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Ja Morant electrifies sellout crowd as rested Grizzlies pummel Pacers: Running Thoughts
Chris Duarte hit seven shots and scored 25 points, Ja Morant had several spectacular highlights as the Grizzlies rolled to their ninth straight win.
Here are my running thoughts from the Pacers’ 130-112 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies Saturday night at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
Myles Turner is missing his third straight game due to back spasms. Aaron Nesmith, who has been out with a non-Covid illness, returns after a two-game abesence.
Late scratch during Pacers team intros: Goga Bitadze is unavailable due to a non-Covid illness. The fifth different Pacer sidelined.
Not only are the Pacers shorthanded and down two starters, but they played last night — suffering a loss in the final second — and now get to host the hottest team in the league. The Memphis Grizzlies are 28-13, winners of eight in a row and they had two days between games.
The Grizzlies are without Dillion Brooks, Danny Green and John Konchar.
Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle pregame on Memphis: “They’re very physical, very skilled. Their numbers on offense and defense are both elite. It’s a very physical opponent and you just got to be ready for that type of game. They’re combative, they’re competitive, they’re deep, they’re physical at all positions.”
The game was a sellout primarily because of star Ja Morant, who is gifted, talented and does some things most players cannot. There was a huge crowd starting to gather an hour before the game! He did not play in either game against the Pacers last season.
We see Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins in Indy just once per year, but he impresses every time. He obviously has a brilliant basketball mind, great recall and an understanding of his opponent.
He called the Pacers “a highly competitive team.”
Rev It Up!: Patricia Payne, Director of the Indianapolis Public Schools Racial Equity Office.
Andrew Nembhard throws up the alley-oop to Nesmith to get this one started. A nice welcome back for Nesmith.
Carlisle postgame: “Getting Aaron back tonight was great. Even though his rhythm wasn’t quite there with his shooting (he was 2 for 13), what he brings to the game with his high level of energy and hit-first presence out there is huge for us.”
Grizzlies attacking at every chance, like the Pacers. And 10 of their first 14 points were scored in the paint.
5:11: Grizzlies take a double-digit lead and Morant already has eight points.
Reggie Wayne, the Colts wide receivers coach and a Hall of Fame Finalist, is sitting courtside. So is Morant’s father, Tee.
Grizzlies shot 55%, made all 10 foul shots and have a 36-28 lead on the Pacers after 1. They're such a fun watch and have the blueprint to what the Pacers are building. As a bonus, they have a lot of Indiana guys.
9:57: Chris Duarte’s mindset is different tonight. He’s being assertive and getting right into the offense. It’s like an assistant coach sat down with him to watch his old highlights to remember seeing his shots go down. It’s his best game post-injury, already with 12 points.
It’s also a 12-2 Pacers run to start the quarter for their first lead (40-38) since it was 2-0.
After that run, the Pacers’ offense sputtered. A few missed shots and then three turnovers on their last four possessions so Carlisle wisely spends a timeout.
7:25: And going to timeout, Desmond Bane bumped into Duarte (and then Carlisle) to taunt him and was given a technical foul.
5:55: Another Nembhard turnover, his second. And the Pacers’ 11th so Carlisle calls timeout. A decision he’ll be faced with many times the rest of the season: To value development or who is playing well? T.J. McConnell was good in his first stint.
Carlisle: “Anything successful for us is gonna start with defense, hard play and being unselfish on offense. It sounds cliché, but it’s really the truth.”
5:27: Duarte grabs his left hand in pain after Jaren Jackson Jr. fell into him. He was in obvious pain and expressed his frustration with another injury by hitting a courtside chair on his way back to the locker room.
He’s questionable to return with a sore left hand.
Duarte on that moment: “I don’t what it is this year, but every time I have it going, every time I feel good, something happens. Today, I was out there doing good and stuff happens.”
Pacers' productive start to the quarter doesn't hold. They scored 12 points in the first two minutes, then another 12 points over the final 10 minutes, outscored 30-12.
And so the Grizzlies are up 68-52 at half. I don't think Carlisle will like their disposition: 11 turnovers and 33% shooting while giving up 25 fast break points.
Carlisle: “I don’t think we had a whole lot in the tank tonight. It’s tough catching them on two days rest when we’re coming off a game last night, but that’s the world we’re living in.”
Duarte on the court for halftime shooting — and he has black tape on his middle + ring fingers. That's a good sign after his initial frustration.
9:48: Steven Adams took a hard hit to the nose and was bleeding. So during the timeout, a successful challenge by the Grizzlies, he got it stopped and changed into a new jersey. (Morant was originally called for goaltending.)
4:21: Morant continues to show why he’s absolutely worth the price of admission. The Grizzlies’ entire bench leaped up after he threw it down with one hand on Jalen Smith. Wow. And the violence!
McConnell on the dunk: “When you play in this league a long time, you see some special things from special players. That was one of them.”
Carlisle on Mortant: “It’s hard to describe what he’s doing right now. … Some of the things he’s doing this year have been at another higher level of everything.”
1:24: A rare appearance for Terry Taylor. He replaces Oshae Brissett.
Pacers were 1 for 11 from 3 in the quarter and didn’t score in transition. That’s all you need to know. Grizzlies were up 18 entering the final period.
9:48: Two-way guard Trevelin Queen checks in for just the third time this season, and for the first time in five weeks. Replacing Hield.
Stat of the night: Hield had at least one 3-pointer in all 43 games this season. That streak ended after going 0 for 3. And the last time he played without making a 3 — was in March, against Memphis.
More than that, it was his worst game of the season. Just his fifth game finishing with single-digit points. A season-low five.
8:31: The blowout is good for one Jake LaRavia. He was the 19th overall pick and an Indy product from Lawrence Central High School. I’m sure he has dozens of family and friends in the crowd. He got on the board with a 3-pointer.
8:06: Carlisle has emptied his bench, sending his final sub in, James Johnson. It’s four bench guys with Nembhard. In more bad luck for Bitadze, he's out with a non-Covid illness in a game where he would be playing now. Of course.
5:33: Flagrant-1 foul for reckless closeout called on LaRavia. Duarte made all three foul shots.
3:07: Two minutes later, another reckless closeout by LaRavia so he’s ejected. That’s a memorable and disappointing first game in Indy as a pro.
The positive takeaway from this one was Duarte and how it could be the start of him getting back on track. He scored 11 of his game-high 25 points in the fourth. He made all seven free throw. And while the Pacers had 20 turnovers, he didn’t have one.
The Grizzlies cruised to a 130-112 win, scoring 29 or more in each quarter.
The Pacers are now 23-21 after three straight losses — for just the second time this season.
Carlisle: “That may very well be the best team on the planet right now. They’re very hard to play. Our start wasn’t great. We did some very good things in the second quarter and then they made a run.
I didn’t mention McConnell much above, yet he had a productive night. That’s on brand, doing the little things. He flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 13 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists. But also five turnovers.
McConnell was a huge help in keeping Duarte’s head above water. Duarte thanked him postgame numerous times.
Duarte: “It feels good. I needed it. I need to see the ball go in. Big thank you to T.J., who has been on my side, my teammates and my coaches. They’ve been supporting me, but especially this guy right here who has been on my side. He’s telling me to keep going, stuff like that happens at one point in your career.”
Morant had 23 points and 10 assists in 25 minutes, Bane scored 25 and Jackson Jr. contributed nine points and 10 rebounds.
Bane, from Richmond, Ind. and Seton Catholic High School, hosted more than 200 people to the game and then met with them afterward.
All 12 active Pacers played and scored. But the Pacers shot terribly, just 37% from the field and 23% from outside. All while the Grizzlies made 55% of shots.
McConnell: “We just didn’t shoot the ball well. We’re integrating guys back into the lineup, we have guys out and there’s growing pains there, but no excuse.”
Carlisle: “The irony is we had a lot of really good looks tonight that didn’t go in. Maybe it’s fatigue, maybe we were just unlucky at times.”
Official attendance: 17,274 — the second sellout of the season.
Up next: The Pacers won’t practice on Sunday after playing on consecutive days, but they’ll travel to Milwaukee ahead of an afternoon tilt on Monday. Take note how it’s an afternoon tip-off, 2:30 p.m. ET, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
That’s stop 1 of a four-game trip, with stops in Oklahoma City, Denver and Phoenix.
This was a nice addition. They tested it pregame and used this new handheld camera all game long.