No one wanted to say it but everyone was thinking it: Yes!, the Grizzlies had won their last five games, but could they really beat James Harden and the Houston Rockets?
Well, the Memphis Grizzlies answered with a resounding 121-110 nationally televised win in front of a rocking FedExForum.
“What a game,” Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins was ecstatic about the outcome. “Credit to both teams, that was high-level basketball.”
Grizzlies indeed had to elevate their game to get the win. They locked in on Harden, who went off for 41 hard-earned points. The Grizzlies made him work for everything.
Harden pushed the pace of the game early on having scored 17 points just after the first quarter alone and was 3 for 3 at the free-throw line. Houston led 37-32 after the first quarter.
Coach Jenkins and his team recognized that Harden would be a threat for the night but remained calm having confidence in his guys.
“Obviously, in the first quarter, Harden got going, hitting some threes,” Jenkins said. “Our guys were executing the game plan and over the course of the game, getting a little bit more aggressive.”
Memphis took control in the second quarter. Dillion Brooks scored back-to-back three’s and Jaren Jackson Jr. unloaded 13 points in the quarter to tie the game at 39 apiece.
“Playing hard is all we know,” Jackson said after the game. “At the end of the game, in terms of pace, we can sustain it, it’s just a matter of habit if you’re doing it on both ends you’re in a rhythm of playing hard and just going fast.”
Indeed, the Grizzlies found their rhythm as Ja Morant dished two flashy assists. The first one was to Jackson, whose dunk sent the crowd roaring. Morant beat his chest as he turned to the crowd and barked: “This is our house!”
Brandon Clarke was on the receiving end of another Morant assist who smoothly put it away and for the first time for the night, the Grizzlies were in front of Houston.
Memphis led 67-61 at the half.
Morant plays and reactions to the game made it enjoyable for the fans at the arena and those watching at home.
“A lot of fun, it’s always fun to win,” Morant said.
The Grizzlies impressively defeated the fifth-ranked team in the Western Conference when a number of more eyes were looking on.
NBA TV covered the game and gave the Grizzlies the exposure they need to be seen as a recognizable force.
“Its a boost for us, being able to play on TV,” Morant said. “We got it done on TV. It was special. Got the win. We’ll take it.”
Houston’s Clint Capela stepped up on both the offensive and defensive end, ending the night with 16 points and 16 rebounds.
Houston briefly took an 85-83 lead, but never took the momentum from Memphis, who raced out and took the lead for good.
Morant scored 26 points to go with eight assists and five rebounds. Dillion Brooks added 24 points, including key three-pointers down the stretch to seal the game.
“Determination and teamwork. We stayed together and played team defense,” said DeAnthony Melton, who added 12 points and six boards. “Morant had a spectacular game. We were just feeding off that kind of energy.”
Houston Rockets Eric Gordon acknowledged after the game that Memphis had momentum that the Rockets couldn’t overcome.
“You give a young team energy like that and there were guys we didn’t expect to hit shots and they hit the shots,” said Gordon, who finished with 24 points and four rebounds. “They played with a little more energy than us in the fourth quarter.”
Grizzlies continue their homestand Friday with the Cleveland Cavaliers coming to town. Tipoff is 7 p.m.