In their penultimate game before the start of the playoffs the Grizzlies faced the Boston Celtics. Boston’s third seed being pretty much locked up, Memphis hoped to face a slightly lighter dose of their starting lineup.
No matter what combinations of lineups they would face, Memphis needed to come out with with the energy of despair. Morant especially, being the uncontested leader, needed to step up in a big way. With Walker still easing into starting minutes, Morant would need to dominate his matchups with Wanamaker and Smart for the Grizzlies to win and finally secure their spot in the playoffs.
Up to this point Valanciunas had been the Grizzlies’ MVP in the bubble. He needed to rebound in a big way from his scoreless performance against Toronto.
A Tale of Two Offenses
There was a blatant contrast in the first quarter between Memphis’ shooting and pick and roll action. Every screen on a Morant defender by Valanciunas or Clarke would result in a great shot at the rim. Unfortunately, the bad shots taken by Brooks and Anderson outnumbered the amount of successful pick and rolls.
Jonas started hot with an offensive rebound and a putback. From the jump he seemed too physical for Theis to handle. It was obvious early that the Grizzlies were reacting too much to Boston’s shooters. Memphis would close out hard and the Celtics would immediately blow by them towards the basket.
Grayson Allen was a much needed jolt of energy off the bench. He brought grit to the Memphis effort which was less than stellar until he checked in. He immediately scored on his first possession whereas Brooks was 0-4 from the field.
Until the final five minutes of the half, Memphis demonstrated a shocking lack of effort. It was a stunning display of ineptitude on both ends of the floor. Hustle plays were nowhere to be seen and the Grizzlies shooters didn’t seem to have their legs under them. It seemed as if the Grizzlies had clocked out and were ready for the off-season.
Thankfully, with five minutes left in the half, Memphis flipped a switch and decided to show up. They did it on the back of Clarke rolls to the basket. Morant and Brooks fed him in transition and he finished with force at the rim. This forced the Boston defence to react and crowd the paint, opening things up on the perimeter. Allen was quick to take advantage of Boston’s defensive shift, making his team’s first three pointer with 3:45 left.
Run, Run, Run
Clarke wasn’t on the floor coming out of the locker room. He was the catalyst of their offense in the first half, yet for some reason Jenkins sat him to start the third quarter. We immediately saw the lazy Memphis offense we saw in the first half against the Celtics. Brooks missed a ridiculous catch and shoot three and Tatum answered with a make at the other end from downtown.
Run, run, run. Memphis’s offense took flight again when Clarke checked in. As it did in the first, it went up another level when Allen came off the bench. Clarke defense lead to turnovers which resulted in dunks at the other end. Allen’s shot making was a welcome sight for a Memphis offense cold from the perimeter. They both should have started the second half, but again Jenkins was afraid to pull the trigger and play his younger ballers.
Morant had 13 assists in the game to go with 26 points. He stepped up in a must win game, but his efforts were unfortunately not enough. Too often the Grizzlies took contested shots too early in the shot clock. Most often these shots were created by someone other than Morant or Allen handling the ball down the court. These trips lead to bad decision and terrible shots against the Celtics.
Change Is Needed Now
Tolliver was held scoreless and was utterly useless on offence. Kyle Anderson shot 2-6 and couldn’t contain any Celtic on defence. Brooks had one point less than Clarke, but shot 5-15 compared to Clarke’s 7-14. Clarke’s performance would have been even better had he not missed two easy dunks.
I’m tired of saying it and I know that every Memphis fan is tired of thinking it. Clarke had to start instead of Brooks. He’s just flat out better on both end of the floor. I cannot overstate how demoralising it must be to create a turnover on defence, only to have it waste a few seconds later with a ridiculous Dillon Brooks sky hook shot. It drains the energy out of the team. It needs to stop. I understand that Clarke had a tough outing as a starter, but Jenkins needs to stick with him. That’s how you develop young players. Don’t coddle him. Thrust him into the action and let the young Grizzly learn. Baptism by fire. The Grizzlies need it.