MEMPHIS, Tenn. — If there was one moment that said it all about the Nets’ problems Monday night in their 134-124 loss to the Grizzlies, it was when Ben Simmons was baited into his sixth foul by Ja Morant.
Morant, who will be a star for years to come, rolled the ball up the court toward Simmons. He let the ball cross the court and then, as he picked it up, Simmons came toward him and was called for his sixth foul with the Grizzlies leading 124-118 and 3:52 left.
“It’s not a foul. It was [expletive],” said Simmons, who scored seven points and shot 2-for-5.
Though that moment was the most dramatic example of Morant’s Grizzlies having their way with the Nets’ defense, it was far from the only one. Morant and Desmond Bane each scored 38 points as the Grizzlies (3-1) won a high-scoring, high-flying game against the defensively challenged Nets.
Bane hurt the Nets the most as he scored 32 of his points in the second half, which Memphis began with a 23-5 run.
“I felt we lost him too many times,” Nets coach Steve Nash said of Bane’s second half. “We were not staying attached. We weren’t talking and there was some confusion. We lost our game plan.”
The Nets (1-2) don’t have much time to figure out that confusion. Their next game is against the Bucks in Milwaukee on Wednesday.
Nets stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving both scored 37 points, but it couldn’t cover up the fact that the Nets are a team with a lot of defensive problems.
Durant knew what kind of challenge the Nets were facing, and he pumped himself up for the challenge. While he praised Morant, he knew he’s not a one-man show.
“They play hard, they play strong and physical,” Durant said before the game. “Ja is definitely the head of the snake, but they got guys like Bane and Dillon Brooks, they got some guys that are injured, but those guys that are . . . they mesh well together, so we got our work cut out.”
Coming off their first loss of the season, a blowout game in Dallas, the Grizzlies wasted no time letting the Nets know they wanted this one.
Morant, who averaged 34.2 points and 7.0 assists in the Grizzlies’ first three games, scored 16 points in the first quarter, shooting 5-for-5. Despite that and the Grizzlies hitting 68.2% of their shots in the period, they never led by more than six points.
The Nets knew they were going to have their hands full with Morant, whom they constantly switched defenders on in an attempt to slow him down.
“He’s obviously one of the best players in the league,” Nash said before the game. “The amount of times he gets in the paint, is able to score, is a concern for every team that plays against him. So you know, it’s important for us to limit his opportunities in transition and pick-and-roll and not to allow him many easy baskets. That’s easier said than done.”
Morant had no choice but to try to carry his shorthanded team. The Grizzlies were missing Jaren Jackson Jr., who is recovering from surgery on his right foot. What’s more, Brooks, who had been listed as questionable because of a thigh bruise, clearly was not himself and scored two points on 1-for-8 shooting in the first half.
Baskets by Durant and Irving pulled the Nets ahead in the second quarter, but the advantage wouldn’t last very long.