We’ve discussed data accumulation all year long — some have lived by it, and some have used it sarcastically. This playoff series is a bit of a “data accumulation” period as well but with a totally different perspective. They got the data of how players fit, where they are successful, and which 10 guys produce the most for this team. Now comes the fun part — who’s built for these playoff moments.
These times get more tense. The defense tightens up. Things get a little more chippy. The playoffs are where legacies are created, careers are launched, and players are revealed as their true selves.
After a slow start to the first 15 minutes of the game, the Grizzlies started chipping away at the Jazz lead, entering the halftime break with a 6-point lead. Then, in the 3rd quarter, the Grizzlies — led by the sensational Dillon Brooks — opened the floodgates, as the 4th-year wing was killing the Jazz off the dribble. Finally, in the 4th quarter, Ja Morant went to work in the pick-and-roll. No matter who was on him, even Grizzlies legend Mike Conley, there was no answer for big 12 in the clutch.
The win was theirs - and how they got there was wild, thrilling, and even audacious for a young team.
Dillon Brooks was chirping the entire game, per usual. If he made a bucket, anybody in that arena would know it even if they were distracted for a millisecond. And he didn't care who you were either — the always-trashing-talking Joe Ingles, or former teammates and first-team All-Likeable guy Mike Conley — he was going to talk his stuff and try to get inside your head.
Kyle Anderson got chippy on a few instances, including that hilariously-embarrassing flopping stunt from Rudy Gobert. He brought a level of composure and swagger on both ends of the floor, as he swiped Utah any chance he had defensively.
The rookie Desmond Bane even showed off some swagger. After drilling a contested 3 between Georges Niang’s eyeballs, he added some a bit of trash talk of his own.
Ja Morant was the closer — the Mariano Rivera of this team, to bring a cross-sport comparison. He shifted through the defense, weaving through to the basket regardless of who was on him. He played a great game from start to the finish, but he really shined when it mattered most — in winning time. To go into a road environment, in your playoff debut, and pull off clutch heroics like Morant did... that takes oodles of swagger and large stones. He’s just built for it.
So in this little “data accumulation” of sorts, we’re already seeing something important. The Utah Jazz was the veteran team talking noise, and the Grizzlies weren’t the young team that backed down. They talked that noise back, threw haymakers as the Jazz were throwing punches, and they backed up their talk to take care of business.
Things got a bit “competitive” last night, but don’t expect last night to be the apex of it. It’s only the beginning on that front.
What we saw from this Memphis Grizzlies is an audacious swagger that is — and will continue to be — engrained in this culture. That’s going to be important for this team going forward, as there will be more playoff expectations and battles from here on out.