“I treated this game like any other game,” Ja Morant said of his emotions prior to the tipoff of what would become the Memphis Grizzlies’ believe-it-or not upset (112-109 OT) of the No. 1 seeded Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Playoffs on Sunday evening.
Any other game?
Yep, that’s what he said. And with the outcome such a deeply-satisfying win on the road, many Memphis fans hungry for more are of a mind to keep following Morant’s line of thought.
“There is no reason to put any more pressure on me or my team. Most the pressure is on them for being the number one seed. We have earned our spot in the playoffs,” Morant said.
“We will go out and continue to play with the confidence that we have. We will take it each game (at a time) like we did all season.”
Next up for the Grizzlies in their No. 1 vs. No. 8 matchup against the Jazz in Salt Lake City, Utah will be game 2 on Wednesday (May 26) at 8 p.m. CDT central on TNT. Utah All-Star guard Donavan Mitchell, who was cleared to play in game one but was a last-minute scratch, is expected back for the Jazz.
Memphis matched the Jazz in the game’s first seven minutes and were ahead 17-14 with 4:25 left in the first quarter when the offensive wheels came off and seemingly rolled out of Vivint Arena. Nine grueling minutes ensued before the Grizzlies put the ball through their hoop again.
While the offense languished, Memphis’ we-believe defense kept the Jazz in range.
“It was huge,” head coach Taylor Jenkins said of his team’s defense during that stretch, noting Memphis’ next-play mentality.
“When shots were not falling … our guys stayed the course defensively. We have had tons of these moments this season where our offense just stalls out. It is a credit to these guys.”
During the drought, the Jazz outscored the Grizzlies 15-0 to take a 29-17 lead. Down by as many as 14 points in the first half, it could have been even worse if the defense had not forced 10 first-half turnovers.
The offense came to life midway through the second quarter. Dillon Brooks got hot from the shooting-guard spot, scoring 10 points as Memphis dominated the second quarter from that point. Outscoring the Jazz 32-19 in the frame, the Grizzlies led 49-43 at the half.
Brooks, whose tenacious defense has earned him an ascending league reputation, kept his hot shooting sizzling in the third quarter with 14 points.
“He is the ultimate competitor,” Jenkins said of Brooks. “He loves these moments. He prepares for these moments. A lot of tough covers for him (on defense) and what he gives on the productivity on the offensive end. I am proud of him.”
Memphis’ lead ballooned to its largest point 94-77 with 9:42 left in the game. Utah would not quit. Bogdan Bogdanović continued what he started (nine points) in the third quarter, scoring 20 points in the fourth quarter and finishing with 29 points. Former Memphis Grizzlies’ star point guard Mike Conley had 22 points and connected on three from three-point range.
Morant, who scored 10 of his 26 points in the opening quarter, carried Memphis in the fourth quarter. He also had four points and four assists.
Brooks finished with 31 points and 7 rebounds. Grizzlies’ center Jonas Valanciunas had 15 points and 12 rebounds.
The game was playoffs physical down low. Valanciunas and Ruby Gobert, the presumptive defensive player of the year in the NBA, both eventually fouled out. Gobert fouled out with four-plus minutes to play and Valanciunas made it to OT before picking up his final foul.
There were multiple technical fouls called on each team and a flagrant foul on the Jazz as Memphis’ Kyle Anderson was sent hard to the floor on fast-break attempt. A near-capacity crowd of 13,000 was allowed to attend the playoffs.
Brooks, who some have taken to calling ‘Villain Brooks,’ was the object of ire for many Jazz fans. Brooks called getting into the heads of players and fans “the best feeling.”
“With fans talking ish to you, with players talking ish to you, it just fires me up. I love it. That is my game,” said Brooks, who considers himself born into the physicality of the game of basketball.
The Grizzlies’ win prompted a question to Anderson about whether the victory would earn Memphis respect that has been lacking this season.
““We just want to handle business right now,” said Anderson. “Who cares about the respect the people gives us? We have got a goal we are trying to obtain right now. We are going to take it one game at a time and try to win this series.
“I don’t pay attention to the outside noise. I try to focus on myself and my team every day.”