The Memphis Grizzlies came into their opening night contest against the San Antonio Spurs with an abundance of optimism. Having looked dominant in all four of their preseason games, the NBA’s youngest team certainly didn’t seem to be hampered by their inexperience. Dillon Brooks, Grayson Allen, and De’Anthony Melton all dazzled from beyond the arc. Desmond Bane impressed with his physicality. Most impressive was the play of Ja Morant, who looked well on his way to becoming Memphis’ first all-star in four seasons. All was peachy in Grind City.
Their 131-119 loss to the Spurs may have been somewhat of a reality check. Having only faced off against Atlanta and Minnesota, two of the league’s most inexperienced rosters, Gregg Popovich’s signature discipline proved to be the game’s tipping point. San Antonio predicated their offense around the play of their vets, piling up buckets to the tune of 61 combined points on the part of DeMar DeRozan, Patty Mills, and LaMarcus Aldridge.
That same veteran spirit prevented the Grizzlies from getting comfortable offensively. A team full of savvy-ball handlers, the Spurs only coughed up ten turnovers to Grind City, capping the Grizzlies’ transcendent transition game. This limited Memphis’ ability to pick up their bread and butter fast break buckets–they notched eight points off turnovers on Wednesday, a far cry from their mark of 24 in their last preseason matchup.
“We got off to a good start…[San Antonio] really picked up their pressure in the second quarter which I think really impacted things on both sides of the ball”, noted Taylor Jenkins. “We were unable to get into our stuff as we normally do, we weren’t able to get downhill as we normally do, and they took advantage of it.”
Sobering as it may have been, the outcome certainly should not be regarded as cause to abandon the optimism of the preseason. For one, Morant’s all-star buzz may quickly find itself upgraded to MVP clamor. Racking up a career-high 44 points, the 21 year-old sophomore polished his night off with a stunning self alley-oop.
Grizzlies fans should be prepared to see a similar level of aggression from their star point guard on the regular. “I got tired of my teammates and coaches telling me I need to be aggressive”, Morant commented after his outpouring. Having taken matters into his own hands, expect statlines like Wednesday’s to become commonplace for the Murray State product.
“[Ja was] amazing”, said Brooks, himself the Grizzlies’ second leading scorer. “he was getting to his spots, he was finishing, finding guys. Obviously we’re going to be reliant on him”.
Rookie sensation Desmond Bane also gave Grizzlies faithful plenty to look forward to. The TCU standout certainly looks the part from a physical standpoint, but by knocking down two out of his four shots from three-point land, he may have secured a permanent spot in the rotation. It’s clear that the young gun is still learning, noting that he’s still adjusting to the NBA’s razor-thin margin for error. Still, amidst his typical humility, Bane asserted that he’s growing into his role nicely: “I had a few good looks early on and [I’m] happy they went down”.
Lacking Jaren Jackson Jr. and Justise Winslow, the team’s effort to put up 119 points can’t be shrugged off– though the duo averaged a combined 24.5 points per game last season, it was easy to forget that the team’s offense was missing parts. Defensively, a drop off was certainly more apparent. It’s clear that Memphis missed Winslow’s unparalleled combination of athleticism and switchability, along with Jackson’s consistently premier defense. Once the Grizzlies are able to roll out crunch time lineups with their defensive specialists in tow, expect opposing offensive efforts to be more frequently stifled. With plenty of time to incorporate the duo into their rotations, Grizzlies fans should feel confident that nights like Wednesday’s loss to the Spurs should come few and far in between.
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