In Game One of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Semifinals, two future Hall of Famers shot 14-39 from the field. Another one was ejected for a (questionable) Flagrant 2 foul call in the 2nd quarter. And in this game where these three either were not their usual “Splashy” selves or were not able to finish the contest, they still found a way to win. As veteran players in the postseason tend to do.
Credit to the Golden State Warriors. Their role players (Gary Payton II, Kevon Looney) performed well. Their new star Jordan Poole looked the part, scoring 31 points on 20 shots. And despite the best efforts of the young stars of the Memphis Grizzlies, the support behind them simply was not enough. Jaren Jackson Jr. played one of the best games of his career. Ja Morant looked very much like the superstar he became this season, especially in the 1st quarter.
And yet, much like the previous series, Memphis is staring down a 1-0 deficit - and as close to a must-win as you can have without it being a close out game in Game 2.
Ja Morant: 38 minutes, 34 points (14-31 shooting, 4-11 from three, 2-3 from thr free throw line), 10 assists, 9 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 turnovers, -1 +/-
Ja Morant was very much back to what you’d hope to see from him on this stage. The two early made threes were a wonderful sign of the good things to come as the game went on. He was active on offense both with and without the ball, as well as in transition getting down hill to the basket. Defensively he was a net neutral, finding himself in positions defending multiple Warriors from Gary Payton II to Andrew Wiggins to Klay Thompson. None of those three made the Grizzlies pay for Morant being the defender on them, which Memphis has to take as a win.
On the final play of the game, Ja got a great look at the rim. But Golden State played good defense, especially helping from the weak side, and the Morant look just didn’t go down.
I love this end of game play. Very few guys can keep up with Morant, they got a good look. Great job from Klay to get off Clarke and keep Morant out of the paint. Still a good look though. pic.twitter.com/nClX5Q9hdH— Mo Dakhil (@MoDakhil_NBA) May 1, 2022
Even with the extra attention, Ja still got a clean shot off. And he seemed genuinely surprised by the fact that the ball did not go through the rim.
In Game 5 against Minnesota, Anthony Edwards took a risk and failed to stay with Ja Morant. Postgame, he said he was always going to try to make that play and would learn from the mistake. While this wasn’t necessarily a mistake from Morant, he surely will view it as a failure - like many greats before him. And that is why, whether it is in this series or sometime down the road, he will eventually succeed in that moment, on that stage, against that level of competition.
Misses are opportunities for growth if you allow for them to be. Ja has his entire Memphis career. I don’t expect that to change now.
Jaren Jackson Jr.: 31 minutes played, 33 points (10-18 overall, 6-9 from three, 7-9 from the free throw line), 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block, 3 turnovers, -5 +/-
That was the best game of Jaren Jackson Jr.’s career...or at least the most important one. He realized early on - and probably knew from the very beginning - that he was the biggest player on the floor. He took advantage, actively attacking mismatches in the post from Andrew Wiggins and others tasked with defending him. The red-hot shooting from beyond the arc is probably not sustainable - and is one of the reasons this loss stings even more - but that aggression to the rim is. Hopefully Jaren can maintain that.
Another aspect of his game that can be continued is how he only committed 3 fouls in his 31 minutes on the floor (more on that in a moment). Those three fouls were “good” in that he was actively trying to defend the rim and was not out of position or lazily swiping at the ball after losing his footing. He wasn’t setting a sloppy screen. He wasn’t smacking the follow through of a shooter. They were questionable calls - perhaps even reputation ones - as he worked to do what he’s done better than anyone in the NBA this season.
Jaren was the best player on the Grizzlies in this game. That two-way energy can also be maintained, if not the production.
- A word on Taylor Jenkins. Coach Jenkins was put in a tough spot rotationally in this game. The Golden State Warriors are arguably the largest franchise/fan base left in the playoffs, with potentially the most popular stars. ABC was always going to claim this game, meaning that after a physical/grueling 6 game series ending Friday night with Minnesota Memphis was jumping right in to the next round. It’ll eventually work itself out - after Tuesday’s Game 2 Memphis will have three full days off before Game 3 Saturday at Golden State. Rest is on the horizon. But Jenkins probably felt like he had to be aware of that in terms of playing time.
It cost the team in this game.
John Konchar and Xavier Tillman Sr. both have helped Memphis get to this point in the season. But in this game, when the Grizzlies needed to lean more on their best players, these two were asked to do more than they probably should in the Western Conference Semifinals. They both were a team-worst -10 in their respective minutes - 13 for Tillman, 9 for Konchar. Those 22 minutes could’ve gone elsewhere - Jaren Jackson Jr. (31 minutes), DeAnthony Melton (25 minutes and looked much more like himself offensively in particular), and Kyle Anderson (19 minutes) for example. Even Tyus Jones (12 minutes), who didn’t do particularly well in this game, would’ve been worth seeing more of given his track record and how small the Warriors were playing.
The play at the end for Ja was well designed. Memphis looked much more comfortable and like themselves. But Jenkins overthought his rotation. 10 guys getting roughly 10 or more minutes in this series is unacceptable. Play your best players more. Grade: D+
- Dillon Brooks needs to chill a bit. Some are going to be mad about his grade. But remember - Steph Curry and Klay Thompson shot 14-39 in this game. Brooks was a major reason for that. DB has made life hell for Curry in the past, so a reason for optimism moving forward for Grizzlies fans is Steph’s normal-offensive-star-not-greatest-of-all-time shooting isn’t uncommon against Memphis. Curry shot 6-15 from three in the play-in last year, for example, and 5-12 tonight. DB deserves credit for that, and for Klay’s issues when DB stuck with him. It is Brooks’ offense that is the problem. There’s a reason he was so open - the Warriors wanted him to shoot. And he was more than happy to oblige.
The only 2 point bucket Brooks made the entire game was a driving dunk when he passed on an open three. He must do much, much more of that. And he has to continue to facilitate offense (3 assists) when he does so. Because whether he was worried about Desmond Bane’s performance/lack of offense or just putting up shots because of his unlimited confidence, he must try to be more self-aware offensively. Even if he is helping Memphis on the defensive end. GRADE - C-
- Desmond Bane was MIA. The best scorer for the Grizzlies in the Minnesota series was non-existent in this game. There are reports of a banged up Bane - perhaps a back issue - that may have limited Desmond in this one. But he clearly was not himself, and that hurt the Grizzlies offensively. He of course still is a threat if on the floor, and Golden State respected him just for existing. But 9 points on 10 attempts is not going to get it done. Without a Bane close to what he was against the Timberwolves, it is likely going to be the last playoff series for Memphis this postseason. Rest up Bane. GRADE -D
The good news is that Memphis just came back from a 1-0 deficit. But the Warriors are not the Wolves, and Tuesday night’s Game 2 feels like more of a must win than the one in the previous series. Golden State has been through the wars. The Grizzlies are still earning their postseason scar tissue.
Here’s to hoping that the failures of Sunday afternoon are quickly learned lessons. Tomorrow is a new chance to go 1-0.