Ultimately, it was Jonas Valanciunas, Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks who helped lead the way in Memphis as the trio combined for 67 points, 37 rebounds and 10 assists to help the Grizzlies win a Friday night showdown against the loser of tonight’s game between the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Lakers.
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With this trio helping to lead the way on the offensive side, the future is bright in Memphis and this could be an opportunity for this group to gain some playoff experience under their belt no matter who they end up facing on Friday night. .
Here are three takeaways from the game:
1. Valanciunas dominates in painting
Ever since the Toronto Raptors sent Jonas Valanciunas to the Memphis Grizzlies in Marc Gasol’s trade a few years ago, the Lithuanian center has become something of the NBA’s forgotten man. This is the result of playing in a small market for a team that is at the back of the playoff race, but not because its game has slipped.
In fact, Valanciunas arguably played the best basketball of his career this season. On Wednesday night, he finally had a national television audience to show what he can do. He was absolutely dominant in the paint, en route to 23 points, 23 rebounds and three blocks. And while the plus-minus in a single match isn’t always the best indicator of what happened in a match, it’s no coincidence that he finished plus-26 in a four-point victory. .
Spurs simply had no answer for him on both sides of the pitch. He made baskets for himself at the post, smashed the basket to earn crucial second chance points and was at times a stifling defensive presence at the edge. Valanciunas may not have garnered much attention this season, but he will be getting a lot over the next few days, and for good reason. It was a great performance.
2. Brooks does it from both sides
Over the weekend, in the Grizzlies’ game with the Golden State Warriors to close out the regular season, Dillon Brooks was tasked with babysitting Steph Curry. And although Curry finished with 46 points, there was no doubt that the game changed and life got easier for him when Brooks fouled midway through the fourth quarter.
In this game with the Spurs, Brooks once again had the toughest perimeter game: DeMar DeRozan. This time, he didn’t make a mistake and he completely stopped the Spurs guard. DeRozan finished with 20 points, but shot 5 of 21 from the field and couldn’t do anything with Brooks keeping him.
Here is a short compilation of some of Brooks’ work on the defensive. He was doing a terrific job cluttering up DeRozan’s space and getting a good competition without fouling up.
Brooks wasn’t just a defensive specialist in this game, however. He ended up leading the team by scoring with 24 points and took the upper hand in the fourth quarter. Brooks played the entire fourth and scored eight key points midway through the quarter to end a tough offensive streak for the Grizzlies.
Spurs came out strong in the fourth quarter, and after a rare bucket DeRozan took their first lead since the opening basket of the game. Brooks then scored on four straight possessions to bring the Grizzlies back in front, which will stay them for the rest of the time.
3. End of the road for Spurs
Last season, Spurs missed the playoffs for the first time in 22 years. Now, after the loss to the Grizzlies, they’ve been knocked out again. Which means that for the first time in franchise history, which dates back to 1967 when they made their debut as Texas Chaparrals in the ABA, the Spurs have missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons.
It was a truly remarkable achievement, and will probably never be matched, but it all has to end. Spurs’ time as a permanent playoff team has certainly been the case. Now the questions begin as to what will come next for a franchise that hardly ever found itself in a rebuilding phase.
LaMarcus Aldridge left midway through the season and has since retired, and fellow veterans DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay are free agents this summer. Spurs have some interesting and talented young players, but will Gregg Popovich want to jump into the full-fledged youth movement or sign some veterans and make another run to the playoffs? And speaking of Popovich, what does his future hold for him? He is now 72 years old, and although he has not indicated he wants to retire, it is fair to wonder how much longer he will want to be a coach. Either way, it’s going to be an interesting offseason in San Antonio.