Given the state of the Memphis Grizzlies’ roster, their 5-6 record is undeniably an overperformance. That being said, none of their games have seemed cause for any celebration. Their losses have all been various shades of disappointing, and while victories were obviously appreciated, none of them were the kind of games that Grizzlies fans will reminisce about when the season comes to a close. Let’s face it– beating a Nets team absent its stars, the porous defense of the Hornets, and a similarly injured Cavaliers team just won’t make the highlight reel.
Fortunately for Memphians, the rugged nature of the Grizzlies’ season may have accelerated the roster’s development. Take Wednesday’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves as exhibit A. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Grizzlies were lucky to be trailing by only ten points. But despair, the Grizzlies did not. Instead, they went on a whale of a run (34-11 to be precise) that saw them look like seasoned veterans en route to a 118-107 victory. One has to think the Grizzlies were at least slightly disappointed that they couldn’t hear the air deflate from the crowd in the Target Center. After all, at one point ESPN gave the Timberwolves a 93.7% shot of walking out of their arena with a win.
Injured as their roster stands, the Grizzlies were able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat largely due to the up-and-down nature of their season. The Grizzlies have seen much, much, worse than a ten point deficit. Multiple players have dropped fourty on their defense. Opponents have routinely scorched them from three. The entire team has witnessed star after star on their roster collapse to injury. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the TWolves’ lead must have seemed like chopped liver. As a result, the Grizzlies didn’t even flinch– Grayson Allen hit back-to-back triples within a minute and the team was quickly back in contention. Just like that, the Grizzlies were on their way to their first statement win of the year.
On the other hand, the Timberwolves, who haven’t seen a sliver of adversity, seemed to crumble when the Grizzlies put even the slightest bit of pressure on them. As Memphis chipped into their lead, their entire body language changed on a dime, even while the Wolves were leading. Instead of moving with swagger, the team came out of huddles hunched over. Their shot selection depreciated instantaneously, switching to hero ball and abandoning the quick-fire offense that earned them a lead in the first three quarters. Most importantly, their overall effort sagged–over the course of Memphis’ fourth quarter run, the Timberwolves only managed to grab five rebounds in a seven minute stretch.
“We took a big punch there in the first half [and] third quarter”, reflected Taylor Jenkins after the win. “Our guys never waver– I think it’s just the connectivity and togetherness of our guys. On the floor, we never get deflated, we’ve got that positive spirit we always talk about…when you can keep focusing on controlling what you can control, how hard you play, the effort that you’re giving…we’ll find a way to hopefully win ball games”.
Indeed, the Grizzlies’ mentality allowed several players who slumped throughout the majority of the game to play key roles in securing a victory. After bricking his first six shots, Kyle Anderson hit a pair of three pointers in the game’s closing minutes to stave off any hope of a Minnesota comeback. Dillon Brooks had a rough shooting night, but made three of his four field goals down the home stretch. It’s clear all fifteen guys have bought into Jenkins’ toughened-yet-positive mentality. “Our team just has a bunch of guys that love to win games, and love to fight, and love to take on the tougher battles”, said Brandon Clarke. “We all have trust in each other, we have trust in these games when it comes down to winning, when it comes to those tough shots or those tough stops in the end.”
Given that Memphis gets to develop these skills during a stretch where some of their most seasoned players are bench-ridden due to injuries, wins like Wednesday’s stand as a convincing sign that upon the return of their stars, the Grizzlies could be one of the NBA’s most mature teams despite boasting one of the league’s youngest rosters. They’ve already endured the Orlando Bubble, COVID scares, and a stretch of horrific injury luck all within a few months. Don’t anticipate this squad to crumble like most young teams when the bright lights of the postseason inevitably come calling. If Wednesday’s victory was any indication, though the Grizzlies may well be frighteningly ahead of schedule, they’re only just starting to play their best ball.