we need throughout this game.’
“We obviously knew we needed that coming in but give the Clippers credit. They came in with a different mentality; they were physical. They’re putting tons of force on the offensive side,” said Jenkins.
“We were turning the ball over a little carelessly. That allowed them to kind of get a spark going, but then we kind of just settled down towards the end of the first. I just reminded them to just keep staying the course. It’s a long game.”
The Clippers took a 13-point lead into the second quarter. That’s when they ran into the heat applied by Luke Kennard and the bench of the Grizzlies. Kennard, who connected on four three-pointers, finished the game with 17 points.
The Grizzlies held the Clippers to only 17 points in the second quarter. Memphis scored 34 points in the quarter and took a (55-51) lead into the locker room.
On the L.A. scoring lull, head coach Tyrone Lue said, “I thought a few times we over-penetrated and didn’t make the right pass. I thought turnovers really hurt us, and then we didn’t make some shots as well. Those three things together are a bad combination.”
After the break, Memphis continued to dominate on the defensive end. The Clippers scored 21 points in the third quarter. Memphis led after the end of the third quarter (86-72).
The Clippers put a heavy emphasis on trying to limit Ja Morant, who finished with 10 points in 25 minutes. Morant sat out most of the third quarter when the Grizzlies were up comfortably. The Clippers cut into the Memphis lead and some of the starters were reinserted to finish the game and secure the win.
Morant called the second-quarter turnaround “definitely big time. It’s something that we needed coming off a loss (on Wednesday to the Clippers); credit to our bench.”
Asked what he wants the team to accomplish for the rest of the regular season, other than staying healthy and getting wins, Morant said, “I want us to go back to being locked to the little things. We don’t want to come back from being down 20 every night. When we are up double digits, we want to maintain the lead.”
Both teams welcomed players who did not play in the game on Wednesday, with the Clippers noticeably having the services of Kawhi Leonard, who scored 12 points (three rebounds) in the first half and did not play after halftime.
Memphis was considerably closer to full strength with starters Jaren Jackson Jr. (9 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks) and Desmond Bane (22 points, 9 assists) and key reserve Tyus Jones (7 points, 6 assists).
Jackson set a franchise record for block shots, 180. He broke the record that he set last season. Saddled with early fouls, he only played 25 minutes. After the game, he received a signed ball and jersey from his teammates.
“I’m trying to get to the playoffs; not trying to cherish the regular season at all,” said Jackson. “Regular season is great, it’s building blocks for the playoffs. Can’t look ahead, can’t look past it. It’s out the door. (The playoffs) are a whole other season, a whole other year.”