WHERE: Vivint Smart Home Center in Salt Lake City, Utah
WHEN: 8:30 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: NBATV/Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Sean McDermott (Out, foot)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Dillon Brook, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas
UTAH: Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rudy Gobert
What do we say to the basketball gods of death?
The Utah Jazz are better than the Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis had to survive and advance just to get this opportunity to be in a position to be eliminated in a gentleman’s sweep at the hands of the team with the best record in the NBA this past season. It isn’t as if the Grizzlies have played a bad series - on the contrary. They have competed admirably for long stretches, refusing to lie down for the superior Jazz and fighting back in to games where Utah had double-digit leads. The unfortunately reality, however, is that every time the Grizzlies briefly take the lead or get within a possession it is responded to by a Mike Conley three, or a Donovan Mitchell drawn foul, or some other play that a team with championship aspirations has to make in order to achieve that goal.
Utah is, indeed, better. But the better team doesn’t always win. And on this night, the Jazz will not be the most desperate team on the floor. The Memphis Grizzlies will be - and desperation can be a powerful motivator.
With their season on the brink, how can Ja Morant and company survive and advance?
Accelerate at the point of contact
Whenever a force meets an object, energy is exchanged that disrupts trajectories and effects directions of movement. Oftentimes, this contact can lead to slowing of momentum. This is especially true currently of the Memphis Grizzlies against the Utah Jazz - as previous stated above, every time the Memphis team gets up off the mat against Utah the Jazz respond. It is particularly frustrating when the likes of Royce O’Neale, Jordan Clarkson, or some other Jazz role player in particular are the ones doing the damage. Death by Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, or even Mike Conley (sigh) is understandable. Clarkson is the reigning Sixth Man of the Year. Again, the Jazz are really good.
But O’Neale and Georges Niang nailing the counterpunch hurts a little differently. It feels...avoidable.
The Grizzlies have now experienced the veteran Jazz team and their ability to respond. They know when these moments arise, and they have felt the sting of their momentum being stunted because of their inability to accelerate through the end of their own runs. They cannot lose sight of these moments in the game - Memphis will have openings, but they can close within a single possession if the Grizzlies do not put the foot on the metaphorical gas and drive through that lane.
Don’t just die on contact with the immovable object that is the Utah Jazz. Find ways to move even faster - turnovers, foul shot attempts, additional effort on rotations and close outs (and less help defense) - any way to build upon runs instead of having them squashed so consistently.
Rediscover the Lithuanian Leviathan
There’s a conversation to be had about the place of a traditional center like Jonas Valanciunas in the modern NBA Playoffs. His drop coverage (or perhaps more accurately Head Coach Taylor Jenkins’ drop coverage) has been picked apart by the Jazz and Rudy Gobert has, aside from Game 1, asserted his overall superiority over Jonas as both an athlete and a rebounder. If Valanciunas isn’t able to be the beast on the boards and in the paint the Grizzlies need him to be, does he still have a place in a series where his limitations are being exploited so expertly?
In a word? Yes.
He did thrive in Game 1, and while Donovan Mitchell’s return certainly has revitalized the Jazz it isn’t as if Jonas all of a sudden forgot how to play basketball. He has shown flashes of what makes him great as a scorer and rebounder, and before this series he also looked much improved in terms of his lateral movement as a defender. That guy hasn’t shown up in a while...maybe tonight would be a good night?
Let Jonas push himself some. Get him moving. Vary the defensive looks and coverages and make the Jazz adjust. He’s too predictable right now...but that’s not entirely his fault. He must be put in positions to succeed. Right now, that’s just not the case defensively.
The Jazz are currently 9.5 point favorites at home, and while Utah has a distinct home court advantage this feels way too high. 2 of the 3 Memphis losses have come by double digits, but the Grizzlies will certainly come out with the energy of a desperate team. That, and their overall ability to hang in these games for long stretches, add up. Memphis’ defensive reality doesn’t really allow for much adaptation of their scheme - but the good news is the same is true of the Jazz. Utah is going to get cooked as well by the Grizzlies. It’ll come down to who executes better.
Both teams will still get their looks offensively. But look for the Memphis squad to lean on their youth and desire to play one more time in front of their home fans to energize their closeouts as the Jazz shoot poorly once again and the Grizzlies live to fight another day.
Memphis 119, Utah 117