Grizzlies say they have ‘swagger’ back after pushing Nuggets for first win against playoff team in month

What’s wrong with the Memphis Grizzlies? That was one of the big questions regarding the league in the last month. The answer, at least on Saturday night, was nothing. They led by as many as 35 en route to a commanding 112-94 victory over the Western Conference-leading Denver Nuggets.

In late January, the Grizzlies were 31-13 and riding an 11-game winning streak into a prime-time matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers. That night they got into a weird beef on the court with NFL legend Shannon Sharpe and collapsed in the fourth quarter to suffer a one point loss.

Those events started a tailspin that didn’t end until Saturday. Either side of the All-Star break they were 4-10 in their last 14 games with the league’s fifth-worst offense (109.7 offensive rating) in that span. None of those wins came against teams with a current winning record and they were 0-5 against other top-six teams in either conference. That included a second-half meltdown on Thursday when the Philadelphia 76ers lost.

All of this made Saturday’s matchup with the Nuggets even more important. The Grizzlies seemed to make as much sense, as they took control late in the first quarter and never let go.

With Tyus Jones leading the way and five triples off the bench, the Grizzlies hit 15 3-pointers, their most in a game since January 16, and had 60 points in the paint. It was important to achieve their goal, but the main reason for the victory was on the other side of the ball. The Grizzlies have been one of the best defensive teams in the league this season, and they showed why by limiting Nikola Jokic to 15 points, 13 rebounds and, most importantly, just three assists. His three assists were tied for a season low, which also occurred in a loss at Boston on Nov. 11.

“With Jokic in three assists, that doesn’t happen very often,” Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins said. “I thought there was a lot of great discipline. They have good cutters, our rotations out to the 3-point line, trying to make his finishes as hard as possible, make his entries as hard as possible yes, try to throw it in. Congratulations to (Xavier Tillman), he’s done a great job in the last two games against two of the best players in the game.

This victory was the Grizzlies’ first against another playoff team since they defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers on January 18. After the recent court struggles and off-court drama — a report earlier this month revealed the Grizzlies were investigated for an incident in which the Indiana Pacers claimed Ja Morant’s teammates pointed a laser gun at their bus inside the FedEx Forum — this felt like a winning statement for the Grizzlies.

They will have to build on it, but it was a reminder of why they still have the fifth best record in the league.

“We had that (swagger) back against Philly, it just didn’t end the way it was supposed to,” Xavier Tillman said. “You see we got the swagger back and now we’re on a roll now.”

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