When the news came down Sunday afternoon that Donovan Mitchell would be out for Utah in Game 1 of its first-round series against Memphis, the reaction from the Jazz was first surprise — he had practiced all week and reportedly looked good.
The secondary reaction was that they had played the last 16 games without him and played well — 10-6 with the best net rating in the league over that stretch. They could adapt.
It turns out they could have used that extra shot creation Sunday night. The other primary shot creators on the Jazz — Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson — shot 9-of-28 through three quarters. While Bojan Bogdanovic got hot and scored 20 of his 29 of his points in the fourth quarter filling in that role, it was not enough to lead a comeback.
Not when Ja Morant was doing stuff like this.
Ja is too smooth 💨 pic.twitter.com/WcS5rz7fKp
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 24, 2021
Morant finished with 26 points, Dillon Brooks was on fire and carried the team through the middle of the game scoring 31, and the Grizzlies upset the Jazz to take Game 1, 112-109.
The No. 8 seed Grizzlies lead the No. 1 seed Jazz 1-0. Let that sink in. Game 2 is Wednesday in Utah, and in practice becomes a must win for the Jazz.
At the heart of what gave the Jazz the best record in the NBA this season was a defense — anchored by likely Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert — that walled off the rim and made buckets in the paint hard to come by. Memphis was not slowed in the least — 76% of their shot attempts came at the rim or from floater range/short midrange. The Grizzlies didn’t finish a high percentage of those shots, they shot just 55.6% at the rim because of the Jazz size, but they got in there. When Gobert would rotate to help on the drive, Jonas Valanciunas or someone could slide in for the putback.
And the Grizzlies got Gobert in foul trouble — he fouled out for the first time this season.
Part of the reason the Grizzlies got into the paint so often was their success in transition. Memphis didn’t run as much as it wanted, just 11.3% of their possessions started in transition, but they had an insane 170 offensive rating on those plays (stats via Cleaning the Glass).
Rudy Gobert: "We gave them way too many easy points in transition from turning the ball over. We gave them a chance to get going. We have to watch the film and see how we can play through their physicality and take care of the ball."
— Tony Jones (@Tjonesonthenba) May 24, 2021
Utah led by double-digits in the first quarter, using the formula that got them the best record in the NBA: Protecting the paint on drives, knocking down open threes.
Then through the second quarter, the Grizzlies turned the game into a physical brawl, and the Jazz didn’t handle it well. Utah turned the ball over too much — 12 times in the first half — and passed up open 3s. Utah seemed to get into their own head, shooting 4-of-21 from 3 in the first half, then it started passing up good looks.
By half it was 49-43 Memphis, and the game was being played in the Grizzlies’ style.
Utah never really got rolling from 3, shooting 8-of-26 (30.8%) from deep in the second half.
Meanwhile, Memphis just kept making plays — they looked like a team that had just come off a couple of elimination games and played with urgency, with an edge.
The Jazz showed some rust after their one-week layoff. Utah’s offense actually clicked in the minutes Gobert was on the court against Jonas Valanciunas; they just dug too big a hole to climb out of against a team growing in confidence with each step.
The Jazz have the model to win Game 2 and the series: Shoot better from three, take care of the ball, keep Gobert out of foul trouble, and control the paint.
That’s just a lot easier said than done against a gritty Grizzlies team that has now won three postseason games in a row.