MikeCheck: Hyped and home, Grizzlies eager to seize control of series against top-seeded Jazz
MEMPHIS – Having split the first two games against the top-seeded Jazz in a series that now shifts to FedExForum, these gritty and growing Grizzlies have discovered a few things about themselves in their first foray into the NBA playoffs.
That list includes a formula for success.
“We’re trying to educate our guys through the numbers and through the film,” coach Taylor Jenkins insisted as the Grizzlies close in on a pivotal Game 3 at home Saturday night. “We know what our recipe can be to beat this team. It’s hard. You’ve got to be committed to it for 48 minutes on both sides of the floor. We’re capable. We just have to find that gear.”
As the youngest team in the NBA playoffs, the Grizzlies are very much a work in progress as they navigate the choppy waters of the postseason against a veteran Jazz team that secured the league’s best record this season. Yet make no mistake about it – these NextGen Grizzlies are committed to making the absolute most of the moment right now.
Fueled by a competitive feistiness, a collective defiance, one of the NBA’s most dynamic young stars in 21-year-old Ja Morant and a group of mid-career vets in the midst of career seasons, the Grizzlies aren't just in this series against Utah.
They’ve clawed their way into position to take control of it.
We know what our recipe can be to beat this team. It’s hard. You’ve got to be committed to it for 48 minutes on both sides of the floor. We’re capable. We just have to find that gear.
Heading into the franchise’s first home playoff game in four years, the Grizzlies are leaning on their relentless effort and an expected raucous environment at FedExForum to push them forward on an improbable postseason run. The last time the Grizzlies were at home, they used a 27-4 early spurt to blitz the Spurs on the way to a win in the opener of the Play-In Tournament. From there, Memphis knocked off the Warriors on the road to secure the No. 8 and final playoff seed in the West to face the No. 1-seeded Jazz.
After stealing Game 1 and sending a clear message that they won’t be a pushover in Game 2, the Grizzlies hope to bounce back from Wednesday’s 141-129 loss that featured a historic, franchise-record 47-point performance from Morant.
It’s been a rapid rise into playoff contention for Memphis. The organization is just two years removed from selecting Morant with the No. 2 overall pick to boost a reset that began the previous year when the team drafted Jaren Jackson Jr. fourth overall.
Now, after a 38-34 regular season finish that marked their first winning record in four years, the Grizzlies will enter their home arena staring down the top team in the NBA with a healthy respect, but no hint of fear.
“I expect a lot of energy,” said Morant, whose 73 points in this series are most in NBA history through a player’s first two playoff games. “Playing against Spurs recently, the gym was very loud, there was a lot of energy and we fed off that. I’m happy we’re home and can feed off our home crowd. Hopefully they return the boos Utah was giving us, and we just play hard.”
Playing hard hasn’t been an issue for the Grizzlies. Playing consistently and efficiently, especially on the defensive end, is the priority going into Game 3 after surrendering 141 points in Game 2.
All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell’s return from an ankle injury for Game 2 boosted a Utah offensive attack that produced 19 made three-pointers, 25 made free throws and placed seven scorers in double figures. The Jazz executed their vaunted pick-and-roll sets to build a 22-point lead before the Grizzlies fought their way back with a 43-point outburst in the third quarter.
Playing against Spurs recently, the gym was very loud, there was a lot of energy and we fed off that. I’m happy we’re home and can feed off our home crowd. Hopefully they return the boos Utah was giving us, and we just play hard.
Foul trouble has limited some of the Grizzlies key starters in each of the two games in Utah. Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas believes adjusting to the physicality and nature in which playoff games are officiated is a priority entering Game 3.
“They’re tough because they’re shooting threes out of pick-and-rolls, and they’ve got decent big guys who can roll, so it’s a tough job to stop that,” Valanciunas said. “But we’ve got to do a better job of (defending) that play and taking away something.”
Being available and staying on the court will be crucial to an improved defense for both Valanciunas and Jackson, who are essential in the Grizzlies quest to protect the rim.
“We have to be smarter with our hands, can’t gamble as much,” Jackson Jr. said. “Depending on how they’re calling the game, we have to be prepared for what we’re getting into. We’ve got to communicate more. They’re a team that moves the ball really fast, they’re cutting everywhere. So we’ve got to be aware of who the scorers are when they’re out there, really key in on that. The games are about adjustments and communicating. We’ve got to handle that.”
Jenkins would like to see his team get back to the blueprint from Game 1, when the defense was disruptive and generated a combined 29 steals and deflections in a 112-109 win to open the series. In that game, the Jazz missed 35 of 47 attempts from three-point range.
Offensively, Jenkins wants the Grizzlies to get back to pushing in transition and limiting possessions when they go against a stacked Jazz defense in halfcourt sets.
Depending on how they’re calling the game, we have to be prepared for what we’re getting into. We’ve got to communicate more. They’re a team that moves the ball really fast, they’re cutting everywhere. So we’ve got to be aware of who the scorers are when they’re out there, really key in on that. The games are about adjustments and communicating. We’ve got to handle that.
“We’re taking the necessary feedback from one game to apply it to the next,” Jenkins said of necessary adjustments. “It’s definitely heightened more now. It’s the chess match. But it’s a first-time experience for many of our guys to go through this, and attention to detail changes from one game to the next. But you have to be who you are, your focus has to be there, your edge has to be there as it changes now from Game 2 to Game 3.”
Staying in this postseason fight requires maximizing the moment.
The Grizzlies are geared up to go hard for their home fans.
“Not only do we deserve it, but the fans deserve it,” guard De’Anthony Melton said of seizing the opportunity to take control of the series. “Memphis feeds off this type of energy and these type of games. I feel these next two games are really important. We just have to keep attacking with full force. If we have our discipline, you never know what’s going to happen.”
These Grizzlies aren’t just here to learn the intricacies of NBA playoff basketball.
From the comforts of home this weekend, they’ll have a chance to lead.
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