With a head coach’s eye, Taylor Jenkins sees the Memphis Grizzlies showing signs of getting better amid losses in four of their last five games, including a Monday night loss (133-129) to the New York Knicks after surrendering a double-digit lead in the second half.
Over the next five days, the Grizzlies’ next three games are on the road, beginning with a matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night followed by a stop in Detroit and a game against the Toronto Raptors.
Memphis has fallen to the ninth slot in the Western Conference a half game behind the Golden State Warriors. Teams six through 10 compete in play-in games for the playoffs.
“I think we’ve just got to find ways to get better. I know we haven’t gotten the results in the last couple of games, but the spirit of our group is great,” Jenkins said after the meltdown against the Knicks. “They keep putting in the work, and we know we’ve got a grueling schedule ahead of us. So we’ve just got to continue to embrace this opportunity.
“This is great for this group to go through this. It’s not easy this time of year,” said Jenkins. “The guys are starting to understand that and embrace that and appreciate that a little more. I thought tonight was reflective of where we’re getting better, and hopefully we get better results moving forward.”
The game against the Knicks followed a loss to the Orlando Magic and was particularly disappointing considering Memphis led by 20 points in the second half and lost on a three-pointer at the buzzer by rookie Cole Anthony. When it was over, Jenkins and star guard Ja Morant had been ejected in a sequence that also included a technical foul on Dillon Brooks.
“I would say tensions were flying,” Brooks said. “We felt like we never got calls or whatever the case may be, but we still have to fight through it. We did the wrong things. They out-rebounded us, they played harder, they got into us and played physical.
“We have to react, but not retaliate,” said Brooks. “We have to react, take that punch and punch back. That’s a good group of guys (the Knicks) over there. They are coached really well. It’s just tensions flying.”
Julius Randle led the Knicks with 28 points. Former University of Memphis star Derrick Rose finished with 25 points in just his second game in Memphis since leaving for the NBA, where he earned MVP and All-Star status before injuries.
The Knicks dominated inside, scoring 54 points while limiting the Grizzlies to 34 points in the paint. New York (37-28) has been one of the hottest teams in the NBA, winning 12 of the last 13 games.
The Grizzlies made a late charge, cutting a double-digit deficit down to five points (101-96) with 5:28 left in the game. Effort notwithstanding, they only scored two points in the next three minutes. Morant’s drives to the basket produced no points and, to his mounting fury, no foul calls. Then came the ejections.
Desmond Bane had his best career scoring game as a member of the Grizzlies. He scored 22 points and connected on four of three-pointers. Brooks led Memphis with 25 points, including five shots from deep. Morant finished the game with 8 points.
Jenkins called Bane’s performance huge.
“I always talk about how much work he puts in. Tonight was one of his best games of the season. Obviously, knocked down a lot of shots, but I thought he was just confident with the ball in his hand, making the right plays, came up with some loose balls, some rebounds. I thought he had a pretty good defensive effort on the ball.”