The NBA Bubble experience didn’t go quite as planned for the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies stumbled to a 2-6 record in their seeding games, allowing the Portland Trail Blazers to overtake them as the 8th seed in the Play In Tournament where the Grizzlies lost a thrilling matchup against Portland and were eliminated from playoff contention.
The Grizzlies struggled mostly due to overall bad play, as well as due to injuries to Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones and Jaren Jackson Jr. Still, despite all of this the Grizzlies were surprisingly just a few plays away from having a much better record in the bubble.
Here are 5 plays that, had they gone differently, could have the Grizzlies playing the Lakers in a playoff series. Instead, these 5 plays collectively burst the Grizzlies bubble.
Seeding Game 1 vs. Portland Trail Blazers (7/31)
After trailing most of the first half, the Grizzlies went on a RUN in the 3rd quarter to take a 10-point lead over the Trail Blazers. The Blazers ended a quarter on a run to bring the score within 3. After a back and forth 4th quarter, the Grizzlies and Blazers found themselves tied and heading to overtime. CJ McCollum opened up overtime with a deep 3 to give the Blazers the lead. De’Anthony Melton followed with a mid-range floater that bounced in and out. On the ensuing Trail Blazers possession, this happened:
The luck of the bounce was certainly in the Blazers favor as they 6-0 run to start the OT period was more than enough to put the Grizzlies away. It’s hard not to think about what would have happened had Melton’s floater bounced in, and Trent’s triple bounce out. Instead of a 6-point deficit, the Grizzlies would have been down by just 1 in the opening minutes of the OT period which would have given them a much better chance at grabbing the win.
Seeding Game 2 vs. San Antonio Spurs (8/2)
The Spurs led the Grizzlies throughout most of the second seeding game, but a late 4th quarter run helped the Grizzlies get right back into it before this happened.
Insane shot by Jaren Jackson. Rudy Gay couldn’t have defended this any better. But Dillon Brooks couldn’t have played worse defense on DeMar DeRozan. Truly awful, after an overall awful game by him. Last 2 minutes were a shit show. Sorry, @ChrisVernonShow. pic.twitter.com/BwASs2CyVO— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) August 2, 2020
It was an insufferable game from Dillon who shot 7-20 from the field and 1-7 from beyond the arc. I’m usually not one to blame a loss on a single player or play, but Dillon did his best to make me question my thinking. DeMar DeRozan has been doing that pump fake for 50 years and still has people falling for it. Personally, if DeRozan hits a shot a foot inside the 3-point line to beat the Grizzlies, I’m okay. Instead, fouling a solid free throw shooter essentially guaranteed a loss. If Dillon didn’t foul DeRozan and he misses what would have been a tough shot, the Grizzlies would have had all the momentum in the OT period and the outcome could have been much different.
Seeding Game 3 vs. New Orleans Pelicans (8/3)
The Grizzlies seeding game struggles bled into their 3rd game against the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pelicans led a majority of the game, but the Grizzlies were able to cut the lead to 4 late in the 4th. That’s when Zion took over and went on a personal 6-0 run to put the Grizzlies away. After a free throw, Zion was able to get to the basket at ease.
Then, after a missed Morant 3:
These are honestly just dominant plays by Zion to put the Grizzlies away, but the over-helping on drives to the basket became a huge problem for the Grizzlies in Orlando. Stopping Zion here doesn’t necessarily mean the Grizzlies come back and even tie the game up considering how bad their offense was against New Orleans, but Zion’s 6-0 burst was enough to put the Grizzlies away and put them in a 0-3 hole to start the bubble.
Seeding Game 6 vs. Toronto Raptors (8/9)
The Grizzlies started playing better towards the tail end of their seeding games. After trailing by as many as 18, the Grizzlies went on a run in the 4th to cut the Raptors deficit to just 3 points in the closing minutes. That’s when Pascal Siakam took over.
The two three-pointers by Siakam were back-breakers for the Grizzlies as a win vs. the Raptors would have clinched a spot in the play-in for the Grizzlies (and ultimately would have made them the 8-seed instead if 9-seed). Siakam killed the Grizzlies late, but he’s the main reason the Raptors are Title contenders even after losing Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green this past offseason. Watching him hit these daggers still stings, but you can ultimately live with a player of Siakam’s level taking over and beating you.
Play-In Game vs. Portland Trail Blazers (8/15)
The Grizzlies were still able to make it to the play-in game as the 9-seed despite their 2-6 record in the seeding games. It was an exciting game as Ja Morant scored a career high 35 points as he battled against Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Ultimately though it was Carmelo Anthony who put an end to the Grizzlies season.
Usually you would be fine with Lillard passing instead of scoring late in the game, but the Blazers killed the Grizzlies with this exact play like 3 times in the game played on 8/31. With Jonas Valanciunas sliding over to help cut Dame off at the rim, there was no need for both Dillon and Brandon to leave CJ and Carmelo open from deep (though Ja could’ve helped more by sliding over to cover Melo instead of hovering in no-man's land). I get Melo was 0-5 from deep prior to that shot, but the Grizzlies gave up any chance of tying up the game for leaving Melo that wide open.
These 5 plays/sequences may have burst the Grizzlies bubble, but for the most part you can live with what happened. For the most part, veteran players made veteran plays. Getting playoff-like lumps out of the way in the first year of the rebuild will pay dividends down the line for the young Grizzlies core.