Wearing an orange sweater and jeans with orange stars, Morant looked ready for a Christmas party. Dillon Brooks brought the gifts and Damian Lillard tried to be the Grinch.
The two went back-and-forth in the second half but it was Norman Powell giving the Grizzlies coal with a pair of late free throws to put Portland Trail Blazers up three. Desmond Bane’s game-tying 3-point attempt was off as the Grizzlies lost 105-100 and Portland reclaimed the series advantage 2-1.
Here’s what we learned from the Grizzlies’ five-game winning streak ending at FedExForum.
Dillon Brooks nearly does it all
With Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. having off nights, it was Brooks trying to will the Grizzlies (19-12) almost by himself. His career-high 37 points passed his previous best of 36 points in his rookie season.
Brooks had 22 second-half points and also helped hold Lillard to 3-for-9 shooting in the second half. He also attacked the Trail Blazers seemingly every time he had the ball.
“He was terrific. Hit big shots for us. Timely baskets. Played within the offense,” Kyle Anderson said. “He played really well and we’re going to need that from him.”
The Grizzlies could’ve also used more from others in the same that Lillard got from his teammates.
Lillard, rebounding does Memphis in
Lillard had 21 points when the teams met last week but he matched that total in the first half Sunday. He finished with 32 points and did his damage getting to the foul line with 12 free throw attempts.
The Trail Blazers (13-18) also outrebounded Memphis 51-33, an advantage the Grizzlies have dominated without Morant. Jusuf Nurkic and Larry Nance Jr. each had 11 rebounds and Nassir Little adding nine.
The Grizzlies deserve credit staying close in spite of that but Powell made sure they couldn’t get that sixth consecutive win.
Norman Powell, new Grizzlies killer?
Powell stepped in CJ McCollum’s shoes and tormented the Grizzlies. It wasn’t just scoring 28 points, it was how he did it.
Powell made a 3-pointer with 2:47 left to put the Trail Blazers up 95-94 after Bane gave the Grizzlies a lead with a three-pointer. His jumper with 30.9 left gave the Trail Blazers a 101-97 lead and after Brooks made three free throws, Powell made two more to keep the Trail Blazers ahead by three with 8.7 left.
McCollum missed the game with a collapsed right lung but Powell did what McCollum’s done to the Grizzlies several times. Break their hearts as the No. 2 to Lillard being the ace.
“Norm played well, he hit timely shots. That was the game,” said Brooks, who also credited Portland’s rebounding as a key factor.
Quiet nights from Jackson, Bane
Jackson had just 11 points before fouling out. Bane was 1-for-8 on 3-pointers and finished with nine points. A combined 20 points from two of the Grizzlies’ big three minus Morant was tough to overcome.
Melton (nine points, five rebounds) and Anderson (11 points, four steals) brought punch off the bench but there wen’t enough big swings like in previous games. The Grizzlies didn’t help themselves shooting 38.5% from the fiel.
Against Sacramento Friday, Jackson, Bane and Brooks each had over 21 points. They can win games with two of those three on point but it’s hard winning two of those three off.
Morant on the sidelines
For fans hoping Morant will return soon, stay patient. During pregame warm-ups, he took stationary jump shots while walking around to different spots.
He took his time and so will the Grizzlies, who couldn’t assist with his rehab as he was in isolation. Coach Taylor Jenkins said the Grizzlies performance team began work Sunday to figure out a timeline for him to be back on the court, which remains to be seen.
Seeing him on the sidelines was a good sign talking to teammates and being a presence. Now it’s just waiting for him to be back in uniform.
“He’s getting very close (to returning) and it’s very encouraging,” Jenkins said.
The Grizzlies return Monday hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder (7 p.m., Bally Sports Southeast). It’s the first meeting between the teams since the Grizzlies won on Dec. 2 by an NBA-record 73 points and the Thunder currently have the worst-record in the Western Conference.
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