Eight hundred twenty three miles. That is the distance from the bubble in Walt Disney World all the way back to the FedExForum in Memphis. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, it is a trek they will soon be embarking on.
The Grizzlies were sent packing on Saturday afternoon by the Portland Trail Blazers, who beat them by the score of 126-122. After each team completed their 8-game schedule in the NBA Restart, the Blazers (35-39) finished with a slightly better record than the Grizzlies (34-39).
Because Portland finished the season slotted eighth in the Western Conference, they held a massive advantage over the Grizzlies. The NBA rolled out its first ever play-in series designed to determine which team would be advancing to the NBA Playoffs.
With Portland possessing the 8-seed, they were rewarded in the two-game play-in series. The Trail Blazers only needed to defeat the Grizzlies once in two games while Memphis was faced with the tall task of beating Portland twice in a row. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, they were unable to make it as far as the second game, with Portland making the most of its seeding and ending the young team’s impressive season.
Ja Morant has often been described as “special” by just about every person who was fortunate enough to witness the budding star in action this season. That was no different on Saturday as the NBA’s Rookie of the Year followed up his triple-double on Thursday with a career-high of 35 points in Memphis’ final game.
Brandon Clarke, who is also part of the 2019 Draft Class along with Morant, found his stroke, connecting on four of his five attempts from beyond the arc. Clarke had #NBATwitter buzzing about his potential all afternoon.
Jonas Valnciunas capped off his remarkable bubble experience with a 22-point, 17-rebound performance. Dillon Brooks finished with 20 points of his own on 7-of-18 from the floor. Brooks was a point of contention for Grizzlies fans throughout the team’s time in Orlando, but the third-year guard exits the bubble with two solid outings in a row.
Portland’s backcourt proved to be too much to handle as Bubble MVP Damian Lillard dropped 31 points and continues on his quest to destroy anything living and breathing inside the Walt Disney World Complex. C.J. McCollum scored 29 points and was able to hit big shots in crunch time to send the Blazers on to the postseason.
Blazers big man Jusuf Nurkic impressed with 22 points while grabbing 21 boards. This performance is even more remarkable considering the fact that Nurkic was playing with a heavy heart on Saturday after his grandmother had passed away early in the morning as a result of COVID-19.
One can only imagine how differently things would have gone if Jaren Jackson Jr., Tyus Jones, or even Justise Winslow had been available for Memphis. The stars just didn’t align for the Grizz in Orlando, but that should not matter when assessing this 2019-2020 Grizzlies team.
Memphis will enter the offseason with their head held high after an overwhelmingly successful season for such a young group. Prior to the season, Oddsshark.com set the Grizzlies win total at just 26.5 wins for the entirety of the 82-game regular season. Memphis exceeded the oddsmakers’ projections by racking up 34 wins in just 73 games.
Not only did the Grizzlies find a core group of talented young players this season, but it appears the team has also found its coach for the future. Head coach Taylor Jenkins consistently brought out the best in this young team. The way he used Morant and Jackson Jr. in the offense throughout this condensed season is reason enough for Grizz fans to be optimistic about the future.
.@JaMorant (17.8 PPG, 7.3 APG) finished his first season as 1 of 7 rookies in @NBA history to average 17+ PPG and 7+ APG, joining:— Grizzlies PR (@GrizzliesPR) August 15, 2020
Oscar Robertson (1960-61)@MagicJohnson (1979-80)@IsiahThomas (1981-82)@Iambiggie503 (1995-96)@alleniverson (1996-97)@TheTraeYoung (2018-19)
Let us all be thankful for the days ahead. The days of irrelevancy are no more. The new era of the Beale Street Ballers is upon us.
Featured image courtesy of Kevin C. Cox – USA Today Sports