The news that Donovan Mitchell was a late scratch from the Utah Jazz-Memphis Grizzlies’ playoff opener Sunday night may have surprised some people — including the Jazz themselves. But it didn’t faze the Memphis Grizzlies, who stunned the Jazz 112-109 at Vivint Arena and stole home court advantage in the series from top-seed Utah.
While Mitchell is the Jazz’s offensive engine, Utah has plenty of other talented players on the roster and have beaten Memphis without Mitchell before. So the visitors had a plan to deal with the Jazz whether they had Mitchell or not — and made a quick turnaround when the Jazz’s medical staff made the late decision to hold the All-Star guard out for another game.
“This is the No. 1 seed because they’ve got an unbelievable roster with tons of depth and they’ve been playing great basketball all season long, even with Mitchell out,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said. “Obviously, it was a last-minute adjustment that we had to make — a couple of minor tweaks game plan-wise — but we understood that this team and who we’re up against, what they pose offensively and defensively.”
The Grizzlies, after falling behind early, gathered themselves, amped up their aggressiveness and slowly took control despite having played Friday night. The Jazz had been off since the end of the regular season.
The Grizzlies, who specialize in stepping into the opponent’s passing lanes and getting deflections, gave Jazz ball handlers a hard time, forcing Utah into 16 turnovers — which Memphis converted into 15 points. Twelve of those Jazz turnovers came in the first half.
Kyle Anderson, who played a large role in the Grizzlies’ defense and was responsible for six steals, said he watched a lot of film to get ready to go up against the Jazz.
“I kind of figured out, or tried to figure out, what they all like to do,” Anderson said. “So, when I would have a certain matchup, I just watched what he did these last six weeks of the season and his strong points. And when they happened to make those types of moves out there and I waited on it, I was ready to do what I had to do.”
[Read more: Complete Utah Jazz playoff coverage]
The Grizzlies to give the Jazz the most trouble was Dillon Brooks.
The guard-forward put up a game-high 31 points, shooting 50% from the field and was 2 of 5 from beyond the arc, while adding seven rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks.
In other words, he was all over the court. And it served as Brooks’ NBA Playoff debut.
“He’s the ultimate competitor — I said it all the time,” Jenkins said. “He loves these moments. He prepares for these moments mentally, physically. He’s got the ultimate heart of a competitor and [I’m] so proud of him.”
Seeing Brooks’ performance and energy helped boost the Grizzlies even more.
In fact, Anderson said he loves playing the role of spoiler, and said it was the best feeling tonight.
If it’s up to him, the Grizzlies will continue playing that role through the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
“Just fans talking s--- to you, just fires me up,” Anderson said. “Players talking-ish like they’re nice, I love that. That’s my game. The physicality — I was born for that.”