Taylor Jenkins is a good coach, and there’s an argument that he’s also a great or elite one. I lean towards the latter. After all, he was the runner-up to this year’s Coach of the Year award.
He helped power a system that finished in the top-6 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The Memphis Grizzlies also possessed a regular-season record of 56-26, which was the 2nd-best in the league by a comfortable margin (3 games). Those happened with his best player missing 25 games, and the team looked like a well-oiled machine regardless of who was in the rotation.
Those outcomes don’t happen without good coaching. With saying that, it’s absolutely silly to throw everything out the window with him and negatively define him after 1 bad game.
Game 4 will serve as a playoff scar for Taylor Jenkins.
There were some good elements to take out of Monday night’s game from an execution standpoint. For starters, the Grizzlies were poised defensively. After giving up 142 points in Game 3, they only surrendered 101 in this game. They were disciplined on that side of the floor, and that shined through the team’s two best defenders (Jaren Jackson and Dillon Brooks) staying out of cluttered foul trouble. They also defended the Splash Brothers and Jordan Poole quite well, forcing them into an uncomfortable shooting night — they collectively shot 20-57 from the field and coughed up 10 turnovers. Their rotations were crisp, and they jumped into the passing lanes of the pass-happy Warriors to stop possessions and start their own in transition.
The offensive game plan seemed pretty simple. They sought out mismatches, as was evident through the interior presence of Jaren Jackson and Kyle Anderson. They also capitalized on the returning Steven Adams to open up offensive opportunities through screening and offensive rebounding. Tyus Jones was the beneficiary there, generating scoring looks with his deft floater.
Those two facets of their game were reminiscent of Grit ‘n’ Grind Grizzlies, and dragging the Warriors into that muddy style was their way of scoring a win without Ja Morant.
Jenkins also made good pivots with his rotations. The biggest move was re-inserting Steven Adams into the starting lineup, and his force was a vital element in the Grizzlies lead for most of the game. He identified that frequent closer Brandon Clarke wasn’t up to par with his play, and that fellow reserve frontcourt Anderson was on his A-game on both sides of the ball, and rolled with the veteran forward down the stretch. He pulled De’Anthony Melton for his mediocre play after the 1st half as well.
Nonetheless, while these areas were great for Taylor Jenkins, the low spots are what’s going to stand out from Game 4.
Why not start with the most controversial spot of the game — reining in Dillon Brooks. Though he finished with a team-high 8 assists, his decision-making didn’t replicate it. He geared up for hero-ball too frequently, which led to asinine shot selection and costly turnovers. I understand Jenkins not taking him out, since his defense was great in the game. At what point does the bad offense outweigh the good defense though? They could’ve rolled with Ziaire Williams down the stretch. If he didn’t want to substitute him out, Jenkins could’ve opted for some more designed sets — and perhaps a clear message — to get Jaren Jackson the ball, who was cooking in the second half. Either alternative could’ve been a solution, but there wasn’t anything clear on reeling in Brooks, who had a rough outing offensively.
Many in the Grizzlies Twitter-verse point to Taylor Jenkins’ unwillingness to call challenges. In Game 4, there were two opportunities to call a challenge.
love how the players ON BOTH TEAMS are walking towards the other end of the court for this offensive foul and Marc Davis is like “no no no that’s a good basket” pic.twitter.com/miODxLkEs8— Fastbreak Breakfast (@fastbreakbreak) May 10, 2022
This spot was probably the riskier play to challenge the call. It was pretty early in the game, so I see where it wasn’t called. It also could’ve gone either way. Anderson might have been late to the spot, but Wiggins barreled over him. I mean, it was perceived as a charge to the 10 guys on the floor. Why not go for it with the challenge? That was a 3-point swing there.
Out of the 2 plays, Jenkins was more likely to lose the challenge here. However, it’s at the end of the game. If it hasn’t been used, why not go ahead and challenge the call? It’s evident that Curry exaggerated the call a bit. The flop was clear. Challenging it could’ve resulted in getting the ball back, a bucket, or a jump ball — unclear on what would be next after the successful challenge. This questionable serves as a “why not” challenge while the game is in balance and there’s still have one left.
Finally, the scar hits deeper with the late-game execution in Game 4. After Jaren Jackson scored a layup with roughly 3 minutes left, the Grizzlies were outscored 11-6. In that span, they only had 1 field goal (not counting Brooks’ heave at the end) and 2 free throws. There wasn’t any flow to the offense. The Grizzlies looked to identify perimeter mismatches through switches and trying to get downhill. It works with Ja Morant, and it doesn’t work as well with many other players on this team. Jenkins should’ve gone to a few actions that would yield a better scoring opportunity. He also didn’t call a timeout until there was 26 seconds left. While the Grizzlies were in a bit of a drought in those final moments, at least 1 timeout could’ve been beneficial to get everybody composed again and draw up an ATO to generate an easy bucket.
Granted, there’s a lot of nuance on these, and we don’t have the knowledge or information that Jenkins and his coaching staff here. Nonetheless, those several areas were tough spots that had an imprint on the game.
Game 4 was not a great game for Taylor Jenkins, but it shouldn’t define him. Like how we’ve discussed with the players getting playoff scars through their experience, this game is one for Jenkins.
Contrary to popular belief, coaches can grow and improve. His mentor, Mike Budenholzer, has shown to the ability to overcome playoff struggles to achieve glory. For someone with great coaching talent and with similar areas to battle (adjustments, rotations, challenge usage), it’d be foolish to count out Jenkins and assume he can’t wind down that same path.
This playoff experience is a part of the growing process. There will be experiences they learn from and will fall back on their path towards winning a NBA championship. Often times this topic revolves around how the players grow from these playoff scars, but coaches should not be exempt from them as well.
Taylor Jenkins is a great coach, and these moments will only help him become even better on the Grizzlies’ road to playoff immortality — now and for years down the line.