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Grizzlies’ season-long goal to be the ‘best version’ of themselves yields playoff-clinching success

Terry Davis

With eight games to go in the 82-game, regular-season schedule, the Grizzlies approached Saturday night’s tilt with the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks with a singular – and team shared goal: “to just find our best version.”

“Get better every single day. Simple as that,” said head coach Taylor Jenkins after the Grizzlies (51-23) wiped out the Indiana Pacers 133-103 at FedExForum Forum on Thursday night.

“I’m repetitive because I don’t want them to be thinking anything other than, ‘Hey, there’s going to be this marker … that people are going to talk about. We are really trying to find our best selves defensively, offensively, spirit-wise; all that just gets better every single day.”

Jaren Jackson Jr. scores two of his 20 points on this drive to the basket. (Photo: Warren Roseborough/The New Tri-State Defender)

With the win the Grizzlies clinched a playoff spot, joining the Western Conference Phoenix Suns as the only team in the league to have done so.

The Grizzlies’ season-long quest to be the best version of themselves has wound itself around, through and over myriad challenges, including injuries to the team’s on-the-floor general and league All-Star Ja Morant, who now has missed three straight games nursing a sore knee.

Jenkins announced before tipoff with the Pacers that Morant’s absence will continue for an extended period, with an evaluation in two weeks. There are three weeks left in the regular season.

Now in his third season as Memphis’ head coach, Jenkins challenges each player to play at his best and live with the results. That has worked overall and notably in Morant’s absence, with the Grizzlies taking a 16-2 winning mark without the star guard into the matchup against Milwaukee.

Desmond Bane’s 30 points paced the Grizzlies past Indiana. (Photo: Warren Roseborough/The New Tri-State Defender)

Against the Pacers, who fielded a depleted team, the Grizzlies also took the floor without two key rotation players, Dillion Brooks and Brandon Clarke. Grizzles Guard Desmond Bane met the challenge of the moment with 30 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and a team-leading aggressiveness.

“You know, with those two guys (Brooks and Clarke) out, continue to try to make plays for others and for myself. Just being that aggressive mindset from the tip.”

As for the team’s mindset, Bane, who said he is growing into playing more point guard in Morant’s absence, put it this way: “Day by day. I mean, that’s been our approach all season long, just continuing to get better. Throughout the season, obviously, I get to reflect and look at what we’ve accomplished, but we’ve got bigger goals for sure. So just keep getting better one step at a time.”

Memphis’ John Konchar added this dunk to the onslaught against the Pacers. (Photo: Warren Roseborough/The New Tri-State Defender)

In the domination of the Pacers, reserve John Konchar tied a career-high with 18 points. Forward Jaren Jackson Jr. had 20 points and added two more blocks to his impressive season total. Reserve guard De’Anthony Melton had another solid game with 19 points.

Tyus Jones, starting at point guard, finished with 11 points. Center Steven Jackson had 17 rebounds, including 9 on offense, as Memphis ruled the boards 55-31. Memphis also had 34 assists.

Acknowledging that the Grizzlies had checked off the clinching-a-playoff-spot box, Jackson said, “It’s cool I guess, but we’ve just got to move on because playoffs are going to come soon. Before we know it, we’re going to be in it.

“Then the goals are going to change and we’re going to want to win a series and win the next one. One game at a time, but you know the goal is a championship.”

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