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Road-reeling Grizzlies can’t overcome wobbly start against the Suns

Terry Davis

PHOENIX – The Grizzlies scored 37 points in the first half against the Suns in Phoenix on Sunday night. The Suns had 32 points in the first quarter. By any measure, it was a miserable Memphis performance that gave no hint of a comeback from a 29-point, second-half hole.

Yet, it almost happened. Trailing by 29 points with 8:09 left in the third quarter, the Grizzlies made an all-out run that had them battling for possession with 7.4 seconds to go in the game before they fell two points short (112-110).

Memphis (31-15) now is 0-2 on a five-game road trip that began after the Grizzlies left FedExForum with an 11-game winning streak kept intact by a last-play block against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Memphis –  20-3 at home – now is 11-12 on the road.

“You can’t go down 29 on the road,” said Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins.

“We have got to have a better road mentality. We are a sub-500 team on the road. Regardless of who we are playing or who is in the lineup, we have to start better. … We used to be good (on the road) the last couple of years. This year has been a struggle.”

And in keeping with his overarching mindset, Jenkins added, “It is a great opportunity for us to find a way to come out and play better in the first quarter, first half.”

Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins and the Grizzlies regroup during a timeout. (Photo: Terry Davis/The New Tri-State Defender)

Late in the third quarter, the Grizzlies sprang to life. Their rejuvenation was punctuated by a length-of-the-court, 79-foot, three-point heave by Ziaire Williams, the first of his 16 points. Memphis outscored Phoenix (24-24) by 10 in the quarter and headed into the final frame down by 15.

The Grizzlies kept clawing with a succession of defensive stops and made baskets that forced the Suns, winners of three straight, into adjustments to counter the Grizzlies’ aggressive run.

Ja Morant looks for an opening to penetrate into the paint. (Photo: Terry Davis/The New Tri-State Defender)

When Ja Morant (27 points, 8 assists) made two free throws with 28.6 seconds left, Memphis pulled within two (110-108). Applying defensive pressure at the rim, Morant was called for a shooting foul on 6-foot-10 Dario Šarić (14 points), who hit both free throws at the 12.8-second mark pushing the Suns’ margin to four (112-108).

Memphis shooting guard Desmond Bane (24 points) scored on a layup with 7.4 seconds left. The Grizzlies came close to stealing the ball after trapping Cameron Johnson (8 points) at mid-court but the clock ran out as the ball bounced out of bounds.

Chris Paul was a troublesome issue, especially scoring-wise early, for the Grizzlies. (Photo: Terry Davis/The New Tri-State Defender)

Chris Paul, who had missed the previous seven games, scored 15 points in the fateful first quarter that saw the Suns surge past the not-ready Grizzlies. He finished with 22 points and 11 assists for Phoenix, which played without All-Star guard Devin Booker (groin injury) and center Deandre Ayton, who was out with a non-COVID-19 illness for the second straight game.

The Suns were led by Mikal Bridges with 22 points. Torrey Craig finished with 20 points.

Dillon Brooks — being guarded by Ish Wainright — was not and is not happy with how his play is being officiated. (Photo: Terry Davis/The New Tri-State Defender)

Memphis forward Dillon Brooks (10 points, 5 rebounds) had this perspective on the Grizzlies’ play in the second half versus the first.

“We had more energy.  We played together. We knocked down some shots,” he said. “You have to create your own energy (on the road). (That) is a big thing in this league. The Western Conference is a tough conference.”

Brooks had five fouls, including a flagrant after hitting Johnson in the face.

“They (the officials) are picking on me, every night,” said Brooks. “I can’t play my game. I don’t appreciate it. … Every night they are trying to put me in foul trouble. I hope it changes.”

Steven Adams (center) had 10 points and 16 rebounds for Memphis. Reserve guard Tyus Jones had 11 points off the bench.

It was a tough night for Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis’ starting power forward. He only managed eight points (four rebounds) in a foul-plagued 23 minutes. He picked up his third foul with 8:19 left in the first half.

Morant, who maintained that he did not foul Šarić as the Grizzlies battled in the closing moments, noted the tale of two halves.

“Early on, we missed a lot of shots we normally make. They were making them on the other end. Basketball is 48 minutes, a game of runs. We have to be better to lock in even more when our shots aren’t falling. We can’t drop our heads after a team scores a couple of times or go on a run. You have to be ready to fight.”

The next fighting chance comes Monday night (Jan. 22) in Sacramento as the Grizzlies complete a back-to-back with a game against the resurgent Kings (26-19), who are third place in the Western Conference. The Grizzlies are second and now 1.5 games behind Denver (33-14).

 

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