The Memphis Grizzlies are returning to the playoffs for the first time in 4 years, and the party has officially kicked off.
Like every great party, there’s got to be a pregame. And for the Grizzlies’ playoff party, the play-in was the best way to start.**
** - Sidenote: The play-in tournament is the best idea from the NBA I’ve ever seen.
The odds were stacked against the Grizzlies. They were on the road, and the notorious Scott Foster was the head crew chief for the game. Stephen Curry and Draymond Green — two future Hall-of-Famers who have been in “do or die” situations in higher stakes over the past decade — were on the other side. And even to kick off the game, Jonas Valanciunas and Jaren Jackson Jr. got in to foul trouble.
The odds may have been stacked, but it simply didn’t matter.
Dillon Brooks took the tall task of defending Steph Curry the whole game, as he’s been the primary perimeter stopper all season long. He made life difficult for Curry and the Warriors offense, making him work for absolutely every shot possible. Add this to his All-Defense campaign; he’s the Grizzlies go-to stopper going forward:
The Grizzlies even had a bunch of complementary players rise up, as Valanciunas and Jackson were plagued with foul trouble. The bench has been troubling the past few games, but they stepped up big tonight. Kyle Anderson had a tremendous two-way game, providing strong rebounding and secondary rim protection. Grayson Allen hit two of the biggest 3’s of the season. Desmond Bane made some awesome two-way plays, including a timely cut and dunk to seal the game in its entirety. After a middling first quarter, Xavier Tillman was absolutely brilliant, continuing to show wisdom and skill beyond his years.
Then, there’s Ja Morant.
The organizer of the party.
The reason everyone wants to watch this party.
The reason why this party is the most lit party of all rebuild parties.
Ja Morant rose to the occasion like no other, going toe-to-toe with a MVP finalist — one of the 10-15 greatest players of all time. As the national media clamors about Morant’s shooting, he made them when he count, drilling a career-best 5 three-pointer’s. No matter who was in front of him, he managed to find his way into the paint to get off that floater. He also locked in defensively (5 steals) by getting into passing lanes and staying aggressive on both ends of the floor.
The Grizzlies have a future superstar that is built for these moments, and he’s only going to continue adding to his legacy.
The Grizzlies are fortunate. Over the past two years of the rebuild, the losses weren’t abundant or agonizing. We didn’t have to place hope in ping pong balls for years and years. The Grizzlies hit the ground running immediately, putting themselves in a position to receive high-stakes experience quick and early. Credit goes to Zach Kleiman for putting this team together, Taylor Jenkins for maximizing the talent he had and giving the team the green light, and for the players in executing.
Two years after the “Grit and Grind” era officially ended, the Grizzlies are now facing the final pillar of GNG era — Mike Conley — in its first playoff appearance of the #NxtGen era.
The Memphis Grizzlies are up next, and the party is just getting started.