WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
WHEN: 8:30 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: ESPN/Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Sean McDermott (Out, foot)
UTAH: Miye Oni (Questionable, back)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas
UTAH: Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neal, Rudy Gobert
Finally, playoff basketball has come back to Memphis.
The #8 seed Memphis Grizzlies are on cloud nine entering tonight’s showdown with the #1 seeded Utah Jazz. They stunned the NBA universe last Sunday as they knocked off the mighty Jazz in Game 1, and even though they fell to a returning Donovan Mitchell in Game 2 all Memphis needed was 1 game out in Salt Lake City. Now, the ball is literally in their court - they hold home court advantage in this series that many nationally saw as at best a “Utah in 5” situation. While that is still possible, it feels less than probable - even in their loss to the Jazz, the Grizzlies fought back and made it a game late. These young bears of Beale Street don’t know how to quit.
And now, this Memorial Day weekend, they’ll have roughly 10,000 of their fans cheering them on for the first time since March of 2020. The energy will be at a fever pitch and the city of Memphis will be ready to match the swagger and tenacity of their Grizzlies.
How can Memphis take that momentum and turn it in to another series lead?
Rise to the level of Ja Morant
Ja Morant played the best game of his young career in Game 2, and quite literally had a historic stay in Utah against the Jazz in the first 2 games of this series. He has taken the next step on his journey to becoming an NBA superstar. It helps that the Jazz have no one that can defend him. Literally no one. Ja is the past has struggled with young, athletic, long/rangy guards. Utah has...none of those - at least none near the level of Morant. Because of this, Ja almost certainly will be able to continue to have his way with the Jazz.
The issue, of course, becomes his teammates. For despite Morant’s heroics, the Grizzlies fell in Game 2. Multiple players were in foul trouble. The issues of the Grizzlies reserves continued. The defense that was the strength of the team in the first game of this series failed them in the second. A lot of that was Mitchell’s return, and the fact that Utah is very very good offensively with the versatile “Spida” back in the fold. Their pick and roll game becomes that much better when Donovan is out there and Conley can be a secondary facilitator. But Memphis did not rotate/defend without contact nearly as well.
The Grizzlies must rise to the standard set by Morant - especially offensively. That doesn’t mean that they play as well as Ja - only a few players in the NBA can do that. But it does mean they have to match his ability to put forth his best effort and compete. That didn’t happen on Wednesday. Ja cannot do this alone.
Attack Rudy Gobert
Bold strategy, right? Going right at the two-time (probably soon to be three-time) Defensive Player of the Year doesn’t sound like the soundest strategy. But aside from the minutes where Jonas was able to go right at Gobert in the block and force his hand in the pick and roll, Memphis had their greatest success when Rudy was in his own foul trouble in Game 1. When someone with Gobert’s defensive timing and tremendous frame is off the floor in favor of Derrick Favors, the Jazz defense is far less formidable.
As important as Donovan Mitchell is to the offensive end for the Utah Jazz, Gobert is that much of a factor defensively. The Grizzlies have shown a capacity to score even when Rudy is on the floor, but their passing lanes to the rim and angles attacking the basket are much cleaner when he is off. Getting in to his body via Jonas Valanciunas post sequences and making him defend off of picks and screens consistently can get him crossed up and creating the wrong (foul) kind of contact.
Don’t let Rudy dictate the tempo on his strongest end of the floor. Take the fight to him.
Memphis is a 5.5 point underdog in this game, and that is a logical line. Utah, again, is the better team - this is a 1 vs. 8 seed matchup after all. The Jazz should be favored in every game played, especially when their three All-Stars and two Sixth Man of the Year nominees are all in the mix.
However, there’s a reason these games aren’t played on paper. Memphis will pick up their young Grizzlies and get them through the adversity that will surely come in this game. If the Grizzlies are to get a game at home, Game 3 - with its extended rest and preparation, and the shock to the Jazz system that is sure to be Grindhouse living - would be the one to get. Look for Jonas Valanciunas to once again win his individual matchup with Gobert and for the Jazz to not make 19 threes again - that will be enough.
Ready to surprise the NBA world again?
Memphis 118, Utah 114