2021 Playoffs: West First Round Jazz vs. Grizzlies
Jazz even series as Grizzlies' early miscues spoil Ja Morant's career night
The NBA's second-youngest team showed its inexperience in the first half -- and its resilience in the second half.
Youth played its role in digging an inescapable hole for the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night. The end result was a 141-129 loss to the Utah Jazz in Game 2 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
Already contending with the long-awaited return of two-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell, the Grizzlies only complicated topping the West’s top seed with defensive lapses that allowed open 3-pointers early on, and foul trouble that sent three of their top contributors to the bench way sooner than needed.
The miscues essentially cancelled out a night of pure brilliance from Ja Morant, who scored a career-high and single-game franchise record 47 points in just his second postseason game.
You can expect such mistakes on the road on the game’s biggest stage from the NBA’s second-youngest team.
You can also anticipate Memphis to shrug off the setback, learn from the mistakes, and regroup in time to potentially seize an opportunity to go up 2-1 on Saturday (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) in this best-of-seven series that resumes on the Grizzlies’ homecourt.
We already saw signs shortly after intermission Wednesday, when Memphis embarked on a 17-10 run to start the second half, resulting in Jazz coach Quin Snyder calling a timeout at the 8:46 mark of the third quarter after the Grizzlies cut down a 20-point halftime deficit to 7 on a driving layup from Dillon Brooks.
Eventually, Memphis would cut Utah’s lead to 2 points with 3:29 left in the third quarter on a De’Anthony Melton 23-footer, as the Grizzlies started the second half hitting 17 of 22 from the field.
“We kind of let them back in it,” Mitchell said.
Later, the Grizzlies would conjure up another 8-0 run, punctuated by a Brooks dunk with 7:06 remaining.
So, best believe these young Grizzlies aren’t going anywhere.
That’s not just “Grit and Grind.” That’s guts.
The problem, though, is the Grizzlies committed self-inflicted, near-irreversible damage in the first half.
Brooks, Jonas Valanciunas and Jaren Jackson Jr. accumulated three fouls each in the first half, which severely limited their time on the floor and effectiveness. As a result, Utah drilled 10 of its 19 pointers on the night over that span, led by Mitchell (14 points in the first half), who was playing in his first game in 40 days after recovering from a sprained ankle.
Brooks, the Grizzlies’ best perimeter defender, played less than six minutes in the opening quarter after piling up two quick fouls. Brooks picked up foul No. 3 with 9:10 left in the second quarter defending a Joe Ingles 3-pointer. So, Brooks played a total of 8:21 in the first half, while Memphis’ best rim protector, Valanciunas, stayed on the court for just 7:21 over the first two quarters after committing three quick fouls.
It’s important to keep in mind that Memphis entered the season as the second-youngest team in the NBA behind Minnesota. The Grizzlies have an average age of 24.4 years old, while the league average is 26.28 years. They started off the season as the least experienced team in the NBA with an average tenure of 2.87 years, compared to the league average of 4.56 years.
You can bet Memphis won’t blame inexperience on Wednesday’s loss, but it was undeniable pitted against the league’s sixth-oldest team in the Jazz (27.30) with an average tenure of 4.5 years.
But let’s not take away from Utah’s clean performance in Game 2 to even the series.
The Jazz led by as many as 22 points on the night.
Utah connected on nearly half of their 3-point attempts (48.7%) and 54.4% from the field, as Mitchell scored a team-high 25 points, followed by Rudy Gobert (21), Mike Conley (20), Bojan Bogdanovic (18) and 2020-21 Kia NBA Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson (16).
You can also count on Mitchell rounding into complete form at some point in this series. Mitchell sat out a total of 17 games before returning Wednesday for Game 2.
As for Memphis, Utah definitely knows the Jazz are coming in Game 3.
Morant has poured in 71 points in his first two career playoff games, the most since the 1949-50 season.
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