Considering the fact that Donovan Mitchell was returning after a lengthy absence for the Utah Jazz and the veteran Utah team was eager to get back to work after being stunned by the young Memphis Grizzlies, perhaps the way that Game Two played out should not be too surprising. A Jazz win was in the cards for most prognosticators - the Grizzlies already achieved the split heading back to Memphis, and the burden of regaining home court advantage was now squarely on the shoulders of the #1 seed in the conference. The stars aligned for a Utah win, and for the first time in a while for the Grizzlies they weren’t able to buck the odds.
That doesn’t mean they didn’t try. A large Utah lead that got as high as 22 was cut down to three at one point by this gutsy Memphis squad. But despite an elite effort from Ja Morant, the Grizzlies didn’t have enough to maintain. And the Jazz ran away with it.
Some quick takeaways.
Ja Morant’s most awe-inspiring play was a blocked dunk
Ja played a monster game. He stepped up when his team needed him to produce as a scorer and he helped push them to the big third quarter comeback. He was spent in the fourth quarter and 100% should’ve been - Ja basically carried the team on this night. But the play that should always be remembered from this game is one where Morant was shut down by Rudy Gobert at the rim. Ja got the ball and attacked the rim, knowing full well that Mount Gobert would be there limiting his opportunities to finish. And yet, Ja launched, jumping in to the inevitable without any fear.
He either doesn’t care, or doesn’t know any better. His youth could lead you to believe the former. But give me the latter - he will trust in himself above all else. Yes, over 40 points on efficient shooting is tremendous. But in the long term, his confidence and willingness to take the leap will be what continues to carry him to even higher places.
What happened to the bench?
What was supposed to be a strength of this team - its depth - has completely failed them. With both Jonas Valanciunas and Dillon Brooks struggling with foul trouble in the first half especially, the Grizzlies depended on reserves like Desmond Bane, Grayson Allen, and De’Anthony Melton in four guard deployments from Coach Taylor Jenkins. Those...didn’t work out all too well. All three of those guards had double-digit negative +/- performances and were not nearly impactful enough offensively, especially Grayson Allen who went scoreless in 19 minutes of play.
Bane and Melton weren’t world beaters, but they contributed more than Allen did. And considering how badly the Grizzlies need bench production now that both Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles are back on the bench, that simply will not get the job done. If Grayson continues to struggle, would Memphis be better served running with John Konchar or even Justise Winslow? At least you know rebounding and defense would improve.
Something to keep an eye on as the weekend approaches.
- Ja Morant attempted 20 free throws. No one else on the Jazz took as many as 8. Morant attacked the basket early and often - quite impressive considering Rudy Gobert mans the middle for Utah.
- Kyle Anderson remains sneaky steady. A 6’9” point forward that can defend all five positions on the floor and create for himself off the dribble as well as others holds remarkable value. Who would’ve thought of that? 11 points, 6 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists...early season scoring Kyle can come back whenever he wants. But this Anderson is fun too.
- Back to defending the three. Something that Memphis did especially well in Game One - defend the Jazz from beyond the arc - they struggled with mightily in Game Two. The Grizzlies fouled four three point shooting players. They misses rotations to the tune of Utah making 19 threes. The Jazz are three point monsters, and this performance is not surprising. But the Grizzlies had hoped to be more consistent in this area. Falling short of that goal must be disappointing - but it can be a valuable learning experience for both players and coaches. The counter punch will be fun to watch for this Winter.
Now, the series comes to FedExForum. Game Three is Saturday night in Memphis. Be there if you can - the Grizzlies earned home court advantage by getting the split in Utah. Make it worth it.