With nine games to play in the regular season and the NBA Playoffs looming, it’s show time for the Memphis Grizzlies – and their fans. Time to show an awareness of both those elements and flash signs of readiness to take things to the next level.
Witness Friday’s night 151-114 drubbing of the Houston Rockets (18-56), the team with the league’s second-worst record – the same team that has been unsettlingly pesky for the Grizzlies (46-27). The win punched Memphis’ ticket to the playoffs. The 151 points came within a point of the most points scored in franchise history last year against Oklahoma City.
Dillion Brooks, who returned to the starting line-up after serving a one-game suspension tied to his technical fouls total, felt the FedExForum’s crowd surging energy.
“We are building up to it (playoff form),” said Brooks, who scored 11 points. “Playing against the Rockets to a sellout crowd. Once we get there (the playoffs), it is going to be rocking … regardless of the score or the opponent. I can’t wait to hear ‘Whoop That Trick.’
“I love the people that cheer us on every single night. They find ways to come to the game. We play for them. We try to put on a show, so they can come and get some more.”
Brooks engineered a show-time moment on a breakaway, forgoing a layup to set up Jaren Jackson Jr. for a monster slam dunk.
“I was being unselfish. I saw ‘Trip’s’ (Jackson’s) eyes light up. I was trying to get a nice little highlight. I went off the glass and with his long arms, I knew he could go and get it.”
The Grizzlies actually got off to a slow start, falling behind by five in the opening minutes. They quickly warmed with an 11-2 run to get control of the game, ending the first quarter with a 42-30 lead.
Ja Morant, who came off the bench for the second time following his return from an eight-game suspension, scored 12 of his 16 first-half points in the second quarter. Desmond Bane scored 11 of his 23 first-half points in the quarter. Luke Kennard connected on two three-pointers in the final seconds as Memphis took a commanding 31-point lead into halftime.
Kennard turned in an eye-popping franchise performance, breaking the team record for most three-pointers with ten. He is the first player in NBA history to score at least 30 points and not score any other way. (Malik Beasley) once had 33 points all from three-point range.
Kennard surpassed the 9 three-pointers Jackson hit in his career-high, 43-point game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
“For teams that I’ve coached and been a part of, that’s probably the best. What an unbelievable job,” said Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins. “Obviously, he’s coming out talking about how we’ve been on him, his teammates have been on him about being aggressive. You see his confidence building one game at a time. Kudos to him; kudos to his teammates.”
Jenkins also noted the versatility being shown by Kennard, who came to the Grizzlies during an in-season trade.
“He’s out there knocking down shots, then he also has three assists. He’s competing on defense. This is why we made the trade for him.”
Kennard talked about being in the scoring zone.
“When you start hitting a couple in a row, usually about three for me, I’m like, ‘Okay, maybe I’m starting to feel it a little bit.’ I could see Ja ([Morant), Tyus (Jones) trying to run some more plays for me, so that kind of got me going on a little bit.
“It feels good, it feels pretty good. It’s kind of a thing where, once it leaves your hands, you really think it’s going in. It was pretty fun. Credit to my teammates and coaches for putting me in positions like that to get shots, and yeah, it was fun.”
The Memphis fanbase reacted in a big way to Kennard’s showing. And, he appreciated it.
“It’s been great. I mean, ever since I’ve been here, the team, the fans, the community, they’ve welcomed me with open arms, and I felt the love right away. Tonight, even more. Chanting my name and stuff, it definitely feels good,” said Kennard,
“I’m getting a lot more comfortable with everybody, the city, just everything. It’s a process, getting traded in the middle of the season and stuff like that. You got to learn. Everything’s new. My teammates, my coaches and everybody made it really easy to transition. It’s been great so far, and definitely felt the love tonight.”
Morant, who finished with 18 points and 8 assists, said, “Luke is doing what he do. We all know what he brings to the table for us. We all know he is one of the best shooters in the league.”
Counting Kennard’s record-setting contribution, the Grizzlies also set a franchise record for three-pointers with 25. They came in the rhythm of the night.
“We just learned from the last game (a 130-125 squeaker against the Rockets) on Wednesday night,” said Morant. “We allowed them to stay in the game. We locked in (Friday night) and did the little things. We got a lot of good looks and we knocked them down.”
The Grizzlies play the Hawks on Sunday in Atlanta. Tipoff is set for 5 p.m. CDT.