Jonas Valanciunas, Grizzlies Beat Spurs in Play-In Game; Will Face Warriors

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIMay 20, 2021

MEMPHIS, TN - MAY 19: Ja Morant #12 of the Memphis Grizzlies drives to the basket against the San Antonio Spurs during the 2021 NBA Play-In Tournament on May 19, 2021 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Jonas Valanciunas' dominant 23-point, 23-rebound performance guided the Memphis Grizzlies to a 100-96 home win over the visiting San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday at FedEx Forum in the Western Conference play-in tournament.

Dillon Brooks scored a game-high 24 points, and Ja Morant posted 20 points, six rebounds and six assists for the Grizzlies, who led by as many as 21 points in the first quarter.

However, the Spurs went on a 17-0 second-quarter run to cut the Memphis lead to 41-39. The Grizzlies were able to maintain their lead until the fourth quarter, when the Spurs took an 80-79 edge after a DeMar DeRozan bucket.

Brooks took over from that point, though, scoring Memphis' next eight points. A Kyle Anderson three-pointer and a Valanciunas putback layup later gave Memphis 94-87 with 3:19 remaining.

The Spurs didn't go away quietly, though, with Rudy Gay drilling a three-pointer with 9.3 seconds left to close Memphis' advantage to 99-96.

Morant hit 1-of-2 free throws in response, and a desperation Gay three-pointer to slash the lead to one with time running out bounced off the rim.

DeRozan co-led the Spurs with 20 points but shot just 5-of-21 from the field. Gay had 20 of his own, nine of which came in the fourth quarter. Dejounte Murray added a 10-point, 13-rebound, 11-assist triple-double.

Notable Performances

Grizzlies C Jonas Valanciunas: 23 points, 23 rebounds, 3 blocks

Grizzles PG Ja Morant: 20 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists

Grizzlies G Dillon Brooks: 24 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals

Spurs F DeMar DeRozan: 20 points

Spurs G Dejounte Murray: 10 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists

Spurs F Rudy Gay: 20 points, 7 rebounds

Valanciunas Pilots Grizzlies in a Throwback Game

The Spurs and Grizzlies engaged in a rock fight on Wednesday.

San Antonio missed 63 field goals, with DeRozan and Murray combining to shoot 9-of-38. Meanwhile, all Memphis players outside the Morant-Valanciunas-Brooks trio scored just 33 points on 12-of-33 shooting.

The video of this game won't be conserved for its beautiful offensive basketball, but that suited Valanciunas just fine, who cleaned the glass and did the dirty work down low to give the Grizzlies the win.

The Morant-Valanciunas connection clicked early:

Memphis Grizzlies @memgrizz

QB12 🥽@JaMorant | @JValanciunas pic.twitter.com/8XSeye9c10

He later did some low-post work himself, backing down Poeltl before nailing a bucket:

Memphis Grizzlies @memgrizz

tomato chest 🍅<br><br>16 points &amp; 12 rebounds already for @JValanciunas #GrzNxtGen | #NxtUpMemphis pic.twitter.com/4i4mUxm9VW

The Lithuanian had 16 points and 15 rebounds at halftime, and his impact couldn't be understated, with Tim Kawakami of The Athletic providing this stat:

Tim Kawakami @timkawakami

The Grizzlies in 19 minutes with Valanciunas on the floor in the first half: +26<br><br>The Grizzlies in 5 minutes with Valanciunas off the floor in the first half: -19

Valanciunas kept it going in the third quarter, ending that frame with 21 points and 20 rebounds.

Grizzlies PR @GrizzliesPR

.@JValanciunas is the first player in @memgrizz history to post 20+ points and 20+ rebounds through three quarters in a regular season or postseason game.<br><br>Per @EliasSports, the only other player to accomplish the feat this season was Domantas Sabonis (Jan. 9 vs. Phoenix). pic.twitter.com/TVNRtSdtDP

Grizzlies PR @GrizzliesPR

Games with 20+ points and 20+ rebounds in @memgrizz franchise history (incl. regular season, play-in and postseason):<br><br>Zach Randolph - 12<br>Jonas Valančiūnas - 6 (incl. tonight)<br>Shareef Abdur-Rahim - 3<br>Marc Gasol - 1<br>Lorenzen Wright - 1<br>Othella Harrington - 1 pic.twitter.com/d8Sx7lC2mB

In the fourth quarter, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft also had one of the game's biggest buckets, grabbing an offensive board and putting the layup back home to give Memphis a 94-87 edge.


Valanciunas FIGHTING for that second-chance bucket 😤 pic.twitter.com/R66qzHOWha

Valanciunas ended up posting his fourth 20-20 game of the season, per StatMuse:

StatMuse @statmuse

Jonas Valanciunas tonight:<br><br>23 PTS<br>23 REB<br>3 BLK<br>10-16 FG<br><br>It’s his 4th 20/20 game this season, the most in the NBA. pic.twitter.com/7I8fYaWgvU

Morant complimented his teammate's stat line after the game:

Evan Barnes〽️ @evan_b

"A hell of a stat" - Ja Morant on Jonas Valanciunas' 23 points and 23 rebounds.

And ESPN front office insider Bobby Marks gave credit where it was due:

Bobby Marks @BobbyMarks42

One of the more under appreciated players in the NBA<br><br>Jonas Valanciunas <br><br>The MVP of this Memphis team this season.

In the end, it was natural for an ugly, defense-oriented game to be dominated by a big man in a throwback to 1990s basketball. Valanciunas answered the bell on Wednesday, and now Memphis is one win away from the playoffs.

Spurs' Offensive Woes Too Much To Overcome

The Grizzlies-Spurs game looked like it would be following the blueprint of the Charlotte Hornets at Indiana Pacers play-in game from the night before, when Indiana took a 40-24 lead after one quarter en route to winning 144-117.

Memphis took a 38-17 lead in the first quarter and looked like it would cruise to an easy win, but the Spurs fought back and gave the Grizzlies a serious scare, with this Keldon Johnson putback capping a 17-0 run:

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Keldon Johnson putback 🔨<br><br>Spurs back in it<br><br>(via @NBATV)pic.twitter.com/VUHZRMLXgb

San Antonio's bench was exceptional in particular, with the reserves outscoring Memphis' second unit 37-14.

In addition, as Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News noted, Murray didn't shoot well (4-of-17) but he deserves kudos for making an impact on this game otherwise thanks to his triple-double.

ESPN Stats &amp; Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Dejounte Murray has his 5th triple-double of the season, the most in a season by a Spurs player since David Robinson in 1993-94. pic.twitter.com/xl3bAU5EJw

Poeltl also had five blocked shots, enabling the Spurs to hang around.

However, the Spurs' night simply boils down to the fact that teams aren't going to win many games shooting 35.1 percent from the field.

San Antonio shot just 27-of-75 from two-point range, too, and that isn't a recipe for success.

A few too many rotation members had off-nights. This wasn't DeRozan's best effort, as the mid-range king missed 10-of-11 first-half field goals. Lonnie Walker IV went just 2-of-8, and Patty Mills was relatively quiet, scoring just three points in the second half.

This game was there for the taking for the Spurs, whose excellent defensive effort held the Grizzlies to just 62 points in the final three quarters.

But San Antonio didn't make enough shots down the stretch to finish the comeback effort, leading to the Spurs missing out on the playoffs in consecutive seasons for just the first time in franchise history.

What's Next?

Memphis will visit the Golden State Warriors, who lost 103-100 to the Los Angeles Lakers in the other Western Conference play-in matchup Wednesday.

The Grizzlies' matchup against the Warriors will take place Friday at Chase Center in San Francisco. The winner of Friday's game will be the Western Conference's No. 8 seed and open the postseason against the No. 1 Utah Jazz beginning Sunday.

San Antonio's season is over.