Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks Lead Grizzlies to Game 1 Upset of Mike Conley, Jazz

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVMay 24, 2021

Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks (24) lays the ball up as Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale (23) looks on during the first half of Game 1 of their NBA basketball first-round playoff series Sunday, May 23, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

The Memphis Grizzlies picked up right where they left off in the play-in tournament.

After winning two do-or-die games just to get to the playoffs, the Grizzlies defeated the Utah Jazz 112-109 in Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round series Sunday at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Utah nearly erased a 17-point fourth quarter deficit, but Bojan Bogdanovic missed a three that would have forced overtime.

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Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks led the way for the visitors, who were much better than when they lost all three regular-season matchups against the Jazz.

Impressive efforts from Bogdanovic and Mike Conley in Donovan Mitchell's absence weren't enough for Utah, which lost the home-court advantage it earned with the league's best record in just one game.

Notable Player Stats

  • Dillon Brooks, F, MEM: 31 PTS, 7 REB, 2 STL
  • Ja Morant, G, MEM: 26 PTS, 4 AST, 4 REB
  • Jonas Valanciunas, C, MEM: 15 PTS, 13 REB, 3 AST
  • Bojan Bogdanovic, F, UTA: 29 PTS, 5 REB, 2 STL
  • Mike Conley, G, UTA: 22 PTS, 11 AST, 6 REB, 2 BLK
  • Rudy Gobert, C, UTA: 11 PTS, 15 REB, 3 BLK

Impressive Start Gives Grizzlies Enough Breathing Room for Win

It would have been easy for the Grizzlies to come out flat and accept a loss on the road to start this series.

After all, they were coming off two emotional win-or-go-home games last week, while the Jazz simply rested and prepared to open their postseason in front of a raucous home crowd. It was anything but an ideal situation for underdog Memphis, but that didn't stop it from taking a six-point lead into halftime and sending Utah something of a message that it was up for the challenge.

As if often the case with the Grizzlies, it was a balanced effort out of the gates.

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Morant slashed through defenders, Brooks paced the scoring all while playing impressive defense, Kyle Anderson was a turnover-creating machine and secondary scorer, and Jonas Valanciunas notched a double-double on the inside.

Brooks then went into takeover mode with 14 points in the third quarter alone. He broke out the entire arsenal by going right at defenders, finishing at the rim, mixing in floaters and hitting multiple mid-range jumpers right over Georges Niang, and he didn't hesitate to let the Utah crowd know about it at times.

Desmond Bane ended the quarter with buzzer-beater three to give Memphis all the momentum, and the second unit extended the lead to 17 with Grayson Allen and Tyus Jones playing important minutes in the fourth.

It's a good thing for Memphis they did because it nearly lost the lead entirely when Bogdanovic caught fire at the end. Morant mixed in just enough clutch shots to end scoring droughts, and the Grizzlies now have home-court advantage in the series.

Bogdanovic's Late Charge Falls Just Short

The Jazz may be the No. 1 seed, but they were dealt a blow before their playoffs even started.

Mitchell, who has not played since April 16, was ruled out because of an ankle injury. That left Utah without its best player who was in the middle of a career season before the setback and put even more of the playoff pressure on the shoulders of everyone else.

While Conley helped pick up the slack in the early going by getting to the free-throw line and facilitating for his teammates, Utah still fell behind by six points by intermission. The biggest problem was the outside shooting, as the Mitchell-less Jazz were an ugly 4-of-21 from deep with 10 turnovers at the half.

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Things got worse for the favorites when Conley and Rudy Gobert went to the bench with foul trouble and the lackluster shooting continued as the deficit stretched to double digits.

Jordan Clarkson was a logical candidate to take over the scoring, especially when Conley and Gobert were on the sidelines, but he missed all eight of his shots from deep and forced the issue multiple times.

Gobert also fouled out, but the Jazz finally found some life when Bogdanovic found his touch from three-point range and bulldozed his way to the rim multiple times. He poured in 29 points in the second half alone and nearly willed his team all the way back in the final minutes.

Utah can at least take solace in Bogdanovic's play, but it will need better efforts from the rest of the supporting cast if Mitchell is sidelined or less than 100 percent throughout the series.

What's Next?

Game 2 of the series is Wednesday in Utah.