It took over four months, but the Memphis Grizzles were finally back on the hard court playing basketball in the Orlando bubble. The Grizzlies were promptly greeted with a heartbreaking 135-130 overtime defeat at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers.
Jaren Jackson Jr. showed no signs of rust after not having played in an NBA game since February 21. He was battling a knee injury at that time, until COVID-19 put a halt in the NBA season. The Grizzlies’ big man wasted no time dropping in 11 first quarter points while knocking down 3-of-4 from the three-point line.
Jonas Valanciunas also had an active first half, scoring a team-high 16 points and connecting on 7-of-8 free throw attempts in the early going. Brandon Clarke was the third member of the Grizzlies in double figures at the half with 10 points off of the bench.
Surprisingly, Ja Morant struggled to assert himself to open the contest, accounting for just two points in the opening half on a meager 1-of-5 from the floor.
Portland’s highly touted backcourt tandem of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum gave Grizz defenders fits in the first two quarters as the duo totaled 29 first-half points and contributed to a 65-60 Blazers halftime advantage.
Gary Trent Jr. had 13 points off the Blazers’ bench while Carmelo Anthony contributed 11 in the first half.
The Grizzlies faced their first big moment of adversity once Portland’s lead ballooned to 13 points early in the third quarter. It was time for Memphis’ young stars to step up, especially Morant who had been quiet all game.
The Grizzlies trailed by 13 and also led by 11 in that 3rd quarter.
Nonetheless, Grizz hold a 3-point lead heading into the 4th.
Morant and JJJ combined for 24 in the quarter. I think they’ve found their rhythm.
— Jack Gentry (@jackagentry) July 31, 2020
Something seemed to click after Taylor Jenkins called a timeout with under nine minutes to play in the quarter with Memphis in a 10-point hole.
After that 60-second break in the action, the Grizzlies returned to the court playing like a different team. Memphis immediately went on a 26-4 run to pull ahead by the score of 92-81. Morant came alive in the midst of his team’s run scoring nine unanswered points himself.
The Grizzlies clung to a 96-93 edge heading into the fourth quarter. It is important to note that prior to Friday’s tilt, the Blazers had only won six games in which they trailed after three quarters this season.
The fourth quarter was back and forth with the best players on each side sinking timely buckets late.
Anthony hit two clutch threes to put the Blazers ahead 124-122 with 37 seconds remaining on the clock. The rookie Clarke threw in a one-handed put back five seconds later to knot the game up for the Grizzlies and send the contest into overtime.
Portland came out hot in the extra time, opening up on a 8-0 run behind quick threes from McCollum and Trent Jr. The hole proved too deep for the young Memphis team to pull themselves out as the Grizzlies fell in their first bubble bout.
Jackson Jr. led the way for the Grizzlies with an impressive 33-point effort. Morant followed with 22 points, 20 of which came in the second half and overtime. Clarke had 21 of his own while Valanciunas (16) and Brooks (15) were the only other Grizzlies in double digits.
76 points for Clarke, Morant, and Jackson Jr. All three looked dominant at different but multiple times during the game, and Ja took over when it mattered most. He looked poised to end the game in regulation, but just bad luck. This Grizzlies team looked good and poised.
— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) July 31, 2020
Lillard and McCollum certainly lived up to the billing as the two combined for 62 points. Anthony had 21 on 7-of-10 shooting to complement one of the NBA’s most explosive backcourts.
While it might be far-fetched to have labeled the Grizzlies opening game as a must-win, it sure was a great opportunity for the group. After the Pelican fells to the Jazz last night, Memphis had a chance to create some more separation from, not only the Pelicans, but the Trail Blazers who are now just 2.5 games behind the Grizz.
While this loss stings, Taylor Jenkins and his Grizzlies squad must not let this compound into a poor performance Sunday afternoon when Memphis squares off against a depleted Spurs team.
Featured Image courtesy of Mike Ehrmann of USA Today Sports