Grizzlies’ prize for play-in win? NBA-best Jazz in first round
The Memphis Grizzlies don’t have much time to celebrate their exciting play-in victory over Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors.
After securing their first trip to the playoffs in four years thanks to a 117-112 overtime victory, the Grizzlies had to quickly focus on their prize — a first-round matchup with the top-seeded, explosive and stingy Utah Jazz.
Game 1 of the Grizzlies-Jazz showdown tips off Sunday in Salt Lake City.
“I know it’s a big accomplishment for all of us, but me and Dillon (Brooks) know the job’s not finished,” Grizzlies young star Ja Morant said after scoring 35 points against the Warriors. “We’re not trying to be done making it to the playoffs. We have to lock back in to playing Utah, who has the best record in the league.”
Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins did take time to acknowledge his team’s accomplishment.
“What a moment in time for the Grizzlies. Took a lot out of us all season long. It’s just a proud moment,” Jenkins said. “We gave it all we had to move on and I know we have more left. What a heck of a game. It took overtime against a heck of a ball club. There were so many things that don’t show up in the box score. We have to keep building, keep fighting.”
The Grizzlies and Jazz had what almost seemed like a playoff series in late March, playing each other three times between the 26th and 31st. Utah won all three matchups — 117-114 and 126-110 on back-to-back nights in Salt Lake City, followed by a 111-107 decision in Memphis four nights later.
“You can throw those games out, just like the rest of the regular season,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “They’re a different team than they were at that point.”
While the big news for Memphis is qualifying for the playoffs, the Jazz are hoping theirs will be the return of All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell. He averaged 26.4 points but hasn’t played in over a month because of an ankle injury.
Mitchell likely will give it a go Sunday night.
“You don’t go from 0 to 100 right away. There’s an acclimation process,” Snyder said. “But he’s right where he needs to be in his approach.”
To their credit, the Jazz managed to hold off the Phoenix Suns to earn the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs even without Mitchell’s help. Utah also was without starting point guard and former Grizzlies standout Mike Conley, who has returned from his hamstring injury.
Defensive Player of the Year favorite Rudy Gobert, Sixth Man of the Year finalists Joe Ingles and Jordan Clarkson and sharpshooting forward Bojan Bogdanovic are among the biggest reasons for the Jazz’s success in Mitchell’s absence.
The Grizzlies are quite a different team than when Conley was there from 2007-19, and his matchup against Morant will be one of the key factors to this series.
“They’ve shored up their rotation a bit, had some guys step up,” Conley said. “And they’ve done a tremendous job of closing out close games, like we saw in the play-in tournament.”