The “Vancouver” Grizzles had their first Hardwood Classics game this season. It just so happened to be against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Grizzlies wore the teal uniforms shouting out the franchise’s home city before the team relocated to Memphis. And while it was a nailbiter, the Lakers defeated the Grizzlies 109-108 in front of a sellout crowd of 17,794.
The Lakers were in town on second game of a back to back. The Lakers defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 130-127 in Oklahoma and arrived in town around midnight.
Like most visiting NBA teams, the Lakers stayed at the Westin, right across from FedExForum. But with a Tigers-Grizzlies doubleheader, the arena hosted an all-day party on the plaza — with live music and DJ’s.
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel requested earplugs from the front desk to block out the sound. And many Grizzlies fans groaned when they saw this tweet from Lebron James:
Literally trying to sleep/rest up for the game this evening and there’s a full out concert going on outside our hotel since around 10am. 🤦🏾♂️! Ok I see what y’all trying to do. Cool cool 👍🏾😤
— LeBron James (@KingJames) November 23, 2019
Fatigued or not, the Lakers fell behind in the first half to the Grizzlies by as much as 15 points. The Grizzlies controlled much of the first half – when the Lakers made a run, Memphis answered, and went into the half with a 63-55 lead.
Memphis had three players in double-digit scoring by halftime. Jae Crowder led the way with 14 points; Ja Morant had 13 points and Jaren Jackson Jr. had 11 points. Morant also had six assists. Jackson played well and did not commit any unnecessary fouls.
Not surprisingly, the Lakers were led by their one-two punch James and Anthony Davis. Davis went off on the Grizzlies in their first meeting this season at Staples Center, scoring 40 points and 20 rebounds in the 120-91 win. Saturday night, the Grizzlies did not allow Davis to go off like he did in Los Angeles. Davis finished with 22 points, four rebounds and five blocks.
“We didn’t foul him,” Jackson said of the team’s plan for Davis. “(Last time), he went to the line a lot. We wanted to make sure we showed our hands and not send him to the line as much. You have to give up some things to a really great player and just make him uncomfortable.”
The Grizzlies third-quarter problems surfaced again. The Lakers quickly came out and took an early second-half lead, but the teams would swap leads with the Lakers taking an 85-84 lead into the fourth quarter.
That’s when Ja Morant began to flex. On a turnover midway through the fourth, Morant got a steal and faked a pass before laying it in to give Memphis a four-point lead 98-94. That is when the duo of James and Davis took over. The Lakers went on a 15-9 run to end the game.
The Grizzlies just did not make a basket in the stretch run to put away the Grizzlies. Morant and Jackson played well together against the best team in the NBA, but just did not have enough to secure the win.
“I know there are no moral victories in basketball, but how our team competed against the best team in basketball,” said Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins. “I am beyond proud considering how we played the last two games. I liked the way we played.
“If we play like that every night we got ourselves a chance.”
Morant finished with 26 points and six assists.
“We are never satisfied with losing,” Morant said. “I am proud of how we played tonight. We played together and competed to the end. We just came up short.”
And a lack of sleep didn’t stop James from leading all scorers with 30 points, six rebounds and four assists.
The Grizzlies have grown as a team since the beginning of the year. Early in the season, the team would hang tough before giving up blowouts in the final period.
“Overall I felt like our guys were dialed in,” Jenkins said. “The Lakers started to hit some big shots at the end, but we weathered it. That is the biggest thing that we have grown. If you commit yourselves at the beginning of the game you are going to put yourself in that situation to win a ball game.
“Our guys are growing,” he said. “They have learned early and are now taking those opportunities to get better.”
The Grizzlies will play the Indiana Pacers tonight in Indianapolis. Tipoff is at 6 p.m. CT.