Games between the Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors are quickly becoming marquee matchups for the NBA. Today’s game, the third of the season, lived up to the billing. The two teams have the makings of a rivalry, one that started when Memphis dumped Golden State out of the play-in tournament last season.
The Warriors led by as much as six points in the first quarter, but Ja Morant dominated the opening period with 15 points to retake the lead, then leaned on his teammates in the second quarter. He had a memorable highlight dunk in the first quarter, thanks to an assist from Ziaire Williams.
Morant returned the favor in the second quarter with a beauty of an alley-pop pass that set the arena ablaze with excitement.
Blitzing defense was key to the Grizzlies’ success in the first half, forcing a ton of miscues from an already turnover-prone team in the Dubs. They caused 12 turnovers in the first half and scored 20 points off them. While Memphis did have five turnovers in the first half, Golden State didn’t turn any of them into points.
The Grizzlies caught fire in the second quarter and built the lead up to 18, but the Warriors fought back to cut it to a 59-51 lead.
Steph Curry started off cold, but still made his presence felt. By halftime, he already had 12 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists. He finished the game with a triple-double of 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
Curry did miss the three triples he took in the half but, as if on script, he didn’t give up and started hitting shots in the third quarter.
The Warriors took the lead with 10:09 left in the third quarter at 61-59 with Curry’s first three of the game. They built that lead to 74-66 before the Grizzlies rallied and took back the lead at 75-74.
Being the great team that they are, the Warriors then composed themselves to take a 90-87 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The Grizzlies were the ones to close things out though, as they outhustled the Warriors on the way to a franchise-record tenth-straight win. With the game still close, Morant again took over and scored five points in the final minute of the game to close it out at 116-108. The win allowed them to tie Lakers as the teams with the most wins (7) after trailing at the start of the fourth quarter.
Golden State really missed Draymond Green’s playmaking as well as his leadership on the defensive end, but the Grizzlies deserve the credit for turning themselves into a complete team that maximizes all of their tools.
Let’s take a look at their top performers from the game:
- Ja Morant: 29 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks (11 of 23 FG)
- Tyus Jones: 17 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 steal (6 of 8 FG, 5 of 5 3P)
- Jaren Jackson Jr: 13 points, 11 rebounds, 2 steals, 3 blocks (5 of 13 FG)
- Ziaire Williams: 17 points (6 of 12 FG)
- Brandon Clarke: 14 points, 9 rebounds, 1 steal, 2 blocks (6 of 9 FG)
The only key player that really misfired was Desmond Bane, who finished with 11 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists but shot 3 of 14 from the field, with his only makes coming from beyond the arc.
That ability to rely on team basketball is huge for a young and hungry team that now looks like they have serious aspirations at competing deep into the playoffs this year. The way they dialled in and focused after initially blowing an 18-point lead was a sign of maturity. The way they moved the ball, assisting on 30 of 44 made field goals, showed that they trust each other.
I wrote earlier this year that they were ahead of schedule when they beat the Warriors in the play-ins, and it looks like they have designs on making the next leap just as quickly. It’s worth noting that Morant actually had a negative plus/minus of -1 for the game, while Jones had a +20. That shows the importance of being able to rely on your best player in crunch time, but also being able to trust in the rest of the squad when he’s off the floor or struggling mid-game.
The Grizzlies have gone 20-4 since the last time they held a losing record of 9-10 toward the end of November, and a big chunk of those wins came with Morant sidelined due to injury. It looks like that run gave his teammates confidence in themselves, and now they’re a well-oiled machine after suffering a couple of hiccups right after their star’s return.
These young guns are fun to watch, and I really hope we get a seven-game series between the Warriors and Grizzlies in the playoffs. At the very least, that will also ensure that we get to watch three or four games where Memphis fans mercilessly boo Andre Iguodala every second he has the ball. Also, Klay Thompson should be fully back into the swing of things by then, which will make things even more interesting.
Here are a few gems that show how the city of Memphis feels about Iguodala: