Mike Breen once quoted the late great Kobe Bryant, who said that nothing beats the sound of silence after hitting a big shot on the road.
Bryant’s squad, the Los Angeles Lakers, may have enjoyed that sound again after hitting big shot after big shot on the way to earning a huge win over the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 1 of the opening round of the Western Conference Playoffs.
This Lakers squad meant business as they came into the Grizzlies’ court and snatched home-court advantage from the team with the best home record in the NBA (a franchise-record 35-6) with authority. Five players scored at least 19 points for Los Angeles, which only showed how the Lakers easily had their way around Memphis in the crucial stretches of the game.
For a squad like the Grizzlies, which pretty much had a swagger to their step (both good and bad) for a large portion of the regular season, this was a sobering loss to say the least. While an 0-1 series deficit is obviously not difficult to overcome, Ja Morant’s injury only makes the uphill climb steeper even if x-rays came back negative on his hand. Memphis is already without Steven Adams (PCL sprain) and Brandon Clarke (Achilles injury), so the losses in both the back and frontcourt are quite significant.
The defeat obviously sucks and everything seems to be going wrong at the worst possible time, but that’s the nature of postseason basketball. The best version of the playoffs is the one where everyone is in the best of shape and at the peak of their powers, but in reality, that’s a pipe dream. NBA teams, regardless of the path they took to get here, have rarely come out unscathed. Rosters may be missing a player or two for the next few games or for the entire postseason, while others are dealing with nagging medical issues that prevent them from being at 100 percent.
That being said, the Grizzlies are not alone in their predicament, considering how a handful of players suffered injuries today alone, but they will be defined by how they respond to the challenges they face. On paper, Memphis can still compete thanks to the firepower (Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr.) and bodies (Jackson Jr., Xavier Tillman, Santi Aldama, and even Kenneth Lofton Jr.) they have at their disposal. How Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins utilizes them moving forward will be the difference between potential realized and wasted.
Can Memphis make the necessary adjustments before Game 2? Who will step up in the event of Morant’s absence? These are just some of the questions that are on the minds of the Grizzlies and there are answers already within their midst.
If Morant is unavailable, Tyus Jones will naturally be thrust into a larger role. Jones isn’t a stranger to stepping in for Morant as he has done that on a few occasions. Yes, this is the postseason, but even during his college days at Duke, the 2015 NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player has shown that he isn’t shy of the big stage.
Jones will set the table and Jackson Jr. is in line to feast the most. The extremely talented yet oft-injured big man was a menace on the post and in the perimeter, finding his spots and taking a deliberate approach before pouncing on defensive miscues from the Lakers.
The touches and the attention will run through him, and it would be wise for the likes of Jones and Bane to continue running two-man sets that should eventually open up things for the rest of Memphis.
Shell-shocked and somber may be apt to describe what the Memphis Grizzlies feel after a Game 1 defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers and the unfortunate injury to Ja Morant. The challenge ahead may be daunting, but there’s a lot of basketball to be played and a handful of talent on hand for the Grizzlies to turn the tide.