By Ron Wynn
NASHVILLE, TN — An inability to protect fourth quarter leads proved the ultimate downfall for the Memphis Grizzlies Saturday, as they lost 126-122 to the Portland Trailblazers in the play-in game for the eighth spot in the NBA playoffs. The Grizzlies led by eight with less than 10 minutes remaining, but could not hold on as Portland rallied led by the heroics of CJ McCollum, Damien Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic. McCollum was particularly devastating with five late points, scoring 29 in all. Lillard led Portland with 31, while Nurkic had 22 points and 21 rebounds. Carmelo Anthony (21 points) had a decisive three-pointer with 20.2 seconds remaining that sealed the win.
Ja Morant concluded a magnificent rookie season for the Grizzlies with 35 points and nine assists, but unfortunately had some crucial late turnovers. He was also unable to defensively stop McCollum’s late scoring bursts. Jonas Valanciunas had 22 points and 16 rebounds, while the Grizzlies also got 20 points each from Dillon Brooks and Brandon Clarke, with Clarke hitting eight of 11 shots from the floor.
A 42-point third quarter erased a six-point halftime Trailblazers lead and put Memphis ahead by five going into the fourth. They increased it to eight, but were eventually outscored 37-28 over the final 12 minutes. The Trailblazers advanced to a first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers that began Tuesday.
The Grizzlies, the NBA’s youngest team, certainly have a bright future. Morant, the consensus rookie-of-the-year, just turned 21, the same age as Jaren Jackson, whose injury absence definitely hurt the Grizzlies. With both returning along with Clarke, who also had a stellar rookie season and led all first-year players in field goal percentage, Memphis should be solidly in the Western Conference playoff hunt for the 2021-22 season.