The truth is every NBA team embraces the next-man-up mentality. That’s because it’s a mindset proven to be effective when injuries and/or other circumstances leave the team in a shorthanded bind.
The Ja Morant-less Memphis Grizzlies played that truth to power with a game-two, opening-round playoff win over the Los Angeles Lakers at FedExForum on Wednesday night.
As Morant nursed a right-hand injury, the 103-93 performance generated by Memphis’ next-man-up mentality proved too much for the Lakers to head back to L.A. two games up in the best-of-seven series. Instead, it’s 1-1, with game three in Los Angeles on Saturday (9 p.m. CDT).
It was a workman display by a Grizzlies team with a season-long familiarity with the necessity of forging ahead without the services of key assets. Memphis played with energy and confidence, none more so than Dillon Brooks on the latter. More on him later.
One thing to note about the next-man-up mentality is that it isn’t just about the player or players who step in for the absence. It, importantly, also is about how the team – as a whole – steps up its play and ramps up its resolve relative to executing a game plan.
“Much better effort by the guys. The urgency and discipline set a tone in the first quarter,” said Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins.
The Grizzlies didn’t come in looking for excuses; just looking to play better. The defense limited the Lakers to 19 points in the first quarter, which ended with Memphis up by 11.
Memphis controlled the second quarter and led by as many as 16 points. At the half, the Grizzlies led 59-44.
Brooks picked up two quick fouls and only played 10 minutes. Desmond Bane paced the Grizzlies with 13 first-half points. Xavier Tillman Sr., who has been the next man (center) up since the loss of Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke, energized a dozen more. Memphis’ lead ballooned to 20 points (66-46) with
10:13 left in the third quarter.
“We knew they were going to make a run,” said Jenkins of the Lakers’ second-half push.
A 14-3 L.A. run to cut the gap to 69-60 with 4:30 left in the third. Lebron James (28 points, 12 rebounds), scored 8 points in that stretch.
Memphis’ lead shrank to six (69-63) when Rui Hachimura (20 points) connected on an open three-pointer with 3:52 remaining in the quarter. Then came back-to-back three-pointers by the Grizzlies’ David Roddy and Luke Kennard, giving Memphis breathing room (79-69). The Lakers outscored the Grizzlies in the quarter third (27-24) as Memphis took an 83-71 lead into the final frame.
The closest the Lakers got to the Grizzlies in the fourth quarter was eight points. The Grizzlies outrebounded the Lakers 49-47 and fought off every charge in the fourth.
L.A. All-Star center Anthony Davis, who had a double-double in game one, along with seven blocks, was held to 13 points (8 rebounds, 5 blocked shots). He was outshined by Tillman’s career playoff high 22 points (13 rebounds).
“It is a true sign of a winner, a true sign of a pro,” Jenkins said of Tillman. “He wants to impact winning. That is (why) we love X. He comes out in the second half of the season and makes a big impact. He had the biggest game of the season for us.”
Featured in a postgame interview about the ups and downs of his season, Tillman said, “You couldn’t write this (Wednesday’s performance and acclaim). It is humbling. It lets me know whatever I am going through it will pass. Life is a like a wave. …You may be down for a little bit, but the next wave will come. That is how life works.”
A key, he said, is “trusting everything you put in it will come to fruition.”
Tyus Jones, the next man up at point guard with Morant out, again was solid in that role.
“We trust in our work. That has been our philosophy all year,” he said. “It is our mentality … believe in one another and live with the results.”
And about Brooks
Brooks and James sparred verbally during the game.
“I said finally you want to talk. We started getting into it. You can’t take me one on one. When he got subbed out, he was tired. So, I did my job.”
Much of the post-game banter by pundits zeroed in on Brooks’ response to a question about whether his behavior toward James was something to engage in with a player of James’ historic caliber. Brooks’ response included him referring to James as “old.”
“I respect him. He is a legend,” said Brooks. “When he is on that floor with me you are just another player to me. He is 6-8, 270 pounds. I am creating a name for myself. I am ready for the challenge.”