Nobody beats the Grizz.
At least, that’s the way it feels when Ja Morant is on the floor.
The ultra talented Morant had a triple double with 27 points, 10 rebounds and a career high 14 assists to hand the Knicks a tough, 127-123 loss at Madison Square Garden last night. Dillon Brooks scored 23 points for Memphis while Jaren Jackson Jr. added 21 points and went to the rim with authority in the fourth quarter.
It was the Knicks’ second close loss to the Grizzlies this season. In the season opener in Memphis, the Knicks dropped a 115-112 decision in overtime.
Jalen Brunson was a dynamo in the fourth quarter, when he scored 17 of his game high 30 points, but he missed two late shots that could’ve given the Knicks a thrilling win. Instead, the Knicks fell to 9-11 on the season, 4-5 at the Garden.
The Grizzlies dominated the boards with a 50-42 rebounding edge, including a 16-12 advantage on the offensive end. The Grizzlies scored 14 of their 19 second chance points in the fourth quarter. Memphis big man Steven Adams scored 16 points and had seven offensive rebounds, four in the final stanza.
Memphis was 12 for 32 from three while the Knicks had their struggles early from beyond the arc (3 for 16 in the first half) but rebounded to shoot 7 for 14 in the second half and finished 10 for 30.
R.J. Barrett was much better in this one with 22 points on 9 of 18 from the floor, 2 of 6 from three. Julius Randle had a double-double with 14 points,10 rebounds and nine assists but he did not score for the final 14 minutes of the game. Cam Reddish came off the bench to score five of his 11 points in the fourth quarter and was a +4 for the night.
The Knicks trailed by 12 in the fourth quarter, but a driving lay up by Barrett with less than a minute left cut the Grizzlies’ lead to 122-121. After Morant missed a three pointer, Brunson was fouled by Brooks, who fouled out with 26.3 seconds left. The Knicks point guard hit both free throws to give the Knicks a 123-122 lead.
On the ensuing possession, Morant drove to the hoop and scored on a put back to give Memphis a 124-123 lead with 13.9 seconds remaining. Mitchell Robinson made the initial block but Morant got it back and scored a hoop that silenced the crowd at the Garden. “It came down to the end. Mitch made a heckuva block, Morant came up with the ball and put it back in,” Coach Tom Thibodeau said. “That’s the difference between winning and losing right there.”
With less than ten seconds left, Brunson had his first opportunity to give the Knicks the lead, but he missed a ten foot, pull up shot. Morant got the rebound and was fouled but missed the second of two free throws to give the Knicks one more chance to tie the game.
The Knicks rode Brunson’s hot hand for one final shot but he missed a floater with less than two seconds remaining and then fouled Jackson, who sealed the deal with two free throws.
It was deja vu for Brunson who missed a key three pointer with ten seconds left against Portland on Friday night. Brunson, who leaves it out on the floor every night, was disappointed he couldn’t come through. “My teammates and coaches have a lot of trust in me and they’ve welcomed me with open arms,” Brunson said after the game. “That hurts when I can’t pull through for them. That hurts.”
Thibodeau had no problem with Brunson’s shot selection. “That’s his bread and butter, got to where he wanted to be, got a good shot up, he missed,” Thibodeau said.
Quentin Grimes was in the starting lineup and had done an admirable defensive job on Morant, but he was on the bench for almost all of the fourth quarter when the dynamic Grizzlies guard took control of the game.
“Just the way the game was unfolding,” Thibodeau said in answering the questison of why Grimes was on the bench. “Morant is a tough cover, I thought he did as good a job as you could possibly do. I thought Cam [Reddish] gave very good minutes. Between the two of them, I was very pleased with their defensive effort.”
The Knicks trailed 54-52 at the half, but Memphis used a 39-31 third quarter to take a 93-83 lead after three. The Knicks scored 40 points in the fourth quarter but couldn’t handle Memphis on the defensive end as they gave up 34 points to negate their offensive output.
The loss was not the only bad news on the night for the Knicks. Immanuel Quickley left the game in the second quarter with a sore right knee.