WHEN: 6:30 PM CST
WHERE: FedExForum - Memphis, TN
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: ESPN/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Grayson Allen (abdominal soreness, Questionable), Sean McDermott (left foot soreness, Out)
SAN ANTONIO: Trey Lyles (ankle, Out), Derrick White (ankle, Out), Luka Samanic (broken hand, Out)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas
SAN ANTONIO: Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker IV, DeMar DeRozan, Keldon Johnson, Jakob Poeltl
The regular season has concluded and a familiar foe stands in the way of the Grizzlies preseason goal to make the playoffs.
As highlighted in the phenomenal hype video narrated by local rapper Young Dolph, the Grizzlies are right back where they were 9 months ago on the brink of a playoff opportunity with the world watching. This time they’ll face the San Antonio Spurs with the city of Memphis behind in a “Grindhouse” that has increased to 40% capacity. There’s a number of storylines to watch. This will mark the 6th time in the franchises 11 postseason appearances that they’ll face the Spurs - the first time since the 2017 playoffs that gave us the “Take That for Data” rant. It will also be Student vs. Teacher as Memphis Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins faces his mentor in Gregg Popovich.
The Grizzlies took 2 out of 3 games from these same San Antonio Spurs during a regular season series in which the Spurs never saw the Grizzlies at full strength. Now, both team’s seasons are on the line, as a Grizzlies team that has won five out of their last six games faces a Spurs team that has lost four in a row heading into this final showdown.
Don’t Let DeRozan Beat You
With perpetual Grizz killer LaMarcus Aldridge no longer a factor, all eyes are on star Spurs forward DeMar DeRozan. In the Spurs sole win this season over the Grizzlies this December, DeRozan was a man unhinged. His 28 point near triple-double performance played a major role in spoiling a 44 point 9 assist game from Ja Morant as DeRozan was a major catalyst in everything the Spurs did offensively.
This would not be the case in the final two matchups as DeRozan would score a combined 19 points. Dillon Brooks accepted the defensive assignment of guarding DeRozan and he did what he did all season - fluster his assignment and completely throw them off their game. It wasn’t just Brooks though as the Grizzlies played great team defense in two games that showed why this team has consistently been a Top 10 defense this season.
Brooks and company will have to do the same tonight to advance to the next round of the play-in.
#FeedJV/Attack the Paint
Two things working against the Spurs entering the play-in:
- They have the worst defense amongst postseason eligible teams
- They had the 5th worst paint defense in all of the NBA this season
The Memphis Grizzlies finished the regular season as the best paint scoring team partially thanks in part thanks to their offensive mentality of attacking and slashing to the rim but a huge chunk of their paint success can be pinned on one man - Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas has been a monster this season as a walking double-double but only saw the floor once against the Spurs due to Health and Safety Protocols. The Spurs only having one player taller than 6’10” (Jakob Poeltl) in their rotation presenting a favorable matchup for Valanciunas and others to dominate in the paint as they did in their midseason double header. The Grizzlies got jump shot dependent Sunday against the Warriors, tonight presents an opportunity for them to assert dominance in the area of the court they love the most.
DOMINATE the Bench Minutes
At their best, the Grizzlies have one of the best bench units in basketball. Tonight presents a chance for them to show it. While the Spurs bench unit averages the same amount of points per game (39.1) they are drastically worse defensively. The Grizzlies benefitted in their two wins against the Spurs this season by spreading the wealth and not letting the ball stick on one particular player. In both wins, multiple bench players finished in double figures as they more than doubled the Spurs bench production. This style of play led to one of Tyus Jones’ best games of the season on February 1st as he finished with 11 points and 14 assists. Another performance like this from the Grizzlies “bench mob” could lead to yet another Grizzlies blow out victory over the Spurs.
As is the case on every national broadcast, all eyes will be on Ja Morant. Luckily, he’s averaging 23 points and 9.3 assists per game against the Spurs. That being said, from this point forward, there won’t be games for a singular player to win by himself. Gregg Popovich will surely go into his postseason bag of tricks to scheme ways to slow Morant and Jackson Jr.
The Grizzlies will have to make their free throws, lock down on defense and play a full four quarters to avoid another play-in disappointment. Popovich and he Spurs are a familiar foe and have stood in this franchise’s way in the postseason more times than one can count. The Grizzlies are a more mature team than the one from last season’s play-in as they have grown from that experience over the course of the 2020-21 season.
They have been a hidden gem this season as they have thrived through a season plagued with adversity.
This is their time. Growl Towels Up.
FINAL SCORE: Grizzlies 120, Spurs 105