The Memphis Grizzlies entered the All-Star break on a great note with a 111-104 win over the Portland Trailblazers, their most immediate threat to make the postseason. Far exceeding expectations, the young cubs are a season-best two games over .500 (28-26), providing a treat for 16,889 fans at FedExForum.
“It was a big win for us,” said Ja Morant. “Especially against a team that we are fighting for the eighth spot with.”
In the first period, the teams went back and forth like a wrestling contest – each feeling the other team out. Morant made a couple of plays early in the quarter that brought gasps from the crowd. Morant may have had some extra motivation going into the game facing two of the premier guards in the game in CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard. If that’s the case, Morant would never let on.
“I don’t look forward to matchups. To me, it is the Grizzlies and the Trailblazers. It is never me vs. someone else,” Morant said. “(Lillard and McCollum are) two tough guards that have paved the way for me, being from mid-major schools. They have made a name for themselves and that is what I am trying to do.”
Three point play: MEM 111 POR 104
Posted by The New Tri-State Defender on Wednesday, February 12, 2020
There were more than a few fans of the Trailblazers in attendance supporting the team. Collectively, the three guards did not disappoint. Lillard (11 points) and McCollum (6 points) led the way in the first period, but the Grizzlies took a four-point lead into the second period (31-27).
Memphis was in complete control of the game in the second quarter leading by as many as 13 points, but Portland can sore in bunches. That is exactly what they did in the final two minutes of the first half, slashing the Grizzlies lead to two.
Portland had four players score in double digits in the first half. Lillard had 18 points and had seven assists. McCollum had 13 points.
Memphis took a (67-63) lead into the half. Memphis shot 57 percent from the field and from three-point territory and still just had the slim lead going into the half. Morant had 10 points and seven assists in the first half.
Memphis bench scored 34 first-half points led by Brandon Clarke had 13 points of the bench. New arrival Gorgui Dieng made his debut. He played seven minutes and scored 7 points in the first half. The team had great chemistry balance.
Memphis played keep away in the second half. They did not allow the Trailblazers to get any type of run going, and rebuilt a 13-point lead in the fourth period. Memphis played keep away basketball the final two minutes.
“We all talk when a team goes on a run. We know exactly what we have to do. We just try to string together some stops,” said Morant.
Portland cut the deficit down to seven points with 19.5 on Hassan Whiteside dunk. Whiteside hit Valanciunas with the ball as it was leaving the net was the only drama the Grizzlies had in the second half. That was Whiteside’s second technical of the game and he was ejected.
Five Grizzlies had double digits scoring. Clarke led the way, tying a career-high of 27 points. Morant had 20 points, Valanciunas and De’Anthony Melton each had 12 points and Dillon Brooks had 11 points. Josh Jackson made most of his impact on hustle plays.
“Josh was huge for us. Our bench was huge for us. Josh made a huge difference on the defensive end. He was skying over everyone to get boards,” said head coach Taylor Jenkins. “He was leading on the break and facilitating. This was one of his best games.”
“We have a good group of young guys who are hungry and wants to win,” Jackson said. “That shows a lot on the court. We don’t care who we are playing against. We are going to try to win every game.”
The dynamic duo for the Trailblazers McCollum 23 points and Lillard 20 points was not enough. After the game in the locker room. Lillard said he suffered an injury in the game and will not participate in the All-Star game this weekend. That may open up a spot for Morant to slide in.
Jenkins said he has no big plans for the break. He will spend a lot of time with his family. He will attend the portion of the All-Star game to support his players that will be involved. Morrant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Clarke will participate in the US vs the World game.
Memphis pushed Portland four games out of eighth place with the win. The Grizzlies will not play again until Feb. 20 at Sacramento. Memphis next home game will not be until Feb. 28 against the Sacramento Kings.