The Memphis Grizzlies and the New Orleans Pelicans played for the second consecutive year on MLK Day and the fourth time overall. The Grizzlies entered the game riding a seven-game winning streak and were hoping for a clean sweep of the six-game homestand.
But much like Memphis, the Pelicans are better than their record indicates, especially lately. The Grizz learned it the hard way, losing to New Orleans 126-116 in front of a sellout crowd of 17,794 at FedExForum.
Following the Earl Lloyd Sports Legacy Symposium and presentation of the awards to honorees Sheryl Swoopes, Robert Parish, Doug Williams and Caron Butler – the annual MLK game got underway – and New Orleans came to play.
This is the first meeting of the season between the teams. The teams split the four-game series last year. Each team won one game at home and one game on the road. Memphis currently has the last and final seed in the Western Conference. The Pelicans are four and a half games behind Memphis in the playoff race – but expect to get a boost when No. 1 Draft pick Zion Williamson makes his debut this week.
The first quarter was a back and forth with neither team taking more than a five-point lead in the period. The game was tied six times in the period. The Pelicans took a (31-30) point lead into the second quarter.
That is when the Grizzlies went ice-cold on offense and the Pelicans caught fire from the arc. Jrue Holiday scored 13 of his game-high 36 points in the period, going a perfect 3-3 from the arc. In fact, the Pelicans shot 9-16 from the arc in the second, while the Grizzlies could only muster 1-9 shooting. No surprise, New Orleans outscored Memphis 38-20 in the period and took a 69-50 lead into the half.
“Jrue Holiday got it going. He is a certified bucket-getter and defender,” said Dillon Brooks. “He started to get it going and it is hard to stop him. I feel like we can do better with matchups. We didn’t fight the dribble. We didn’t trust that our help would be there.”
Memphis came out with more energy to start the second half. Memphis cut the into the Pelicans lead and cut it down to 14 points (72-58) with 10:21 left in the third.
But by that point, New Orleans was comfortable on offense and was not having any of that energy Memphis was sending. The Pels quickly took control of the game and pushed their lead to 25 points. They maintained that dominance and took a (98-77) into the final period. Holiday did not cool off any. He scored 9 points in the period.
MLK GAME – Three point play: MEM 116 NOP 126￼
Posted by The New Tri-State Defender on Monday, January 20, 2020
To their credit, the Grizzlies did not fold. The Grizz scrapped their way to within five points in the final period, but much like Holiday had earlier, Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram had his way, scoring 14 of his 25 points in the fourth to hold off a furious Memphis rally.
Brooks finished with 31 points, but the “undefeated when Dillon scores 20″ streak was broken. Jaren Jackson Jr. Had 19 points, while Morant finished with 16 points and nine assists.
“(Memphis) never quits,” said Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry. “We got off to a good start, especially in the second quarter. Our defense was really good. We tried to keep them out of the paint. They have a really good team. They have some really good pieces. I think Jrue coming back and playing the way he did was great for us.”
Beyond the game, the day was a time for remembering the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, and what it means to play on that day.
“It is a blessing. We have been talking about this game for a couple of weeks now,” Jenkins said. “It is my first time to be in Memphis to celebrate this day. We talked about how you can make a difference. That’s one of the biggest things that Martin Luther King Jr. talked about is making a difference; and that everybody can make a difference.”
Brooks also reflected on the day.
“Martin Luther King, every generation is going to know about him,” Brooks said. “He did so much for us as a culture and as a race. He is a staple in every single person’s life. He fought for so much without violence. Which is amazing and hard to do. I am grateful that every single year Memphis is able to play in this game.”
Memphis falls to 20-23, and hit the road for the next two games: First, a showdown with the Boston Celtics on Wednesday, followed by the Detroit Pistons on Friday. Both games tip at 6 p.m. CT.