Memphis Grizzlies' biggest obstacle is themselves, not Golden State Warriors | Giannotto
They were already melting down, but there was one possession in particular that encapsulated everything that isn’t going right for these Memphis Grizzlies.
They still led the Golden State Warriors with less than three minutes to go Wednesday night and Ja Morant had the ball with Klay Thompson guarding him. It was closing time in San Francisco again. Time to see what these young Grizzlies had learned since their playoff run last season ended with too many fourth quarters that veered off course.
Only Morant didn’t know where to go. Neither did Desmond Bane. Neither did Brandon Clarke.
So there stood Morant, frozen with indecision until he picked up his dribble. All Memphis mustered was a 29-foot heave from Bane, a shot that missed just badly enough to convince Jaren Jackson Jr. he could corral the offensive rebound.
He didn’t. Instead, he fouled Draymond Green and fouled out.
You know what happened from there by now. Memphis lost to Golden State again, 122-120, on a game-winning layup by Jordan Poole.
Top candidate for worst possession of the year from the Grizzlies here capped off with JJJ fouling out... pic.twitter.com/Z0ZjcwspE0
— Half Court Hoops (@HalfCourtHoops) January 26, 2023
What a debacle this West Coast trip turned into, with implications that could go beyond losing four games in a row.
This has exposed, in front of a national television audience, that the greatest obstacle standing between these Grizzlies and an NBA title is themselves. It’s not Golden State, or the Denver Nuggets, or any of the other contenders in the Western Conference.
It’s their youth and immaturity. It’s their half-court offense. It’s their shaky back-end of the rotation. It’s free throws. It’s Jackson’s disappearing act in the biggest games. It’s Dillon Brooks’s shot selection. It’s whether they’re actually ready, which is a lot different than saying you are ready.
If that sounds dramatic for the end of January, with almost three months still left in the regular season, well of course it is. The potential trajectory of this Grizzlies season hasn't changed. They still have the second-best record in the Western Conference.
“It’s just a rough patch in the season,” coach Taylor Jenkins said. “It happens.”
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But it’s a four-game losing streak that's happening right as the NBA trade deadline approaches, and it's happening for the first time in almost two years.
Twice now, in a span of five days, they completely self-combusted on ESPN. In between, they had a loss at Phoenix in which they completely no-showed in the first half and a loss in Sacramento in which they no-showed in the fourth quarter.
They also just lost Steven Adams to a knee injury for the next month. Outside of Santi Aldama, the players they hoped would replace De’Anthony Melton and Kyle Anderson on the bench don’t seem ready to be trusted in a playoff series.
The same issues that caused Memphis problems last season have surfaced again as issues this season.
Danny Green’s looming debut could theoretically address some of the flaws the Grizzlies have shown. He could also just be a 35-year-old coming off major knee surgery. It does seem, though, that the fix could come from within, if only because the leaps this team has taken in previous seasons have almost always come from within.
This latest setback, against the team the Grizzlies want to beat the most, felt especially deflating because Golden State tried to give Memphis the payback it so badly desired after losing to the Warriors in the postseason and then again on Christmas.
The Warriors turned the ball over and committed foul after foul before halftime. They trailed by 10 with six minutes to go. Curry even got ejected for throwing his mouthpiece in frustration over an ill-advised Poole shot. A win that might have slowed down this building narrative that the Grizzlies are more bark than bite was there to take.
But their final 12 possessions included these self-inflicted wounds – a shot clock violation, a missed free throw by Clarke, a missed layup by Brooks, a Morant turnover, Bane’s aforementioned heave, another Morant turnover, a foul by Brooks on a Curry 3-point attempt, a missed free throw by Bane, another missed free throw by Bane, a missed 3-pointer by Brooks in which Morant never touched the ball, and six Golden State offensive rebounds.
These were unforced errors piled up upon more unforced errors. The last one set up Poole’s heroics, when he blew past second-year wing Ziaire Williams on an inbounds play. Jenkins had re-inserted him into the lineup for his defense once Jackson fouled out, even though Golden State outscored Memphis by 19 points in Williams’ 23 minutes on the floor.
Williams was left to answer to all this – “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so we’ll be all right,” he said – while Morant left the locker room without speaking to reporters.
Add it to the many ways in which the Grizzlies must grow from this if they want to become the team they’ve been telling us they already were.
You can reach Commercial Appeal columnist Mark Giannotto via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @mgiannotto
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis Grizzlies big obstacle is themselves not Golden State Warriors