Things didn’t exactly get started the way Grizz Nation would have liked, with Mike Conley a late scratch due to his troublesome ankle and Tony Allen’s injury continuing to keep him sidelined. And unbeknownst to the team, who had already tipped off, the Rockets lost by one point to San Antonio to make for an interesting Western Conference playoff standings. Needing a win to stay ahead of the Rockets and Spurs in both the Conference and Division standings, the Grizzlies found a way to ring up another W with a final score of 89-88. No one said it was easy though.
While Conley was a DNP in this one, regular viewers won’t be surprised to hear that Beno Udrih served not only as an adequate replacement but did exceptionally well as the team’s starting point guard. His first quarter efforts helped the Grizzlies to a 29-23 lead after 12 minutes. Alongside Udrih’s 7 points (of his total 20), Gasol put up 9 and Courtney Lee drained a three! Things were certainly looking up in that moment as the team appeared impervious to any notions of a letdown game following Wednesday’s 36-point win over New Orleans. Still, Utah showed signs of life and a key matchup quickly emerged: Gordon Hayward vs. Jeff Green, and anyone else who tried to stop him.
Battle of the Bigs
The battle between the two forwards continued into the second quarter and Hayward got the better of Green more often than not. He led the Jazz in scoring going into the locker room with 18 points on the way to 27. Another noteworthy aspect of the Utah-Memphis series has been the performance of each team’s rookies. In last year’s draft, Memphis passed on the sharpshooting Rodney Hood to instead take Jordan Adams. While coach Dave Joerger has only provided limited minutes to Adams, Utah has regularly used Hood, who rounded out the half with 12 points and a couple of threes.
Along with attempting to limit Hayward, the Grizzlies were also given the difficult defensive assignment of stopping Rudy Gobert. Most often it was Marc Gasol who matched up against Gobert, and that battle was one of the more intriguing parts of this game. At halftime both teams were tied and the young Gobert showed glimpses of the superstar he has the potential to become. It was only fitting that he battled down low against who is arguably this season’s best center in the league. By most measurements, including the eye test, the youthful Jazz roster is extremely similar to the Grizzlies’ in both personnel and style of play.
Out of the Locker Room, Into Hot Water
Just as the Jazz appeared to be sneaking away with the lead out of halftime, Beno Udrih turned in another stellar burst of play, including a three to close the gap. Zach Randolph also showed up strong in the 3rd quarter with a team-high 10 points. If fans wanted a little more passion from Z-Bo, they certainly got it in the midst of that flurry of points. After his battles in the paint, Randolph got called for a foul and was eventually T-ed up after voicing his long list of complaints on the call. Overall the Grizzlies were doing only what they had to for much of the game, unable to pull away with any meaningful lead. For their part, the Jazz countered every Memphis basket with either a three or easy tip-in off an offensive board.
Things were never going to be fast paced or high scoring in a Jazz-Grizzlies matchup, but matters turned particularly ugly after the Randolph technical. Vince air balled a three, Utah’s Trevor Booker got a technical of his own, and both teams combined for just four field goals over the last three-and-a-half minutes of the 3rd quarter. Even with their lackluster play and tit-for-tat style of scoring, Memphis managed to hold on to a one point lead going into the fourth.
When your team’s in-game commentators say that the team needs "some midrange jumpers", you know that they’re in trouble. That’s exactly where the Grizzlies found themselves at the start of the 4th quarter. Utah went on a 7 point run that included a pair of threes and a whole lot of missed Grizzlies shots. It wasn’t until the 8 minute mark that Memphis finally got another bucket after six misses. A key moment in that stretch happened when Vince Carter air balled another shot and the Jazz turned that right around into another three-point jumper. The Grizzlies bench was uncharacteristically quiet throughout this matchup and the team’s success once again fell upon Gasol’s shoulders. Thankfully Big Spain found his rhythm in the crucial moments, draining three straight beauties from the floor.
As has been the case in all of the Grizzlies’ low points, turnovers and missed opportunities opened the door for their opponent. Despite fending off the Jazz for most of the game, Memphis missed some crucial free throws and had a pivotal turnover with five minutes left to play. Utah converted that into another Gobert throwdown and a four-point lead. The back-and-forth game that this was, Gasol answered on the other end with an and-one play to retake a three-point lead. It was clear early on and an absolute truth towards the end that this matchup would be decided by the very last moments. With less than two minutes left, Green’s long arms came in handy as he grabbed a stray Jazz pass from mid-air and an offensive rebound on the other end.
Neck and Neck Down to the Wire
An absolute flurry of events rounded out the game as Utah had the ball with 13 seconds left, down three as they chose not to use one of their timeouts. Derrick Favors elected to take a two-pointer and the Jazz missed two tap-in attempts, only for Zach Randolph to get tied up for a jump ball on the rebound. The jump ball led to a loose ball that led to the ball being hit out-of-bounds by the Grizzlies. That left Utah with 1.2 seconds on the clock and a chance at tying the game. In a stunner of a play, Marc Gasol came up with another last second, clean block on Hayward’s three-point attempt, only to get called for the shooting foul. Let it be known that even the basketball gods themselves suffer from springtime allergies, as the only explanation for what happened to Gordon Hayward’s final free throw was a perfectly timed sneeze from above. The Grizzlies escaped 89-88 in the crucial late season road game.
This win was a struggle in every sense of the word - the Grizzlies’ bench had 6 total points, the team was 63% from the line, got outrebounded again, and committed 22 fouls. It’s nice to come away with a very significant victory despite that type of performance, but consistency remains the name of the game for the Grizzlies with just THREE games left on the schedule. Their road trip continues with the end of a back-to-back tomorrow night against the Clippers. With tonight’s win, Memphis controls their playoff seeding fate in the face of a challenging pair of games.