The Mephis Grizzlies were hovering around .500 the entire season, and in the 7-10 area in the Western Conference that would put them in the play-in tournament. They had a game on the last Sunday of the regular season against the Warriors to see who would get the eight and nine seed. The Grizzlies lost that game 113-101 as Steph Curry torched their defense for 46 points. That put them in the position to have to play the Spurs in the nine-ten game, for the right to play the loser of the seven-eight game (ended up being the Warriors).
They gritted out a win against the Spurs behind a 23 point, 23 rebound game from Jonas Valančiūnas. With the whole world cheering for Steph Curry to make a run in the playoffs, not many believed in the Grizzlies to beat the Warriors in the final play-in game for the right to the eight seed, but Memphis is no stranger to being underdogs.
Their “grit and grind” teams of the early 2010’s were tough outs in the playoffs for every top seed, and in 2011 they were able to knock off the top-seeded Spurs in the first round as an eight seed. They still have this identity behind the tough inside force of Valančiūnas and Dillon Brooks hounding players on the perimeter.
They came into their second matchup in a week against the Warriors with a better game plan on how to stop Curry and were able to keep the game close and force overtime, where they were eventually able to pull away and win by four thanks to two massive Grayson Allen three-pointers.
Not only was their improved defense on Curry vital to their win, Ja Morant had an overnight improvement to his game. In the Grizz’s loss to Warriors, the defense was able to sag off of Curry from the three point line and give him the Ben Simmons treatment as he shot one of six from three, but in their second matchup, he was able to cash in on his opportunities from behind the arc and shot five of ten from three-point range and made the Warriors for leaving him open.
With the Grizzlies leading 112-109 in overtime, there was just a five second difference between the game and shot clock, and the Warriors decided not to foul. Like a calm veteran, the 21-year-old Morant let the shot clock run down and began his attack with four seconds left on the shot clock and drove hard to the left before spinning back hard to the right and elevating for his signature floater off two that was able to find the bottom of the net. Dagger.
The Warriors connected on a three with 2.5 left on the game clock to cut it to two, but on the other end the Grizzlies found a cutting Desmond Bane who put an exclamation point on the game with an and-one poster dunk on Kent Bazemore’s head that secured their place in the playoffs against the Utah Jazz who held the best regular season record in the league.
Many wrote off the Grizzlies and expected them to be swept by the Jazz. However, before the first game there was news about Donovan Mitchell that came as a surprise even to him. He was rehabbing an ankle sprain for the last part of the regular season but was cleared to play for the playoffs, however 2 hours before game one tip-off, the medical staff told him he would not be suiting up for the game, much to Mitchel’s dismay. This on top of momentum that the Grizzlies built during the play-in was enough to get them to come out at 100% and compete with the best team in the League.
The first half of the game was close and saw Memphis taking a six point halftime lead. The Jazz were not going to lie down, even without one of their all-stars. They battled through a third quarter Grizz run and cut the deficit to three with under ten seconds left,s but coach Taylor Jenkins opted for the smart defensive play, and fouled up three, and Bogdanovich drilled both free throws, but Dillon Brooks got a layup on the other end and Memphis was able to hang on for the W.
The Jazz probably feel good about their chances with Mitchell coming back, but the Grizzlies have reason to believe. Jaren Jackson Jr. was hurt the first half of the year and is still finding his groove but had flashes of being the player we know he can be. In the third quarter he had a chase down block and then trailed the play and stepped into a three and drilled it and played with confidence the rest of the game. If they can get JJJ in form, and steady contributions from Desmond Bane. Dillon Brooks came out of nowhere for 31 in game one and if he can get in a rhythm, who knows how far Memphis can go.