The Memphis Grizzlies are young and inexperienced, certainly too young and inexperienced to fully understand what they’re dealing with right now, a dogfight of an NBA playoff series against the Utah Jazz.
The Utah Jazz, with three All-Stars and two All-NBA-caliber talents in Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, are legitimate championship contenders. The Grizzlies are the second-youngest team in the league and the youngest playoff team since the 2010-11 Oklahoma City Thunder.
The difference between these two franchises came to light early in the fourth quarter of Wednesday night’s 141-129 Jazz win to tie the series at 1-all going to FedEx Forum for Game 3 on Saturday night.
The Grizzlies were down by 20 points at halftime, but a 43-point third quarter, highlighted by Ja Morant and a slew of pick-and-rolls the Jazz had no answers for, brought them to within six going to the fourth.
In the first 90 seconds of the fourth quarter, Rudy Gobert took Vivint Arena over. Two dunks, a defensive rebound, a block on a Jaren Jackson Jr. attempt at the rim. Donovan Mitchell canned a jumper over Grayson Allen, plus the foul and all of a sudden, the Jazz were up 12 with 10:21 to play.
Timeout, Grizzlies. The game was not over at that point, but the visitor never got back within nine and never made another serious threat, even with Morant going for 47 points on 15-for-26 shooting.
“Our guys are energized every single day, they love to compete, and they knew this was going to be a tough game to win,” Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins said. “The Jazz came out and played well early, but you could see the resilience of our group. I think all season, our guys have proven that they’re able to bounce back throughout a game. I’m proud of the competitiveness we showed.”
Taking the 30,000-foot view of the third quarter, plus that Gobert-fueled sequence early in the fourth quarter, the Jazz took their opponents’ best punch in the third, punched back in the fourth, and the opponent never recovered, at least not enough to make one believe that the outcome was in any doubt.
Wednesday night’s outcome may not have been in doubt in the fourth quarter, but this series is not exactly a done deal for the Jazz.
In winning Game 1, the Grizzlies did what they set out to do. Get one of the first two games on the road, take home-court advantage back to Memphis, and circle the wagons for what is now a best-of-five series beginning Saturday night. Furthermore, the Jazz, statistically one of the best defensive teams in the league, haven’t stopped Morant, nor have they been able to stop Dillon Brooks.
The Jazz may be the contender, and the Grizzlies the naive new kids, but the latter appears intent on being willing participants for the duration of this series.
“Home-court advantage with our crowd, and like I said after Game 1, we’re looking forward to returning the favor of what their crowd has been doing to us,” Morant said. “We’re excited. The mindset now is to go home and take Game 3.”