On Memphis’ bench sat No. 2 draft pick Ja Morant, and so many of the Grizzlies’ hopes rest on the 19-year-old’s shoulders.
He hasn’t played a minute of the Vegas Summer League after undergoing minor knee surgery last month, but hasn’t been needed in the Grizzlies’ run to the tournament championship game.
They got there when some older players — at least by Summer League standards — stepped up in crucial situations Sunday to beat the No. 4 seed New Orleans Pelicans 88-86 in overtime at the Thomas & Mack Center. No. 8 Memphis (5-1) will play the third-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves (6-0) in the title game at 6 p.m. Monday at the Thomas & Mack.
Keenan Evans (four seasons at Texas Tech) passed to Brandon Clarke (two years at San Jose State, one at Gonzaga) for a dunk with 10.7 seconds left and the winning basket. Clarke was drafted 21st overall this year, and Evans played nearly all of last season in the G League.
“If I was 18, 19, I can see why it would be tougher,” Clarke said. “But me being almost 23, I feel like I have played in many games that were just like this one tonight, so I was pretty calm.”
Clarke got a late start in the Summer League because his draft-night trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder wasn’t officially approved until July 7, which slowed his adjustment. But now Clarke looks at home, and against the Pelicans (4-2), he made 7 of 10 shots, scored 23 points and grabbed 14 rebounds.
Tyler Harvey was the Grizzlies’ second-leading scorer with 13 points, and it was his 3-pointer with 3.1 seconds left that tied the game at 81 and forced overtime. Harvey, who turns 26 on Wednesday, was taken in the second round of the 2015 draft by the Orlando Magic and has played everywhere from the G League to France and Italy.
The Grizzlies’ third-leading scorer, Bruno Caboclo, is a 23-year-old who has played parts of the past five NBA seasons. He had 12 points and eight rebounds.
And another older player was 23-year-old Grayson Allen, who played four years at Duke and became the villain of college basketball. That reputation hasn’t changed much for the second-year pro — he was ejected after two flagrant fouls on Thursday and booed throughout on Saturday — but Allen’s driving dunk in the final half minute of regulation on Sunday gave the Grizzlies a 78-76 lead.
“I challenged him when he got here, use that competitive spirit in the right way,” said Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins, who also is in charge of their Summer League team. “Make winning plays for your teammates. For him to see a couple shots go down, it’s been a little struggle for him at times, but he’s got to keep chipping away.”
Today’s NBA sells youth, but there is something to be said for older players producing when needed most.
“You can’t really teach experience,” Jenkins said. “To have guys that have played high-level basketball for a number of years, I’ve got a lot of trust in them to go out there and try to make the right play. Getting guys in here that haven’t played together and we’re on almost our third week, it’s very impressive to see. I’ve got the ultimate confidence in all of our guys.”