Some BetOnline customers may have thought that the Memphis Grizzlies were cooked Wednesday as they lost Ja Morant, their All-Star point guard, to a bone bruise in his knee. But such has not been the case.
The truth is, this team has won consistently when they've been missing Morant, and they hope to do it again as they face off against the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals, scheduled for 10 p.m. Eastern time at the Chase Center in San Francisco.
Let's put it this way - if they can't win without Morant, the season is over, as the Warriors hold a 3-2 edge in the series.
On Wednesday night it was complete humiliation for Golden State, as they were beaten from beginning to end. Memphis led 77-50 at the half, built a 52-point lead after three quarters, and then cruised to a 134- 95 win at the FedEx Forum to stay alive in the series. Three starters had 21 points apiece for the Grizzlies.
And as far as the "hustle" was concerned, Memphis had 18 offensive rebounds to just four for the Warriors.
When they are playing without Morant, Memphis has a 21-6 record, covering 20 of those games, and scoring 16 of their victories by double digits. In the 27 games, the Grizzlies have outscored opponents by an average of 13.9 points per contest.
Why is that? Well, that's an interesting thing to explore.
In the NBA playoff odds that have been posted on this game by the folks at BetOnline, the Warriors are laying points:
Golden State Warriors -7.5 (-115)
Memphis Grizzlies +7.5 (-105)
Over 218.5 points -110
Under 218.5 points -110
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Part of the reason Memphis is so tough without Morant is that they have a very capable backup point guard. Tyus Jones may not always be a great shooter, and his season statistics are not garish. But he gets the job done, and by all indications, he represents an upgrade in defense for a team that really emphasizes it.
Jones hit only two of his 16 field goal attempts over the first three games of this series. But in these last two games, which he has started, he has made 16 of 30 from the field, including half of his 14 triples, and scored 40 points.
But that only begins to tell you the story of his value.
Jones has 21 assists against only two turnovers in this series. That's ungodly. And he is a big reason why Memphis is + 31 in the turnover department overall. During the regular season schedule, Jones had an assist-turnover ratio of 7-to-1. Wow.
And while the Grizzlies with Morant on the floor gave up 111.2 points per 100 possessions this season, they only surrendered 105.5 points when they had Jones out there. So even though Jones doesn't make the spectacular plays and create offense the way Morant does, he still provides a solid element of consistency handling the ball that isn't likely to change. And that's bad news for Golden State.
The Warriors have to hope that Steph Curry gets hot from downtown. He's made only 32% of his attempts at three-pointers during this series. There's been a lot of talk about whether Golden State should go to its smaller lineup. But they won't necessarily smoke Memphis by doing that, because the Grizzlies are well-schooled defensively and have a lot of guys in the lineup who can switch.
And please keep in mind that they score big in a lot of fundamental areas, as they have led the NBA in defensive rebounds, points in the paint and two-point field goals. As a result, they have the best pointspread record in the NBA.
And we think that's enough evidence to suggest that they can keep this game within the number. Since Jones is not the type to give away extra possessions to opponents, that could enable this team to stay in it all the way to the end.
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