The Memphis Grizzlies play the San Antonio Spurs in the play-in game tonight that people aren’t talking as much about.
The Grizzlies wound up at No. 9 in the Western Conference after losing to the Golden State Warriors on Sunday, and are now playing for their season tonight against the No. 10 Spurs. And these are the same Spurs who were on the receiving end of a Morant 44-piece to begin the 2020-21 season but still won the game by 12 points. (The Grizzlies did win the season series against the Spurs, though.)
The mega-hyped showing between the Warriors and Grizzlies wasn’t kind to Morant, who struggled opposite of Steph Curry’s 46 points, nine assists, nine threes, and seven rebounds. Morant had 16 points on 7-of-21 shooting, shot 1-of-6 from three, and was a team low -16 (matched by De’Anthony Melton). Morant has an opportunity to bounce back in this Play-In Tournament, where a win over the Spurs may earn his Grizzlies a rematch with Curry and the Warriors unless they were to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers tonight.
Last year, the Grizzlies played their final eight games of the regular season as part of the bubble, though they didn’t qualify for playoff contention. In the eight games, Morant elevated his counting stats to 19.0 points, 9.9 assists, and 6.4 rebounds from the 17.6/6.9/3.5 it had been in the regular season prior to COVID suspending the season. But his shooting splits dropped from 49/37/77 to 39/23/81.
It’s an opportune time for Morant, on behalf of the upstart group around, to lead the team and produce in his most meaningful stretch of basketball yet. The Grizzlies clearly fit the profile of a blossoming club built around multiple players in their early to mid-20s, and while getting into the playoffs would be a massive welcome for Memphis, showing out in the Play-In alone would do wonders, even if they were to go home against the Lakers or Warriors after tonight. (Don’t sleep on the Spurs, though. They’re good.)
When Morant is at his best, he’s one of the most exciting players in the league capable of immediately setting the tone off the tip. He got off to a good start against the Warriors but faded toward the end as Curry took over and put Memphis away. And he’s also been struggling leading into the bubble. Morant ended the regular season averaging 16.5 points, 7.6 assists, and 4.5 rebounds in his last 10 games on 40/36/70 splits. The shooting splits drop to 39/33/69 if you throw in what he did against the Warriors.
Now would be ideal for Morant to make a statement early and put together four quarters when his young team needs to be led. It’s what stars do in moments like these.