Dillon Brooks doesn’t lead the Memphis Grizzlies in any of the traditional defensive categories.
But Brooks’ defensive intensity has been among the major catalysts for the seven-game winning streak the Grizzlies carry into the game against the Thunder on Saturday in Oklahoma City.
“I don’t get the steals or the big-time blocks, but I’m going to give fits to whoever I got that night,” Brooks said.
In Memphis’ most recent game, a 142-101 throttling of Milwaukee on Thursday, Brooks was a major reason Bucks star Khris Middleton finished with more turnovers (four) than points (three), going just 1 of 12 from the field.
Ja Morant draws plenty of headlines, but Brooks has been one of the Grizzlies’ most important players.
“(Brooks) is the ultimate competitor, and he wants to win,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said. “That is what it comes down to. We talk all the time about his energy, his spirit, the tone-setting he has, but he is relentless in how he approaches the game.”
Brooks figures to draw another tough assignment against the Thunder, when he will likely spend significant time guarding Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who comes into Saturday’s game averaging 31.2 points per game — third-best in the NBA.
In their last meeting, a 123-102 Grizzlies win on Dec. 7 in Memphis, Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 26 points but was held to a season-low 14 field-goal tries and hit just four field goals.
Gilgeous-Alexander’s career-high 19 free-throw tries helped salvage his night.
A Memphis win would make Jenkins the second-winningest coach in franchise history, breaking a tie with Dave Joerger, who won 147 games with the Grizzlies.
Saturday’s meeting is the third of four this season between the teams, and the first in Oklahoma City.
Saturday’s game is the first of a four-game road trip for the Grizzlies.
The Thunder will be playing the third game in a season-long seven-game homestand. They have dropped five consecutive games, including Friday’s 112-110 defeat by Minnesota — their second consecutive two-point loss.
Oklahoma City has played 19 games in “clutch” situations — games with a margin of five points or fewer in the final five minutes. Entering Saturday’s action, only the Heat and the Jazz have played more such games.
“It’s hard,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “It can be a little bit of chasing your shadow a little bit if you overreact to those things. We just try to evaluate it possession by possession. I think a general theme, though, is we’ve got to compete for 48. That just has to be who we are. … The good news is, these are a lesson for us if we listen to them.”
During the losing streak, the Thunder have allowed an average of 34 points per game in the second quarter.
Oklahoma City is 0-3 this season on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Thunder were without Darius Bazley (non-COVID illness), Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (right ankle sprain) and Kenrich Williams (right knee sprain) in Friday’s loss, while Luguentz Dort left the game late with a right hand sprain.
–Field Level Media