The battle at the shooting guard spot has been one of the interesting storylines for the New York Knicks entering this season. Twenty games in, it has evolved into Quentin Grimes vs. Cam Reddish, with veteran Evan Fournier now out of the rotation.
Sunday’s matinee against explosive All-Star guard Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies presented an opportunity to gauge both wings’ strength as the point-of-attack defender in the perimeter.
Grimes retained the starting spot, while Reddish closed the game with the rest of the starters.
Morant had a quiet eight points in the opening half but had seven assists as the Grizzlies held a slim 54-52 lead at the break. Then he exploded in the second half with 19, 10 in the final 4:23, to lead the Grizzlies’ 127-123 escape act at the Garden.
After the smoke had cleared, Morant stood victorious and proud with a triple-double (27 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high 14 assists).
“Morant is a tough cover. [Grimes] did a good job as you could possibly do. I thought Cam (Reddish) gave us really good minutes. Between the two of them, I’m very pleased with their defensive effort.”Tom Thibodeau postgame via MSG Network
So how did Grimes and Reddish fare as Morant’s defender?
According to the NBA.com matchup tracking data, Grimes was Morant’s primary defender for 7:27 in 38.5 partial possessions. The Memphis All-Star guard had six points on 3 of 6 field goals and six assists against two turnovers. During that span, the Grizzlies scored 43 points.
Morant made his first three shots of the game — a cutting dunk off a broken play with Grimes caught napping on defense, an alley-oop layup off a 3-on-2 fastbreak, and an open floater with Grimes falling for his pump fake. Then he missed the next six with the Knicks’ defense throwing different bodies at him. One of those misses was caused by Grimes’ partial block that led to an RJ Barrett fastbreak layup.
Grimes was at his best in the third quarter, forcing two of four Morant misses at the halfcourt setting.
On the other hand, Reddish was part of the closing group that wiped out a 12-point deficit and gave the Knicks a chance to steal the win. He defended Morant for 2:46 in 9.70 partial possessions, per NBA.com matchup tracking data. Morant had only four points on 1 of 3 shooting and one assist, while the Grizzlies scored nine during that stretch. But that was skewed by Reddish’s inability to stay in front of Morant as he was often pinned by Steven Adams on the pick and roll.
Morant’s two misses against Reddish came at the three-point zone, with the first a hurried attempt as the shot clock was winding down. The second miss came in the final 41.7 seconds, leading to Jalen Brunson’s two free throws for a 123-122 Knicks lead.
Then came Morant’s eventual game-winning play.
It started with a misdirection that caused Reddish to lose Morant in a give-and-go with John Konchar for the acrobatic shot he missed. But Morant corralled the offensive rebound, the Grizzlies’ 16th, then quickly made the putback.
Could it have been a different story if Grimes had been there instead of Reddish?
Thibodeau defended his decision to close out the game with Reddish.
“Just the way the game was unfolding. I liked Cam [Reddish] a lot, too. That group was rolling pretty good, so just stayed with them. Whatever works best for our team, that’s what we’re going to go with.”Tom Thibodeau postgame via MSG Network
Reddish has the size and length, while Grimes possesses the grit and toughness.
It’s a toss-up.
The battle for minutes down the stretch between the two young wings will be keenly watched as the season progresses.
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