Packing energy tinged with anticipation, Memphis fans filed into FedExForum to the count of 12,000-plus for the first home playoff game since 2017. They saw the Grizzlies put up the fight expected against a highly-favored Utah Jazz team that pulled away late for a 121-111 win.
Bands played, a DJ spun music and dancers did their thing as fans settled in for game three of the Western Conference Playoffs pitting the No. 8-seeded Grizzlies against the No. 1-seeded Jazz on an electric Saturday night. Utah now holds a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series going into game four back at FedExForum on Memorial Day.
For the third consecutive game, the Grizzlies fell behind early and trailed 62-51 at the half. The mostly uphill battle turned in their favor in the fourth quarter and yielded a hard-fought-for lead that the Jazz snatched back late to get the win.
“More energy,” said Grizzlies’ shooting guard Dillon Brooks, addressing what Memphis needs to avoid another slow start. “We (have) got to feed off our crowd. Our crowd was amazing today. It was just great to see everyone in the stands, waving their towels.
“The energy was electric. The energy in the arena like that was an amazing feeling. We (have) got to feed off of that and feed off of each other and just do a little more.”
From the referees’ perspective, Taylor Jenkins did too much in defending Brooks on a first-half foul call. They hit the Memphis head coach with a technical foul.
“I respect ‘Coach’ (Jenkins) for defending me,” Brooks said. “He defends everybody. We’ve got to figure out how to stop fouling jump shooters. I feel like that’s why we’re losing these games.”
Brooks scored 27 points but finished it on the bench after picking up his sixth foul with 2:11 remaining in the critical closing minutes. With 4:15 to go in the fourth quarter, the Grizzlies led 109-107 before getting outscored 14-2 and missing on their last nine shots.
Down the stretch, fans were stirred to their feet as a key element of the Grizzlies’ past – Mike Conley Jr. (27 points, eight assists, six rebounds) – led Utah against Memphis’ here-and-now star, Ja Morant (28 points, seven assists, three rebounds).
Two-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell, who still is working his way back from an extensive end-of-the-year absence forced by an ankle sprain, led the Jazz and all scorers with 29 points. He wielded a particularly damaging punch during crutch time of the final frame.
Reflecting on the game-deciding final minutes, Jenkins said the Grizzlies needed to have been a “little bit better organizationally on the offensive. … I thought we had some pretty good looks, a couple open threes, some paint touches that didn’t fall. And they made the shots and we didn’t.
“What a competitive game. Our guys put ourselves in a position, but we’ve got to be better in the first quarter, and we’ll find out a way to be hopefully for a full 48 (minutes) now.”
With their depth and multiple playmakers, Utah is a hard team to deal with, Jenkins said, looking toward game four.
“(W)e’ve got to find a little bit better groove with our rotations, try to get (Brandon Clarke) in there to help us get a little more pace. It didn’t feel like we had the pace until later in the game. So we’ll watch the film, see what it looked like, what we liked, and hopefully have a better go next time.”
- Grayson Allen was a force off of the Grizzlies’ bench, connecting on five shots from deep en route to 17 points.
- With his 28 points, Morant became the fourth player in NBA history to score 100-plus points over the first three appearances in the playoffs. His 101 points him in line with Wilt Chamberlain (116 points, 1960), George Mikan (107, 1949) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (102 points,1970).
- The announced attendance: 12,185.
- Jenkins on the crowd’s energy: “The fans were unbelievable. Everything you would expect with playoff basketball in Memphis. The crowd was unbelievable from the beginning to jump to the end of the game. Obviously, they fueled us when we were going on runs, their energy on the defensive side of the floor. It was awesome, awesome to be part of. Great first experience for this entire group in front of this great crowd, and I know they’ll be right back in action on Monday.”
- Tipoff for the Memorial Day game is set for 8:30 p.m.
- In the NBA, the team that wins game three has won the best-of-seven series 73 percent of the time. Memphis fans are heartened by the fact that the Grizzlies have been fighting – and beating – odds all season.