The Memphis Grizzlies were left for dead entering Game 4 of their 2022 Western Conference Semifinals series against the Golden State Warriors. The NBA Playoffs were almost certainly going to be over for them come Wednesday night in Memphis - Warriors in 5 - after the news of Ja Morant’s knee injury keeping him out of the Monday night festivities at Chase Center. That was the vibe of many in the national media/overall NBA fans, at least. And while in the long-term Ja’s health holds massive importance to the Grizzlies, even though Memphis was successful in the regular season without him overcoming the mighty Warriors at home without his offensive brilliance seemed like too difficult a task.
The Grizzlies weren’t told, apparently. Until the 43 second mark of the 4th quarter Memphis held the lead. Then, things slipped away at a rapid pace. The season may not be far behind.
Some quick thoughts on an improbable Memphis performance that came up just short against championship experience heading in to a crucial Game 5.
Aqua Mane is very playable
Without Ja Morant, Grizzlies Head Coach Taylor Jenkins decided to lean in to being big. He started Steven Adams for the first time in this series, and the first time since Game 2 of the Minnesota Timberwolves series, with solid results. Adams did exactly what Memphis needed him to do - rebound (15 boards with a double double), set strong screens, and make important hustle plays that led to second chance shots for the Grizzlies offense that desperately needed as many looks as possible. The concerns about Adams being attacked in the pick and roll were not as glaring in this game - probably because the Warriors do not have an offensive weapon as a big like Minnesota did with Karl-Anthony Towns. Golden State has elite perimeter players, but without the 2nd part of that two-man game the issues for Steve-O in terms of playability moving forward were squashed - for now, at least.
Adams had a renaissance season for Memphis after essentially a lost year in New Orleans. He was important to these Grizzlies earning the #2 seed. It was good to see him bounce back.
The mud was back as well
Back in the Grit and Grind era, Memphis would win ugly games regularly where offense was at a premium. Basketball games were more like slug fests than displays of elite athleticism. This game had some vibes very similar to that - probably by design on the part of the Grizzlies. They knew without Morant they’d have to rely on mucking things up for the Warriors offensively and force Golden State to play a less-than-beautiful form of the game. That’s what happened for much of the contest, and allowed for the Grizzlies to be in the fight as much as they were late. Outside of Otto Porter Jr. Golden State had real issues converting from range at their usual clip, especially when compared to what they did in Game 3.
Memphis playing better defense in this game was pretty predictable. Tyus Jones was better than Ja Morant as a defender this season, and the Grizzlies were better than their abysmal performance last game would suggest. The Warriors warmed up enough offensively late to make this game very, very close, but again - without Morant’s offensive fire power, the best chance Memphis had to make it a game was to play this style. Credit to the players and coaches for executing the game plan for much of the game.
- Dillon Brooks was a tale of two ends. Defensively, it would be foolish to not give Brooks some of the credit for the better showing for Memphis on that end. Offensively...Dillon struggled mightily. Between turnovers and shot attempts out of rhythm, he forced the issue there too often in a game the Grizzlies needed more effective scoring from him. One late three point attempt that came up short stands out in the memory as a poorly timed attempt at hero ball on his way to a 4-18 performance. Hopefully as the series returns to Memphis Wednesday he can find that productivity, especially in the half court. They will not be able to pull off the improbable without him, for better or worse.
- Kyle Anderson was big - literally. Anderson was another major reason that the Grizzlies were able to hang tough in this contest. He attacked the lane early and often against the likes of Jordan Poole, who was not big enough to handle Anderson’s 6’9” frame. While his 2-6 free throw shooting leaves much to be desired, his 7-8 productivity from the floor helped tremendously as the Grizzlies fought to find offense. His length and ability to switch on the perimeter remained valuable, of course, and he has enough of a handle to be able to facilitate offense from the forward position. A good night for Kyle.
- Jaren Jackson Jr. led the block party. The NBA’s leader in blocks also took advantage of the undersized Warriors on offense, but his defensive impact was especially felt. Jaren blocked 5 shots in this game, as the Grizzlies logged 11 blocks as a team. This is another sign of a return to what made Memphis so good as the season went on defensively - leading the way in areas like blocks and steals (snagged 10 steals as well) and being active in passing lanes, finding ways to deflect and muddy windows. The team looked much more like themselves in many ways - this was just an additional example.
Game 5 is in Memphis on Wednesday night. The season is literally on the line.