The writing was on the wall early in Game 5.
Since Donovan Mitchell returned in Game 2 of the 2021 NBA Playoffs first round, the Utah Jazz have been nearly unstoppable for much of this series as the Jazz closed out the first round and advanced thanks to a 126-110 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. The score actually makes the game seem closer than it actually was, as the Jazz led by as much as 35. Utah scored 28 points in less than six minutes to open the game and never looked back. There were many reasons they were the best team in the NBA this season, and nearly all of them were on display tonight.
However, while there were some disappointing aspects to the Grizzlies game plan in general, a few players once again arrived and delivered. In our last Report Card of the season, mostly positive grades to hand out as the future begins for the Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies are a good defensive team. Plenty of data from the regular season backs that up. Though they have clearly struggled this series, there were a few positive developments in Game 4 that should a bit of improvement in adjustments and coverages.
Unfortunately, none of that mattered in Game 5.
The Jazz, especially with Donovan Mitchell, were the best team in the NBA this season for many reasons - and they may be playing the best basketball of any team right now. However, they scored 47 points on the Grizzlies in the first quarter tonight to put this game to rest barely after it started. The Grizzlies were clearly outmatched this series, but the lack of implemented adjustments was clear. That certainly is a growth opportunity for Taylor Jenkins and his staff to make the most of their next opportunity in the playoffs in the near future.
Dillon Brooks- B
Though it is hard to give anyone an A due the overall defensive performance from the team, Dillon’s offense ended on another high note. Brooks was 9-18 from the field, with 27 points, five rebounds, and three three points. He truly had one of the best playoff performances in a round from a Grizzlies player in franchise history.
His defense certainly was not on the level it was during the play-in tournament. Donovan Mitchell appears to be one of the few bad matchups for Brooks in the NBA. But it seems Brooks has certainly evolved into a trustworthy two-way producer on a playoff team. Is he truly the Number 2 overall option for this team going forward? Probably not, but his evolution this season as a player as been monumental, validated by him playing the best basketball of his career against the best team in the NBA in this series. He clearly has established himself as a significant part of the Grizzlies future.
Jaren Jackson Jr.- B
While Jaren Jackson Jr. may not have been among the three best players in this series for the Grizzlies, no player
may have benefitted more than him from this experience. After a Game 4 performance in which Jackson Jr. was effective on both ends of the court for much of the game, he had another positive performance tonight. 15 points, 7 rebounds, and three blocks on 6-11 shooting from the field allowed Jackson Jr. to end his season on a high note.
Perhaps even more importantly, Jackson Jr. did not foul out in one game this series. His rebounding, defensive impact, shot selection and overall play all significantly improved as the series progressed. Yes, there is still so much growth and potential that remains for him to fulfill. But the fact that he will be able to approach this offense on a high not and healthy is a wonderful development for both him and the team.
Ja Morant- B+
In each game this series, Ja Morant has made history on multiple levels in his debut playoff appearance. Tonight, he became the youngest player in NBA history to produce 25+ points, 10+ assists, and 5+ threes in a game. After the Jazz made life tough for him in Game 4, and though Game 5 was decided early, Morant still made the most of his opportunity and played like a star.
Morant’s shooting and defense are clearly areas were progress is needed. But who Morant currently is as a player is truly a rare and unique talent for his age. He clearly proved that he is a star this series, and that he is someone who can make a difference and take over a game on the sport’s biggest stage. There clearly is many more evolutions for Ja and the Grizzlies before they best versions of themselves in the future. Without a doubt, that journey should be filled with numerous wins, accolades, and unprecedented playoff success for this franchise.