After what has been an impressive first half of the season, the Memphis Grizzlies stumbled on Thursday night at Sacramento. In its first game after the All Star break, the Grizz came out slow

and spent most of the game playing catch up but eventually fell to the Kings by a score of 129- 125.

Memphis did not open the game with the same energy that Grizzlies fans had grown accustomed to seeing since the turn of the new year. The Grizz allowed a whopping 70 points in the first half which contributed to their nine-point halftime deficit of 70-61.

Despite replicating Vince Carter’s famous dunk that crowned him Slam Dunk champ in 2000 before the game, Ja Morant played like a shell of himself in the first half.

At halftime, Morant was actually one of the bigger liabilities on the floor for the Grizz. The rookie sensation had just two points on one-of-four shooting to go along with two assists. But, it was his -20 plus-minus rating that was really hampering his team’s chances.

Morant, a Rookie of the Year frontrunner, showed a lack of intensity Thursday nigh that is most likely attributed to the prolonged All-Star break. He was clearly out of rhythm in the game, going scoreless until the 8:26 mark in second quarter. However, Morant’s sluggish start Thursday is not something to get worked up over, and that became clear in the fourth quarter.

After facing a 15-point fourth quarter deficit, the Grizzlies battled back. One of the catalysts for Memphis was De’Anthony Melton, who posted a career-high 24-point performance. His stellar play was highlighted by his ability to connect on 4-of-5 from beyond the arc as well as a perfect 10-for-10 from the free throw line.

It was behind Melton’s sharpshooting, along with clutch plays from Jaren Jackson Jr. and a 15-point fourth quarter from Morant, that placed the Grizz within striking distance in the final minute. With just under four seconds remaining, the scoreboard read 127-124 in favor of the Kings with Morant heading to the stripe to shoot two.

After drilling his first, he intentionally missed his second in hopes of a put back to tie the game. Instead, he stepped over the free throw line in his attempt to do so resulting in a violation. Buddy Hield, the 2020 All Star three-point champ, then iced the game with two at the charity stripe to help the Kings escape.

Melton paced the Grizz with 24 points, while Morant finished a night where he was not at his best with 19 of his own. Jackson Jr and Tyus Jones each dropped 16 points in the loss.

Harrison Barnes had a game-high 32 points including seven made threes to lead the way for Sacramento. Noted Grizz-killer De’Aaron Fox followed up with 26 points.

With the first half of the season officially in the books, a tough road lies ahead for the Memphis Grizzlies. They embark on a season-defining stretch where 10 of their next 15 games are on the road. It all begins Friday night in Los Angeles where the Lakers will play host, followed by a Monday game at the Clippers then a Feb. 26 stop in Houston.

Nobody will overlook this spunky squad of some of the better young players in the NBA. Fortunately for Grizz fans, Memphis has positioned themselves 3.5 games ahead of Portland, who will be doing their best to play catch up.

Fair or not, the expectations for this team have risen to a playoff berth. Grizzlies supporters have been yearning for playoff basketball in Memphis for over two years now. This upcoming gauntlet may hold the answer to if the Grizz fans will get their wish.

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