The Memphis Grizzlies, now winners of five straight and the bearers of a 17-9 record, had a sub-standard, eight-point, homecourt lead over the team with the worst record in the NBA at halftime on Friday night.
Grinding away after the break, the Grizzlies ballooned their lead to 20 points in the fourth quarter and took care of the Detroit Pistons (114-103) at FedExForum, where their record is 11-2 this season.
“I think we just played with better energy (in the third quarter),” said Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins. “I thought we were just kind of going through the motions in the first half. Obviously, we had a lead, but it wasn’t to our standards.”
Renewed energy resulted after “We challenged each other at halftime,” Jenkins said.
“Ja (Morant) had a steal the very first possession. I thought other guys’ defensive activity … raised. And then, we just had great ball movement, 30 assists. I think four of our last five games, we’re getting 30-plus assists, which is awesome.”
Detroit coach Dwane Casey lamented slow starts by the Pistons (7-21) in the first and third quarters.
“We gave them a 37-point third quarter, not coming out with the right disposition, knowing that they’re an excellent third-quarter team,” he said. We talked about it at halftime, came out with eight turnovers in the third quarter, and that’s the ballgame.”
Matter-of-factly saying Detroit’s must “handle the ball better against pressure, against whoever’s up against us,” Casey said the Pistons collectively did a good job on Morant, “who’s a great player.”
The Grizzlies had four starters and two bench players score double-digit points. Jaren Jackson Jr. led the pack with 20 points and, characteristically, had 4 blocked shots. That’s 24 total blocked shots since returning from his injury. Once he plays the minimum number of games, he will be among the league leaders.
Although not a big scoring night for Morant, he notched another double-double (15 points, 12 assists) in an all-round, team-pacing game in which also had six rebounds, three steals and a block in 33 minutes.
“I’d rather him not score at all, if that’s an option,” said Casey, detailing that the Pistons expected Morant “was going to be a problem coming out in the second half. We talked to the team about his ability to be explosive, and he wasn’t going to settle for the number of points he had in the first half.
“So, we blitzed him some in the second half, but once he got that rhythm, whether you blitz him or send extra bodies towards him, he’s hard to stop.”
Brandon Clarke continued his string of workman-like outings with 17 points off the bench. Dillon Brooks, who consistently has played within the confines of the offense since the injury to Desmond Bane, had 16 points, 4 assists and a rebound.
Word is that Bane is progressing in his rehabilitation from a right big toe sprain and sesamoid injury and has been cleared to begin a gradual re-loading protocol. If the toe responds positively, a return to play is projected in three to four weeks.
The Pistons were led by Bojan Bogdanovic with 19 points. Marvin Bagley III had 14 points off the bench. Detroit had seven players score in double figures, including their two first-round draft picks Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren (10 points each).
Duren, who starred in his one year as the man in the middle for the Memphis Tigers, also had 12 rebounds to lead the Pistons in his first NBA start. He was the 13th overall pick in the NBA Draft.
Next up for the Grizzlies on Monday (Dec. 12) will be a fourth consecutive home game. The tipoff against the Atlanta Hawks is set for 7 p.m.
With their winning streak at five, Clarke recalled the Grizzlies finding their rhythm and soaring last year “kind of around this time.… We start to win, even if we have guys out, guys are sick, hurt, or whatever.
“This is the part of the season when we really get our things going.”