Ahead by 14 points at halftime, the Memphis Grizzlies beat back second-half pushes by the Utah Jazz and recorded a 123-118 win at FedExForum on Sunday night.
The sixth win in a row for Memphis featured shooting guard Desmond Bane taking another step toward regaining his shooting prowess after a prolonged injury absence. He connected on four of seven shots from three-point range during a game-high 24 points, with nine assists and six rebounds.
“I’m getting there, you know, slowly but surely,” said Bane. “I’m still a little bit of a ways away from my cardio, where it was when I got out. But I mean, the feel, the rhythm, I think it’s starting to come. But you know, just keep battling. Keep working every day, and it’ll be sooner rather than later.”
Memphis (26-13) took down the Jazz after two defeats this season. They got the job done without two starters, stellar-rebounding center Steven Adams (non-COVID illness), and the team’s key cog, All-Star point guard Ja Morant (thigh soreness).
Bane voiced what he sees driving the Grizzlies’ winning ways.
“I think defense,” he said. “I think we’re guarding at a high level. Sharing the ball play and playing aggressively … playing carefree; playing Grizzlies’ basketball. I think it’s starting to click, and, obviously, Jaren (Jackson Jr.) and Dillon (Brooks) leading the charge on defense has been huge for us. So, it’s a fun time to be in a Grizzlies uniform.”
Some aspect of Grizzlies’ basketball got under the skin of Utah’s Jordan Clarkson. With 5.5 seconds left in the third quarter, the game got very testy. Clarkson was called for a flagrant 2 foul against Bane, which earned him an automatic ejection. After committing the foul, Clarkson assumed a posture that signaled he wanted to escalate the confrontation. He was forced to leave the floor with his 17 points.
Memphis has fared well with starters out this season. In for Morant, Tyus Jones (21 points, six assists, two rebounds) got the Grizzlies off to a fast start. They led by seven points with 3:27 left in the first quarter before the Jazz grabbed a one-point lead (24-23) as they closed with a late run.
The Grizzlies dominated the second quarter. Five players – David Roddy, Jackson, Jones, Bane and Santi Aldama – scored 7 points as Memphis outscored the Jazz 43-28 to lead at halftime (66-52). Utah shot 51 percent in the first half and still was down.
With the Grizzlies up by as many as 13 points in the third quarter, the Jazz pushed forward and was within a point (85-84) with 2:02 left. Memphis spurted and led 98-90 going into the fourth quarter.
The Jazz (20-23) were led by Lauri Markkanen with 21 points and eight rebounds. Kelly Olynky had 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Former Grizzlies Mike Conley had seven points and 8 assists and his former Memphis teammate, Rudy Gray, had six points. Malik Beasley had 15 points off the bench.
Memphis welcomed Jackson’s 19 points (nine rebounds, five blocks) and Brooks’ 15 points and game-long defensive pressure. Aldama had 12 points and 5 rebounds off the bench.
Xavier Tillman, who started in place of Adams, had nine points and nine rebounds. He associated his readiness to play with spent on the court with the Hustle, the Grizzlies’ G-League affiliate.
“It is easier to stay ready to play when you are actually playing,” said Tillman who volunteered to play with the Hustle. “I wasn’t doing anything and just working out I wouldn’t be ready to play. Being able to down there and do the same things I am doing here, t makes it a lot easier when I am called up and ready to go.”
Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins said Tillman’s level of play was “ just who he is. It’s his makeup, his personality. He’s a guy that, since day one, has always stayed ready, no matter what his role is going to be. It’s being out of the rotation and getting the extra play groups, playing with the Hustle more. This year, it’s coming off the bench, it’s being a starter. He just plays winning basketball. It’s what Xavier (Tillman] does.”
Jones put a familiar take on the team posture when one of the Grizzlies is out:
“I mean it’s kind of the same thing it has been. Next man up, being ready when your name is called, being ready for the opportunity. No excuses, just playing ball and guys being ready to play. Try to keep this thing rolling.”
The Grizzlies have back-to-back games at FedExForum against the San Antonio Spurs beginning with a Monday night matchup with at 7 p.m. They meet again Wednesday, also at 7 p.m.