Coming in to the head to head matchup of the league two most exciting rookies, all was up for grabs. We didn’t know what to expect. All we knew was that there would be highlights. Despite Zion having a minutes restriction, despite Memphis playing poorly, to paraphrase Paul Thomas Anderson, there would be blood.
Both teams playing for their playoff lives set the perfect stage for a classic tilt between two young men carrying the weight of their cities on their shoulders. The Grizzlies were on a skid despite Ja’s best effort as he was one assist and one rebound shy of a triple double in their game against the Spurs. With Jrue Holiday sticking to him like fly paper, he would face a tougher test against New Orleans.
Defense has been a huge issue for the Pelicans since the league restart. Teams have been scoring on them like in a lay-up line. Memphis is perfectly set up to be successful with multiple slashing ball handlers. Every Memphis fan was wondering before the game how patient coach Jenkins would be with Brooks.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that he cost the Grizzlies the two first games. With quality options behind him on the bench and with Grayson stepping up, how long before Brooks got pulled if his shooting woes continued?
Memphis made an early concerted effort to crowd Zion and not let him breath. This resulted in him losing his handle a few times, but he still scored five points in the first four minutes. He had a scary foul coming down for a rebound and every heart in New Orleans skipped a beat.
The Grizzlies fell down by eleven early because of the Pelicans hot shooting. Reddick and Holiday made shots from downtown while Zion banged down low, out with too much strength for Valanciunas too handle.
On multiple plays Ja found Clarke with beautiful passes under the basket for easy buckets, stopping the bleeding for Memphis. New Orleans had no answer for Clarke when he rolled to the basket off high screens and surrendered 10 points to him in the first quarter. His efforts were countered by Engram who, although he was guarded well by Clarke, went to the line 8 time in the first frame.
Grayson Allen started the quarter the same way he finished the first. He sinked his third three pointer and kept the momentum going for the Memphis bench.
On an alley-oop Zion showed by people still wrongly argue for him the the rookie of the year discussion. He flew over Tolliver and put him on a poster with a rude two handed dunk after the latter had just drained a three pointer.
Ja had nowhere to go during the entire first half. Holiday got down in his stance and didn’t give him an inch. Ja’s shot was cold, but scored on drives when paired against less competent defenders off switches early in the shot clock.
The Pelicans dared him all half to make long shots as he took 6 shots from from downtown before the sound of the horn and made none. He averages 2.5 shots from three per game. New Orleans forced him off his game and Ja couldn’t adjust.
The Grizzlies went into the locker room down seven and needing to find a way to free up space for Morant.
It was more of the same at the start of the half with Ja missing his two first shots from downtown. He still could find no room to operate and missed contested shots at the rim. His team cut the lead to five early with hustle plays and ferocious defence.
Memphis took the lead after a run during which they were first to the ball and straight up out-worked the Pelicans. Again though, Brooks started taking ill-advised shots early in the shot clock, costing Memphis valuable possessions. New Orleans profited from these poor decision, reclaimed the lead and finished the quarter up 5.
Ja remained utterly ineffective and Jenkins failed in finding a way to get him involved off ball. It was completely unacceptable for him to shoot eight times from beyond the arc (0-8) when his game is predicated on his driving ability, not his shooting.
The Pelicans entered the fourth quarter dominating the fast break points and the new frame brought nothing new. They extended their lead with multiple transition three pointers and never let it go.
Morant picked a bad time to have one of the worst games of his young career. He never seemed comfortable with or without the ball in his hands. Bizarrely, he often times decelerated in transition rather then push the pace and play on the Grizzlies’ strengths. He did not go to the line a single time which says a lot about his lack of aggressiveness all game. Ja is already one of the premier drivers in the game. He should never go an entire game with shooting a free throw.
It was a game to forget for Memphis, falling to their young rivals from the Big Easy. Grayson Allen’s rejuvenated play remains a bright spot, but Ja failing to rise to the moment does remain worrisome.