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Grizzlies ride depth to 7th straight victory with rout of Spurs

Not even a slew of injuries has done much to limit Memphis' extensive roster of contributors.

Michael C. Wright

Michael C. Wright

Brandon Clarke and the Grizzlies overwhelmed the Spurs on Monday with teamwork and depth.

The Memphis Grizzlies raised “Grit and Grind” to new levels Monday by dressing 11 players, with nine scoring in double figures to lead a 133-102 rout of the San Antonio Spurs for the club’s seventh straight victory.

Memphis tipped off the action with an inactive list featuring Grayson Allen (health and safety protocols), Jaren Jackson Jr. (left meniscus surgery recovery), Sean McDermott (left shoulder bone bruise), Jontay Porter (right knee soreness), Killian Tillie (left foot soreness), Jonas Valančiūnas (health and safety protocols) and Justise Winslow (left hip displacement).

Yet for the fourth consecutive outing, the Grizzlies finished with at least seven players scoring at least 10 points, which registers as the NBA’s longest such streak since the 1990-91 Portland Trail Blazers.

“I feel like it just shows how deep we are with our roster,” said Ja Morant, who finished with 13 points, eight assists and two steals. “We have a lot of guys who can go out and produce on the floor. Obviously [we’re] missing the guys who are hurt. It’s kind of tough.

“But we’ve been saying all season we have this next-man-up mentality, and to be ready when your number is called. I feel like everybody who is going out on that floor is helping us big time.”

They’re also quietly setting up the league’s hottest team for what should be a fruitful February as it awaits the return of Jackson and Winslow, who are expected to rejoin the lineup “very soon,” according to Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins.

“Our depth is what we always talk about,” Jenkins said. “These guys have done a tremendous job all season long.”

They’ve done it in the face of daunting circumstances, too. Morant sat out of eight games with an ankle sprain, one of three starters to miss significant time. Yet somehow Memphis has found a way to put together its best road start in franchise history (6-1), while setting new franchise bests for margin of victory in back-to-back wins over the Spurs, who they’ve faced on 102 occasions in the regular season.

In Monday’s lopsided affair, the Grizzlies dished 37 assists as Tyus Jones led with 14 individually. Memphis has dished 32 assists or more in five consecutive road games, one fewer than the 1990-91 Denver Nuggets’ league record streak.

Game Recap: Grizzlies 133, Spurs 102

“It’s very exciting for me because it just shows we have a lot of guys on this team that can make plays for not only themselves, but for others,” Morant said. “I feel like every night it shows how unselfish we are. I’m a pass-first guy. I love assists. So to see everybody sharing the ball and making plays is something good to see.”

What Morant didn’t like watching during his time away with an ankle injury was the naysayers ready to write off 2020-21 not even a week into the season, after he went down three days after Christmas against the Brooklyn Nets. During Morant’s absence from Dec. 30 to Jan. 13, the Grizzlies fought to a 4-4 record, losing four out of five immediately after the injury before starting the club’s current winning streak. This from a team that came into the season with the NBA’s second youngest average age at 24.3 years old.

“With me being out and still seeing guys make plays, that tells all the people earlier in the season who [were] doubting them and talking about them to just shut up,” Morant said.

Against the Spurs, which they destroyed 62-32 in the paint, the young Grizzlies let their play on the floor crank the volume inside San Antonio’s AT&T Center. Gorgui Dieng led Memphis with 19 points, hitting 3-of-3 from deep. Brandon Clarke contributed 18, followed by Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton with 17 apiece, while Dillon Brooks chipped in 13 points. Jones logged 11 points, and rookies Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman each poured in 10. Tillman finished only one rebound shy of his first career double-double.

“We’ve got a lot of depth on this team,” Jones said. “I think that was one of the things going into the year that we looked at and kind of knew. We just knew we’ve got to use that to our advantage night in and night out. It’s a long season. [With] COVID[-19], we knew that our depth was going to come in handy. So, we’re just trying to make the most of it.”

They’re definitely succeeding, especially when factoring in the Spurs using all 14 of the players they suited up for this matchup.

“We just play together,” Dieng said. “We share the ball. We don’t care who scores.”

What’s important now given all the experience gained from players stepping up due to various injuries and the league’s health and safety protocols is how Memphis takes advantage as the season progresses. The Grizzlies are looking to make the postseason for the first time since 2016-17. The club’s injury report has stayed full for the majority of the season, and the Grizzlies aren’t even a week removed from sitting through a 12-day layoff due to the league’s health and safety protocols.

In a way, all the setbacks might prove beneficial with so many players gaining valuable experience, which in turn should allow the Grizzlies to take their time in bringing back Jackson and Winslow.

Jackson hasn’t yet played a game for the Grizzlies this season, and Winslow hasn’t yet made his Memphis debut since joining the team last February. Winslow spoke to the media Monday for the first time since July, and said he hopes to return to the lineup sometime this month.

Jenkins said the club is ramping up both players’ work as the team preps for their return.

“We’re super excited. I give those guys a lot of credit,” Jenkins said. “As we’ve said all season long: these guys are still on target, on schedule, and they’ve been ramping up since we’ve gotten back in action just only a couple of days ago. These guys have fully bought into the return-to-play plans. They’ve been attacking it both on and off the court. And how connected they’ve been with their teammates has been awesome.

“It gives us a lot of excitement knowing that very soon here with Justise and Jaren, those guys will be back in the fold. That means so much to us. They’ve dialed back in, and as we ramp them up over the next couple of weeks here and over the course of the month, we’re excited to get them back in the fold.”

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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