Winless on the season at FedExForum going into Friday night’s game against Brooklyn, the Memphis Grizzlies started strong, withstood a 40-point outburst and scrapped their way to victory (115-110) over the Nets.
After a disappointing outing Thursday against the Cleveland Cavaliers that saddled Memphis (3-6) with an 0-5 mark at home, the Grizzlies showed early resolve and, as the game evolved, engineered a defensive effort that helped generate enough offense to win.
“Our defense is getting a lot better,” Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins said. “We are trending in the right direction. It puts us in a position to win games. It really fueled our offense. This is stuff we have to continue to build off of.”
Prior to Friday night’s victory, one of Memphis’ two wins had been against Brooklyn. The victory gave the Grizzlies their second straight season sweep of the Nets (5-5), who played without superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Memphis had six players score in double digits. Dillion Brooks led the way with 24 points followed by Brandon Clarke with 21. Also in double figures were De’Anthony Melton (14) and Tyrus Jones (11), with Desmond Bane and Grayson Allen each contributing 10 points.
A glaring element in Memphis’ last few outings have been slow starts, with the bench called upon to get the team back into games. The starters did a better job against the Nets, taking their first lead of the game (14-13) at the 7:33 mark. They scored the Grizzlies first 28 points, powering the way to a 40-28 lead at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, the bench helped maintain the lead and increased the defensive pressure on the Nets. Memphis pushed its lead to 22 points and settled in at the half with a 62-47 advantage.
The Nets had Caris LeVert and he was problem for the Grizzlies. Brooklyn made a 27-14 run to make it 76-74 with 4:24 left in the third quarter. LeVert scored 19 points in the frame, en route to a 43-point night.
“What heck of a performance by LeVert,” said Jenkins. “That third quarter they got going. They had a huge spark and momentum. Our guys just rallied.”
As the Nets were making their third-quarter spurt, the Grizzlies were without the services of starting center Jonas Valančiūnas, who was held out of the second half because of health and safety protocols. Valančiūnas, who did not test positive for COVID-19, had eight points and four rebounds in 14 minutes played.
Although they lost the lead to the Nets in the third quarter, the Grizzlies took it back to claim a 92-86 cushion going into the final frame. In the fourth quarter, the Grizzlies scrapped: Melton got a block, a steal and several deflections to stop Brooklyn possessions. The Grizzlies had 14 steals and scored 15 points off those turnovers.
Melton, who has the nickname “Mr. Do Something,” has had made his presence felt since NBA Rookie of the Year Ja Morant has been sidelined with an injury.
“We have got to keep watching film,” Melton said, reflecting on what it takes to get better. “LeVert had an explosion in the third quarter. We have to figure that out so it don’t happen again.”
Brooks, who scored well in both games against the Nets, zeroed in on the Grizzlies’ fourth-quarter offense in Friday’s game.
“We had a lot more confidence in our defense to transition into our offense,” said Brooks. “Guys were confident and stepping into every shot. Guys were making it. We need that every single game.”
- Memphis takes on the Cavaliers in Cleveland on Monday (January 11). The game will tip off at 6 p.m. CST central and can be seen on Fox Sports Southeast.