The Memphis Grizzlies are something else. They already showed earlier in the season that they are far more than their superstar Ja Morant, stringing together a ton of wins when he was out for extended periods. That’s saying something, because I feel that Ja Morant is a dark horse MVP candidate this season and plays inspired basketball whenever he’s on the floor. The biggest knock you could probably give Morant is that the team still plays well without him, but from a competitive standpoint he probably prefers knowing he can compete for a title instead of winning the individual award.
The Ja-less Grizzlies’ capabilities were on full display today, much to his delight. They were definitely tested by a tough Brooklyn Nets team, who had Kyrie Irving available. Irving had himself a game with 43 points and eight assists, strongly leading the way while Kevin Durant almost had a triple-double with 35 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.
The Nets held a 107-105 lead with 11:29 left in the game, but would never have the lead again after that thanks to a strong response from the entire Grizzlies team. The star of the fourth quarter was Desmond Bane, who was a one-man fireteam. In a four-minute span, Bane had a hand in five of six made baskets. He assisted on two of them and in the span of a minute and 20 seconds made three long bombs that turned a 114-109 lead into a 123-109 advantage that effectively put the game away with 5:20 still left on the clock. His 23 points, four rebounds and five assists may have looked like a good night, but his fourth quarter importance isn’t done justice by that stat line.
Bane didn’t do it alone, either. Two other Grizzlies eclipsed the 20-point mark with Dillon Brooks finishing with 21 and De’Anthony Melton chipping in 23 points off the bench. Melton in particular had 20 points at halftime, helping keep the Grizzlies within reach and setting the stage to allow his teammates to pick up the slack in the second half. Melton only scored three more points in the second half but it didn’t matter.
There is a real sense of camaraderie in this young team, too. With their average age being just north of 24, the Grizzlies are growing together and experiencing collective success in a feasible fashion. They’ve already improved so much from the team that made it out of the play-ins after winning two games. They now find themselves second in the Western Conference this season, and the energy that they have is infectious. You can see how hyped Morant was during the post-game interview, and he didn’t even play.
Sure, naysayers will say that the Nets were missing Goran Dragic, Seth Curry, and LaMarcus Aldridge, but again, the Grizzlies were without their best player. They overcame the Nets’ star power with the next evolution of their famed “Grit and Grind” days. Their bench outscored the Nets’ 52-7, further showing how well they spread the offense. Cam Thomas and Patty Mills were part of the Nets bench today, so it’s not like they didn’t also have strong scorers off the pine.