The outcome of what turned into Memphis’ historic thumping of the Oklahoma City Thunder provided more notice that the Grizzlies have the means to prosper while star guard Ja Morant is on the mend.
With Morant cheering from the sidelines at FedExForum, the Grizzlies turned in a 152-79 win that amounted to the largest margin of victory – 73 points – in the history of the franchise and the NBA.
It was the third straight win for Memphis in the four games since Morant went down and out with a sprained knee. Recording a season-high mark of 152 points, Memphis (12-10) rolled past a Thunder team that did not have its injured star player (Shay Gilchrist Alexander) and that now has lost eight games in a row.
Pregame, head coach Taylor Jenkins fielded the question many are asking in some form: When is Ja going to be ready to play?
“No firm update,” said Jenkins. “The timeline is still the same. He has been responding really well to treatments and lift sessions that he has had, and we are sprinkling in small doses of on-court work just to make sure his knee is moving. But there’s nothing that has been changed about the timeline so far.”
The drubbing of the Thunder (6-16) was a confidence booster as the Grizzlies play on without Morant. They led wire-to-wire for the third straight game, with the bench’s record-setting 96 points topping OKC’s team total.
“Good win,” said Memphis forward Jaren Jackson Jr., fielding a question about the margin of victory. “We put it together, stuck to the game plan and stayed engaged the whole game. Credit to coach and everybody hooping. Just another game, it goes in the left column.”
Memphis, which led by 15 after the first quarter, took a 36-point lead (72-36) into halftime (72-36). When a team gets that kind of lead two goals become paramount: don’t blow it and get out of the game without any injuries. That is exactly what the Grizzlies did. None of the regular-rotation players saw action in the fourth quarter.
Jackson, who has stepped up in Morant’s absence, was dominant with 27 points, 2 rebounds and 2 blocks.
“He’s put in a lot of work and watched a lot of film, but what you see on the court is him doing his work earlier,” said Jenkins.
“He anticipates plays more and is locked in on the defensive end; he’s switching and hedging more. He’s been mentally locked in and not picking up cheap fouls because he’s beating guys to their spot and showing his hands. He’s playing with a lot of confidence defensively.”
Jackson put his improved defensive play in this context:
“I try to use my size to my advantage, and not do little things that I use to do like gamble, reach, whatever,” he said. “You cannot have the little ones, like a slippage of the mind; you cannot have those. Those are the ones that can really add up.”
OKC got 15 points and 8 rebounds from Lugentz Doth, who also 8 rebounds. Tre Mann and Ty Jerome also had 15-point outings. Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said the Grizzlies played with good force and pace.
“They made some shots, and we didn’t shoot well early or really any part of the game. I thought we could make a little bit of noise there in the second quarter. Credit to them because they played all the way through for 48 minutes and played really well. We had a hard time turning them off tonight.”
The loss, which set numerous NBA and team records, was not indicative of the Thunder from a competition standpoint this season, said Doth.
“Competition comes with great joy, but it also comes with grief and frustration. When you step in that ring, it’s what you expose yourself to. All those things is what makes it such a fulfilling experience. That’s why the joy feels so good because when you get punched and you taste your own blood, it doesn’t feel great.”
With Memphis’ starters setting a strong pace, the bench followed suit. De’Anthony Melton scored 19 points with John Konchar adding his season high of 17. Each had specular dunks. Melton slammed on two defenders. Konchar’s dunk gave the Grizzlies 145 points, the most points ever by the Grizzlies up to that point.
Rookie Santi Aldama had his best game as a member of the Grizzlies, scoring 18 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. The Grizzlies had 9 players score in double digits.
Acknowledging the franchise records set, Jenkins said he was proud that the players were not focused on that.
“We’re just motivated by our standards every single night and tonight that was on full display offensively and defensively. Records are records and records are meant to be broken,” he said.
“What motivates us every day is just playing our best basketball and I think over the last three games we’ve done a great job of that.”
The Grizzlies take their winning streak on the road, facing off against division rival Dallas on Saturday (Dec. 4), followed by a matchup with Miami on Dec. 6).
Memphis returns to the FedExForum to play three games next week. They take on the Dallas Mavericks (Dec. 8), the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 9 and the Houston Rockets (Dec. 11). That four-game homestand ends Dec. 13 with a visit by the Philadelphia 76ers.