It’s one thing – “a humbling honor” as Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins put it – to have the ESPN network plop down on Memphis with its All-Access national showcase. It’s next level to then win the game, especially when the vanquished opponent is the Brooklyn Nets with superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Playing without All-Star Ja Morant, the key draw for ESPN’s focus on Memphis, the Grizzlies, who now own 15 wins against two losses without Morant, beat back the Nets 132-120 at FedExForum on Wednesday night.
“Obviously, a lot of people see us on TV, but now they get to see a little bit behind closed doors what we’re about. You know, the spirit, the energy, the togetherness that we have,” said Jenkins. “And then to come out there and display that same thing and play with that energy and that discipline at the same time, was great.”
Those two days with ESPN now history, Jenkins and the Grizzlies were looking to quickly turn the corner, with a back-to-back against the Indiana Pacers at FedExForum on Thursday (March 24) night. Jenkins said as much. So did starting forward Jaren Jackson Jr. and reserve forward Brandon Clarke in post-game interviews.
Fans of the Grizzlies had the luxury of savoring the high-profile win over Brooklyn and keeping it top of mind. And while the team had to move on quickly, game stars such as leading scorer De’Anthony Melton (23 points) had a clear take on what the Grizzlies showed the national audience in handling their business without Morant, who was out resting a sore knee.
“That we are nothing to play with,” said reserve guard Melton. “One man goes down, two men go down; We are so deep … we have a lot of depth in our team. We have a lot of guys that work on their game and want to win from the top to the bottom no matter what.
“So, we understand what we need to do to go out there and get the victory. We’re going to do that no matter what. Each guy understands that and is willing to put their body on the line for it.”
The Grizzlies sport the second-best record (50-23) in the NBA. They could clinch a playoff spot on Thursday with a win over Indiana and a Phoenix Suns victory against the Denver Nuggets. The challenge includes Morant sitting out a third consecutive game, along with the projected absence of Clarke (sore. hip), Dillon Brooks (injury management) and Killian Tillie (sore knee).
Memphis used a complete team effort to secure the Brooklyn win. Clarke (14 points, 10 rebounds) scored 10 points and 7 rebounds in the fourth quarter. Shooting guard Desmond Bane scored 9 of his 23 game points in the fourth quarter.
Dillion Brooks, removed from the minute’s restriction imposed after his return from an extended injury, logged 34 minutes and scored 21 points. Tyus Jones got the start in the place of Morant, finishing with 16 points and 10 assists. Jackson and reserve Kyle Anderson were the other Grizzlies in double-digit scoring, with 13 and 10 points respectively.
Durant (35 points) and Irving (43 points) combined for 78 of the points scored by Brooklyn (38-35).
For Nets’ coach Steve Kerr, there is no mystery about why the Grizzlies have been successful without Morant.
“Talent. They have a talented, balanced roster,” said Kerr. “Our roster is built on three stars. When they’re out it makes it very difficult and puts a big strain on guys to play roles that they haven’t played before.”
Irving observed that the Grizzlies, “Just play free, play free and they move to basketball. Desmond Bane does a great job staying aggressive picking spots. They really get to a 3-point line and if the three is not working, then second-chance points is really a staple in their offense. I don’t know how many it was, 30 points on second-chance points tonight and, you know, (we) gave up 27 points on … fast breaks. So, the things that we could have controlled tonight, we didn’t.”
Memphis has “solid players all the way down the line,” said Durant.
“De’Anthony Melton came in and changed the game. I think that’s what won them the game. I think our starting five pretty much matched them. … then you know you got guys off the bench that came in and played well. So, they got a deep team. They got a lot of athletic guys and they run fast, and he played with a lot of confidence.
I think one through 10 in their rotation is just solid players. You know Ja is the superstar on this team, but they got guys that can start with pretty much a lot of teams in the league. Their front office did a great job putting this team together.”
- Desmond Bane passed former Memphis star Mike Miller’s 2006-07 franchise mark of 202 three-pointers made in a season.
- The game yielded numerous highlights, none that got more traction than Melton’s thunderous, ESPN Top 10 first-half dunk on a breakaway.
- Said Melton: “Once Z (Ziaire Williams) knocked the ball out, kicked it up to BC (Brandon Clarke), I knew he (Nets forward James Johnson) was trailing, he was already behind. So, when I called for it, I knew it was either one or two dribbles and I have to go up. When I jumped, I knew he (Johnson) thought I was about to cock it back. I was like, ‘nah, let me just get this to the rim.’ I know him. He’s an aggressive player. He’s going to try to jump for it too. I just wanted to make sure I flushed it with authority. I didn’t even see it go in honestly. I got hit in my face, so I didn’t even see it.”
- Regarding guarding Durant and Irving, Brooks said, “I need to get my conditioning up a little bit. I feel like I did well; tried to match their physicality; tried to stay in front. It’s just contest shots and I feel like I did that. Those guys are special players and it’s hard to disrupt them. But, overall, I feel like as a team we did well. We forced them to try and finish over our bigs. And with Jaren (Jackson Jr.), Steve O (Adams) and BC (Brandon Clarke) in there blocking shots, I feel like it’s a team effort and we did well.”