WHEN: 9:00 PM CST
WHERE: Vivint Center, Salt Lake City, Utah
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: TNT/Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Sean McDermott (left foot soreness, Out)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
Memphis: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas
UTAH: Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neale, Rudy Gobert
The Memphis Grizzlies shocked the world on Sunday. There were multiple analysts that didn’t even have them winning a game against the Western Conference's best regular season team, the Utah Jazz.
On top of that, most national media and casual fans didn’t even want them there. Everybody wanted to see Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors in, while screaming “but ratings!” at the top of their lungs — or at least typing it in all caps on their keyboard. Before the play-in even began, people were talking about how the Warriors could even upset the Jazz.
The Grizzlies are used to the disrespect, and even Kyle Anderson said he doesn’t care about getting that respect. They took care of business. They threw haymakers, while Utah hit them with some punches. As Utah began to talk trash, the Grizzlies didn’t lay down; they talked their noise too.
I asked Ja about what led to the flip in energy and swagger. He said Utah played their game and they started talking trash. And it opened things up to play their game to finish how they wanted to— Grizzly Bear Blues (@sbnGrizzlies) May 24, 2021
This young team is just filled with swagger. They don’t give a damn about the team in front of them, or your feelings about them.
But it’s far from over. It’s game 2 of the series. Adjustments will be made, and there will be a new wrinkle added to the series: All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell.
The Donovan Mitchell Effect
So, Donovan Mitchell is mad. More on the story here, but he wanted to play Game 1 and the Utah Jazz performance team held him out. His teammates were upset and uneasy about it. Now he’s playing, and there will be extra juice on both ends.
Donovan Mitchell is a star talent. He’s an electrifying guard that can create his own shot in the mid-range, finish at or above the rim, find his teammates, and shoot the 3-ball at good volume and efficiency (38.6% on 8.3 attempts per game). He’s also proven that he’s a big-time talent in playoff opportunities, averaging 27.3 points per game on 55.1 true shooting percentage in the 3 postseason appearances.
He adds a dynamic wrinkle to the Jazz starting 5 with his explosiveness and scoring prowess, but it also shifts playmaking and shooting extraordinaire Joe Ingles down to the second unit.
And more importantly for this particular matchup, he cooked the Grizzlies this season. He scored 35 points in each of the 2 games he played in, while shooting a wicked 60% from the field. No one had an answer for him, not even stopper Dillon Brooks (allowed him to shoot 7-9).
Brooks needs to use his size and physicality to bother the probably-not-100-percent Mitchell. He needs to make life uneasy for him. Will he need to resort to face-guarding him like no did Steph Curry? Probably not, since Mitchell isn’t on Curry’s level, and Utah can win with other contributors too. Nonetheless, the spotlight is now on the Mitchell-Brooks showdown. This battle could be the deciding factor of this series.
Adjusting to potential adjustments
Changes will be made. Quin Snyder is too good of a coach to not take any counter-punches. If I had to guess what will be different strategically in this game, it’ll likely come inside the arc. The Grizzlies shot 80% of their shots inside the 3-point line, while converting on 47.5% of them. In addition, they scored 62 of their 112 points inside the paint. It’s bread and butter for the Grizzlies, and Utah will likely make life harder inside for them — after all, they do have reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.
What does that look like? They’ll probably collapse on Ja Morant on drives, double Jonas Valanciunas down low, play both the drive and roll in screen situations, and prevent Dillon Brooks from getting to his mid-range shots. So what must the Grizzlies do?
They don’t need to be married to the 3-point game like Utah, but they may need to lean on it a bit more — if those adjustments are made against them.
We’ll start with the team’s leading scorer the other night, Dillon Brooks. He did an amazing job of getting to his spots in the mid-range, channeling his inner Mamba there. It may not be as easy this time, but he does have more than one area of success. Among those who shot 50 or more corner 3’s, he finished 2nd in the league in percentage in that zone (56.9%). In addition, he also shot 38.6% on catch-and-shoot 3’s in the regular season. If those sweet spots are taken away, look for him to become more of a catch-and-shoot threat.
The 3 shooting guards — Desmond Bane, Grayson Allen, and De’Anthony Melton — need to be reliable from deep as well. Bane (2) and Allen (1) each connected on triples last game, but they only combined for 5 attempts. That number may need to double, if the mid-range and paint are the primary focuses on the opposing defense. Melton’s cold shooting stretch has continued over the past month. With Ingles returning to the bench, they need the analytics darling De’Anthony Melton (or even the 3’Anthony Melton we’ve seen this season) to return to action.
The biggest factor in all this picture — for both this series and for the team’s future — is getting Jaren Jackson Jr. going. He’s struggled mightily over the past 3 games, which could’ve been expected since he jumped into high-stakes basketball almost immediately after a 9-month layover. With his defensive struggles and foul trouble lately, his potential offensive firepower is what keeps him on the floor. That potential though needs to turn into a reality, if they want to prevail against the Utah Jazz with a returning Donovan Mitchell.
Granted, these adjustments could be a hypothetical. However, it’d be silly to think that Quin Snyder’s Utah Jazz won’t adjust their plan.
I’m not sure where to lean. The Memphis Grizzlies have won 9 of their past 10, clearly locking in on both ends of the floor and closing games with veteran poise. Dillon Brooks and Ja Morant are cooking at the right time.
On the other hand, the Jazz have only lost 6 games at home all year, and there will be added mojo with a returning Donovan Mitchell and with revenge on their minds.
It’s going to be a close game, and regardless, the Grizzlies will enter with “home-court advantage” after stealing a game on the road.
Final score prediction: Utah - 113, Memphis - 108