MikeCheck: Setting ‘GrindTable’ on Grizzlies postseason groove and Game 2 tweaks against Jazz
MEMPHIS – Perhaps Dillon Brooks put it best.
Despite a defiant run in which Memphis surged through the NBA’s Play-In Tournament and then shocked the top-seeded Utah Jazz in Game 1 of the playoffs, none of this is stunning to a special group in a certain locker room.
“Yeah, we reached our goal by getting here to the playoffs, but none of us are satisfied just to get here,” said Brooks, the Grizzlies’ fourth-year swingman. “Let the chips fall where they may.”
The Grizzlies look to keep chipping away at their shot to pull off an improbable upset in the NBA playoffs entering Game 2 Wednesday in Salt Lake City. Three of the four Western Conference playoff series have already flipped, with the lower-seeded Grizzlies, Blazers and Mavericks stealing homecourt advantage from the No. 1 Jazz, No. 3 Nuggets and No. 4 Clippers.
Regardless of the Game 2 outcome, the Grizzlies return to FedExForum for Memorial Day Weekend games Saturday and Monday looking for a significant boost from the home crowd.
Both teams spent Monday and Tuesday making critical adjustments, with the Jazz clearing the way for All-Star leading scorer Donovan Mitchell to return Wednesday from a month-long absence with an ankle injury. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies hope to correct some issues of their own while building on the momentum from Sunday’s emotional 112-109 victory in Game 1.
Our ‘GrindTable’ breaks down three key topics, as Grizzlies TV and radio broadcasters Pete Pranica, Rob Fischer and Eric Hasseltine join me to dive deep on storylines ahead of Game 2.
What’s most surprising about the Grizzlies’ path from the Play-In to a 1-0 series lead over Utah?
I hate to start with a negative, but the Grizzlies had lost the 2nd-most double digits leads in losses this season. So when they got big leads in each of the last three games, there was a sense of foreboding (cue the “Jaws” theme). But unlike earlier this season, this Grizzlies team managed to stem the tide. A team that formerly struggled in clutch games (final 5:00, margin within 5 points) now handled its business. They were a plus-4.5 in the clutch in the two Play-In games, and then made enough plays to close out Game 1 at Utah.
What has surprised me the most is the Grizzlies finding a consistency that they haven’t had all season. The effort has been the most consistent thing. Through 66 games, the Grizzlies were no better and no more consistent than a .500 team. It’s nice to peak and be playing your best basketball right now entering the postseason.
I think the composure of the rookies was amazing. I wasn't surprised per say but it they clearly stepped up in big moments. Also, the ability of the entire to team to regroup when things were not going their way. Losing leads in both Play-In games didn't sink the team. They locked in and went right back at it. It's not always easy to get back momentum in a game, and the Grizzlies did that in both Play-In games and also took it from Utah in Game 1.
The fast and effective starts in each of the past three games. The Grizzlies flat-out blitzed the Spurs and the Warriors in the opening minutes of those two Play-In games, and they absolutely discombobulated the Jazz with disruptive defense in the opening quarter of Game 1, although they stilled trailed after the first 12 minutes Sunday. Still, those first impression efforts underscore how prepared and locked in coach Taylor Jenkins has this squad to open key games.
What’s least surprising about the Grizzlies’ path from the Play-In to their 1-0 series lead over Utah?
I love the fire and passion of Dillon Brooks. If you thought it burned brightly during the season, he’s taken it up a notch through the Play-In and into the playoffs. He’s the ultimate love/hate player: love him if he’s on your team, hate him if you have to play against him. The Equalizer is busy equalizing.
What’s surprised me the least is Ja Morant in win time. Ja has been a winner his entire life. He’s overcome the odds. He shows up when it matters the most. From last year’s Play-In against Portland to this year’s Play-In games and Game 1 against Utah, Ja has been the head of the snake. That’s what we’ve come to expect from him, and he’s delivering!
The intensity of Dillon Brooks and Kyle Anderson on the defensive end of the floor. It may be new to those who haven't seen this team, but to us, it's old hat. They go after it. No player ever holds a quality scorer in check all 48 minutes. That’s impossible, but these two clearly make it as tough as it can be for big-time players to get rolling. It will be interesting to see Donovan Mitchell in Game 2. He was sensational against the Grizzlies in the regular season.
What’s least surprising is that Jonas Valanciunas and Dillon Brooks refuse to back down when the going gets tough. So much about this team is fixated on the bright future ahead with budding stars Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., but the foundation of intestinal fortitude is set in the present by J.V. and D.B., who, along with fellow mid-career vet Kyle Anderson, who are providing consistently reliable production and leadership right now.
The biggest adjustment the Grizzlies must make entering Game 2 against the Jazz should be?
The Grizzlies got away with fouling the Jazz way too much in Game 1. The Jazz are a jump-shooting team, and Bojan Bogdanovic got nine free-throw attempts by himself. Utah averaged 21.4 free throw attempts per game during the regular season. Normally, when you are minus-14 in made free throws in a game, you won’t win. The Grizzlies were able to make up the difference because of forced turnovers. They can’t rely on that every game. Defend with your feet, not your hands, don’t take silly fouls, and be solid defensively.
The Grizzlies have to find a way to get more production from the bench. In Game 1, it was Desmond Bane and that was it until the fourth quarter. How do you get more production from the bench? Execution! That’s on the players. But Taylor Jenkins will have to continue to tinker with the lineups to put them in the best position possible to succeed.
The obvious adjustment is the change in the Jazz lineup with Mitchell back. That moves Joe Ingles to the second unit more than likely. So it seems to me like the rotation may need to be tweaked a little. De’Anthony Melton is a good defender, but Ingles is a legit 6'8 and can shoot over the top of smaller defenders. The Grizzlies’ second-unit will have to be even more productive with Ingles now joining newly-minted Sixth Man of the Year, Jordan Clarkson.
Don’t expect the Jazz to shoot as poorly from 3-point range (12-for-47) this time. And don’t count on surviving another night when the Jazz nearly double you up in made free throws (29-15). Sure, Donovan Mitchell’s return will certainly impact the game one way or another. But the Grizzlies must activate Jaren Jackson Jr. early, with some initial paint touches to allow him to create an advantageous mismatch for Memphis. ‘Trip’ must be a factor in this series, asap.
(Catch Pranica and Fischer on Bally Sports Southeast’s Grizzlies game-night coverage, and listen to Hasseltine and Wallace on 92.9 FM ESPN Radio, the Grizzlies radio flagship station)
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.