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In a 1-1 series headed to Memphis, the Utah Jazz have a Ja Morant problem. How will they solve it?

While acknowledging the Grizzlies guard is talented and tough to handle, the Jazz also point out they can do a better job limiting his space and cutting down on fouls.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) blocks a shot by Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (12), in NBA Playoff game 2, between the Utah Jazz and the Memphis Grizzlies at Vivint Arena, on Wednesday, May 26, 2021.

Do the Utah Jazz have a Ja Morant problem?

So it would seem.

While Dillon Brooks got most of the Game 1 headlines for his swaggering, bombastic, villainesque performance, Morant was quietly contributing to the Grizzlies’ shocking 112-109 victory.

And while Memphis would lose Game 2 on Wednesday night, there was nothing quiet or subtle about Morant’s incendiary breakout, as he racked up 47 points on 15-for-26 shooting from the field and 15-for-20 shooting at the line. He was also the driving force in the Grizzlies cutting their third-quarter deficit from 20 points down to two.

If it was tough for fans to watch it, imagine being the Jazz and having to experience it.

“You can’t say enough about Ja Morant,” coach Quin Snyder said after Wednesday night’s carnage. “I mean, he’s a special player and he can get where he wants on the floor. He’s really tough to defend. So you could feel that.”

Donovan Mitchell was in agreement.

“Honestly, it’s not surprising. He’s a gamer. He goes out there and competes. When called upon, he’s out there doing what he needs to do,” Mitchell said. “… At a young age, for him to be able to have that is definitely special. And that’s something that I respect about him and about his game. And he doesn’t quit. He embraces being down 20 — I think he likes that more than anything else. That’s something I respect, because there’s just a competitive nature about him, there’s definitely something that’s worth noting.”

Question now is, how do they begin to slow him down?

Snyder said the Jazz tried multiple adjustments against him as the game progressed — particularly in the third quarter.

None of which proved terribly effective.

NBA PLAYOFFS

GAME 3

JAZZ AT GRIZZLIES

When • Saturday, 7:30 p.m. MT

TV • ESPN, ATTSN

There were two primary problems with the defense against Morant, he said.

No. 1: They gave him too much room to operate, and he was able to get downhill on them.

“We didn’t shift enough — he just saw too much space. And when he sees that, he’s just going to attack those gaps and those seams,” Snyder said. “… To the extent that he’s playing vertically, you’re in trouble. And it’s hard not to have him play vertically, but you have to try to string him out and make him play more horizontally, because when he’s downhill, he’s just attacking your big straight-on and attacking their chest, and he’s so athletic he’s able to hang and finish or drop the ball off. … So keeping him out of the paint is what you want. But it’s easier said than done.”

And problem No. 2?

Well, those 20 free-throw attempts are a good indication. The Jazz simply fouled him way too much, and often unnecessarily.

“You can’t give him 20 free throws. That’s a huge number. And I thought that had a huge impact on the game,” Snyder said. “They were silly fouls a lot of times, too — us just reaching and not getting anything out of it, where it was and-one.”

The thing to keep an eye on for Saturday’s Game 3 is how the Jazz approach defending Memphis’ high pick-and-rolls, how they choose to navigate the screens, how their bigs deploy in the paint.

Morant simply had too easy a time getting by perimeter defenders and finding the soft spots in the midrange. Ordinarily, that’s not a huge problem, because, to a large degree, that’s what Utah’s defense is designed to do — chase guys off the line to limit 3-pointers, funnel them in to Rudy Gobert, and yield the midrange because it’s a pretty inefficient spot to take shots from.

Thing is, with Morant getting blow-bys, and Gobert and Derrick Favors living near the rim, Morant had too easy of looks, even more space than is optimal. And frankly, it wasn’t as though he didn’t get plenty of chances at the basket, too, blocked dunk by Gobert notwithstanding.

“There are some basic things in our base coverages that we didn’t execute. You go under [on a screen], he flips the angle of the screen and he’s downhill. A couple of times we went under and he made a shot, so it’s a little bit of what do you react to and what do you not react to? And you know, that’s a balance there,” Snyder said. “That’s why I mentioned the fouls, because if you go under and he makes a couple of shots, you know, tip your hat; you go over and he gets in the lane … the thing that hurts us is when he gets in there and you play good defense and you foul him, or he takes a shot and he misses and there’s an offensive rebound.

“But pick-and-roll schemes are the lifeblood of this league, and he certainly puts a lot of pressure on you to figure those things out,” Snyder added. “And it’s something we look at and work hard on — and sometimes it looks better than others.”

The Jazz will need it to look better in Game 3 than it did in Game 2.

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