But the team’s 131-117 win over the Hawks was a happy reminder of how much fun Grizzlies basketball can be. “It was a must-win, no question,” said center Marc Gasol, who is about the last guy to call the second game of the season a must-win. “We needed this, as a city, as a team, as an organization,” said point guard Mike Conley. “For our fans to give themselves something to believe in, to stand behind.”
Garrett Temple, picked up in a trade from Sacramento, scored 30 points, rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. added 24 as the Grizzlies built a first-half lead and coasted to a 131-117 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night. “The energy was more like a spectacle,” Jackson said of pregame fireworks, dancers and the performance by Memphis rapper Young Dolph in the home opener. He later added: “It’s a blur. I ain’t gonna lie. I really can’t (remember specifics).”
Trae said he pushed himself to the extreme because he wanted to be different. He didn’t want to be just another athlete to come out of Oklahoma, go to college and have moderate success. Growing up, it was a constant flow of basketball in Trae’s life. In some ways, Rayford feels like it was almost too much because that’s all Trae wanted to do. “I had friends, but I never slept over at a friend’s house, really, because all I wanted to do was just play basketball,” Trae said.
The first time he saw Trae in person, Merritt had the same thought that many others had — a future career in basketball seemed light years away. “Oh, no. No. No. No,” Merritt said with a laugh when he was asked if he envisioned Trae’s current success. “When I first got the job, we were in the gym working out one day. He was really skilled. He could handle a basketball, shoot the ball and pass the ball well, but there’s no way you could think that he was going to be what he is today. He was too small. When we first started lifting, he’s benching 90 to 95 pounds.”
He was never intimidated with one-on-one battles with larger players because he felt like no one had the skills he possessed, which he started crafting as an elementary schooler at the YMCA. “I knew that no one had my skillset,” Trae said. “That’s one thing that I know I have above other people, ‘I’m going to be smarter than you.’ I know how to control the game. One thing my dad always told me is, it doesn’t matter how big a tree is, it can still fall down. Even though people may be bigger or stronger than me, I’ve never let that affect me. I’m still going to be able to contribute.”