This one stings. A close loss, at home, against a budding rival (more on that later), against an inferior team.
But you know what? I think this was a more impressive win for the Grizzlies than it was a disappointing loss for the Jazz. And I bet that a few months from now, when the sting is gone, this loss is less surprising than it might be right now.
Preparing for tonight’s game, I took a look at how Memphis has performed this year. Sixteen games in, mostly all of those without a key contributor in Dillon Brooks, the Grizzlies have had the 9th best offense and the worst defense in the league. Last season, they had the 16th best offense and 7th best defense. I figured they were probably due for a good defensive performance to swing them back toward the mean of who they’ve been the last few seasons.
That is not what happened.
Memphis allowed 119 points per possession tonight. Worse than what the team has averaged this year. But they scored 121 points per possession tonight. The Jazz allowed 121 points per possession tonight. That was Utah’s second worst defensive performance all year, per Cleaning The Glass.
That’s a problem. And I’m really not sure what the solution is. Transition defense has been bad all year, but really, outside of Gobert and Whiteside, guys were just not “guarding their yard.”
On the other end, Ja Morant, who did not have a terribly good looking box score, kept the Jazz defense on its heels and continued to push all 48 minutes. That’s something Donovan did a fantastic job of in the first half and then… stopped. The last few minutes were the most glaring examples of this, when he continued to try and force one-on-one matchups that ended in turnovers or missed shots.
But the Grizzlies deserve credit for forcing an awful defensive performance from the Jazz. Several times throughout the game, Utah’s blender offense churned and gained sizable leads. A lot of teams would have quit, or at least stopped playing with ferocity. The Grizzlies did not. They took the Jazz blows and slugged back with punch drunk confidence.
Ja Morant’s star is ascending. He outplayed Donovan, despite missing 21 field goal attempts. Jaren Jackson Jr. Is tenacious, and while his wildness likely costs his team opportunities on some nights, tonight, it kept it earned his team a win.
And, of course, Desmond Bane… Sigh…
If you were a mad scientist, who could develop the perfect role-playing wing in a laboratory, you might create Desmond Bane. He’s 6’6” and 215 lbs. He has a sweet shooting stroke, good basketball instincts, and defends like a bull shark. He might be the reason Dennis Lindsay no longer has a job.
Finally, while this one stings, and the Jazz have legitimate reasons to be concerned, I don’t think this is the kind of loss that would have the Jazz coaching staff or front office up in arms. It came down to a bad whistle and jump ball, both of which favored Memphis. Maybe you disagree. Maybe you’re on the trade machine right now. But the Grizzlies are a good team. They’re only one game over .500 after tonight’s win, but I expect they’ll finish this season well above .500.