The Artists Formally Known as the Second Overall Pick
The stage was set for Ja Morant , your rookie of the year, to properly introduce himself to the world. Having attended Murray State University he received less exposure in College than his counterparts Zion and RJ at Duke. The same fate awaited him the the NBA, evolving in a smaller market than New York or New Orleans.
But by God is he every bit as much a showstopper as they are. And now, with the entire basketball world watching his every move as the seeding games get underway, he will do everything he can to make sure his team holds on to that coveted eight seed.
My Lord that was a nail biter. I hope you buckled up for that one. Because I didn’t and I had trouble not hyperventilating towards the end.
As the lights dimmed and the players knelt for the national anthem one could not help but pay attention to the message that every single player in the association wore on their hearts. It felt like more than a game, which is exactly what the league wanted and needed dearly. It brought additional meaning to the game which quickly translated to a fierce intensity that never let up.
From the jump when Nurcik won the tip against Jarren Jackson both teams went hard at each other. Jarren Jackson didn’t give an inch to Collins in the paint on the first possession forcing a bad shot from the Blazers.
The Grizzlies seemed a little disorganised and off their game as Ja found Valanciunas with an entry pass which was too far away from the bucket and didn’t place Jonas in the space where he is the most comfortable. Ja also missed a gimme layup in transition, Jarren Jackson bailed him out on the next few possession when he hit three of four from downtown.
Brandon Clark did block Lillard on a drive as the defence collapsed, but other than that coach Jenkins must have worried about how easily the Portland guards were getting to the rim. No Grizzlies’ player was able to stay in front of them and they were inflicting damage at will.
When off ball the Grizzlies seemed out of sync and this led to multiple bad contested shots for lack of options under the bucket. Hezonja and Trent Jr. got hot towards the end of the quarter and if it weren’t for free throws from Melton and Valanciunas the game might have gotten away from the Grizzlies. Surprisingly Ja just couldn’t seem to get around Lillard.
Trying to Find Momentum Heading into the Second Quarter
The Grizzlies needed to revert back to their game plan and what works best for their young players. They needed to put their heads down and run as they found themselves down 5 at the start of the quarter.
Jonas kept his momentum going from the first quarter as he hit a tough mid range jumper with Nurcik in his face to start the second and the Grizzlies came right back on the next possession with a Brooks three. A Brooks technical foul then lead to a Blazer run who grabbed an eight point lead and Anderson had to sit with three fouls of his own. The Blazers switching back and forth from man defence to zone confused the Grizzlies enough to render their half court offence sloppy.
Jarren Jackson brought some much needed energy as he checked back in and drove violently to the rim drawing a foul and sinking both free throw. Josh Jackson did the same getting Henzonja to reach on a layup attempt. He then made an impact of defence by hustling to chase down Lillard and block a point blank shot.
Grayson Allen made impact plays by drawing two offensive fouls: an elbow to the face from Carmelo and a charge from Nurcik which the refs then ridiculously overturned.
What the second quarter revealed was that the Grizzlies offence was the most effective when it went through Josh Jackson. He got multiple buckets slashing powerfully through the Blazers defenders and found a wide open Clarke under the basket on an important possession. He seemed comfortable with the ball in his hands and displayed the patience to let the game come to him.
What The Grizzlies Needed at Halftime
The Grizzlies, after a good first quarter from beyond the arc, got cold in the second and got beat at their own game as the Blazers ended the half with a 8-2 advantage in fast break points. Portland had eight steals in the half which was a record for them them this season. It was an all in all sloppy half by the Grizzlies with few encouraging signs. One of them being Brandon Clarke coming off the bench with 10 point and 67% shooting while also drawing important fouls on key Blazers players.
Jenkins needed to make adjustments in the locker room. Perhaps give Clarke and Josh Jackson more minutes, but most importantly figure out a way to stop McCollum who had 19 points in the half. After a quiet two quarters, Ja needed to take the game over and run everything through him.
Adjusting in the Third Quarter
It was more of the same coming out of halftime with the Blazers’ guards causing havoc penetrating at will. They scored or drew fouls on every possession while Ja remained ineffective. He only scored his second basket at the 7:45 mark. Jarren Jackson brought his physicality into the paint and scored four quick point by out-muscling the Blazers. He then received a kick out pass from Melton and scored on a sweet jumper from downtown to bring Memphis within 2 ending a 12-4 run.
Lillard stopped the bleeding with a crafty pass to Nurcik off another drive which was too easy. Ja finally burst onto the scene with a three in Lillard’s face followed by a steal and a transition layup to take the lead. He then took flight, kissed the stars and jammed a nasty alley-oop from Clarke. Finally Ja took control of the game and toyed with the Blazers’ defence, scoring 11 points in the quarter.
The Grizzlies again turned it up from beyond the arc and used suffocating defence to finally take an 11 point lead after a Grayson Allen three pointer but let Portland cut it to 3 as the frame ended.
Portland’s Turn to Adjust in the Fourth
The word for the Blazers was to collapse the defence when any of the Grizzlies drove to the rim. This created problems early for the Grizzlies who gave up the lead coming into the third. They dared Memphis to make open shots from three, to which Tolliver and Brooks quickly obliged to retake the lead.
Jackson Jr. showed off his lateral quickness on a few possession by staying in front of McCollum and forcing him to give up the ball. Grayson proved he had a good feel for big moment by not biting on any of Lillard’s fakes and forcing tough shots from distance.
With the end of the game in sight the Grizzlies took their foot off the gas and allowed Portland to score on too many easy shots from point blank range to let the Blazers within 5. Jenkins must have been out of his mind. McCollum kept making impossible shots to bring his team even closer to Memphis. Carmelo made two three from the wind to send the game into extra time.
The grizzlies put Clarke and Josh Jackson on the court to start the extra frame and McCollum drained the first shot of the period from downtown. Trent Junior did the same only moments later to give Portland a 6 point lead early.
Ultimately, Portland’s veterans proved too crafty for the young Grizzlies who came oh so close to stealing the win. They threw everything they had at the Grizzlies who had no answers in overtime.
Things to Look Forward to
The Blazers had no answer for the physicality of Jarren Jackson and Clarke brought more of the same off the bench. The entire teams muscle was a problem for the Blazers as the Grizzlies shot free throws aplenty. When Ja decided to shoulder the load and take matter into his own hand Portland’s defenders failed to guard him in transition and in the half court. It was a scintillating display of leadership from the rookie of the year who ran the offence to perfection when his team needed it the most.
With Jones out with an injury, Allen and Josh Jackson stepped up and delivered timely plays all game on both ends of the floor. In the end though, it was Ja and Jarren with clutch play after clutch play until overtime when they went ice cold. It was a good first taste of almost-playoff ball. They will learn not to tighten up as the moments get bigger and bigger. Grind City, welcome to the show.