The Utah Jazz will open the 2021 NBA playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday night. Here’s everything you need to know from the schedule to storylines, from players to watch to the strength and weaknesses of both teams.
|*Game if necessary|
Storylines: Donovan Mitchell vs. Dillon Brooks, youth vs. experience, Mike Conley’s return to Memphis
- There’s no doubt that Brooks will be assigned to guard Mitchell and stay glued to him making everything difficult, just as Brooks was tasked with staying with Stephen Curry in the Grizzlies’ play-in fight against the Golden State Warriors. Mitchell has won that matchup in the regular season but that doesn’t mean that Brooks hasn’t made Mitchell work hard. Whether or not Mitchell comes into the game with the same amount of explosiveness that he had before his ankle injury is one of the biggest questions heading into the postseason and could impact how effective Mitchell is against Brooks.
“It’s not a huge stretch that you’ll be fatigued if you haven’t played a little while,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “Don is excited. This is a time of year that he really embraces and it’s the culmination of all the work that he’s put in and our team’s put in.”
If Mitchell is a little bit slow to get back into rhythm, it might be wise for him to play as more of a creator than a scorer.
- The Jazz have a pretty big experience advantage over the Grizzlies, the youngest playoff team in a long time with many of their players, including Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., making their postseason debuts. This will be a chance for the Jazz to prove that they are more poised and prepared for the moment, while the Grizzlies will be looking to prove their mettle despite their youth.
- The Grizzlies’ first playoff appearance without Mike Conley will be against Mike Conley. The comparisons between Conley, the leader of the grit and grind era of Grizzlies basketball, and Morant, the new and young face of the next generation in Memphis, will be numerable and unending. It’s really going to be the epitome of the youth vs. experience narrative and both could end up being the most important players in the series.
Key players: Rudy Gobert, Ja Morant
- The Grizzlies will need to have big performances from center Jonas Valanciunas in order to have a fighting chance against the Jazz. So, not only will Gobert’s league-leading defense be important in the individual matchup with Valanciunas, but he’ll need to be on a swivel, making sure that players like Brooks and Morant don’t punish the Jazz at the rim.
- Morant played one of his best games ever against the Warriors on Friday and the Grizzlies will need him to play at that level if they want to make this series competitive.
Jazz strengths: Perimeter game, depth of talent, defense
- The Grizzlies might have one of the best perimeter defenders in the league in Brooks, but the Jazz consistently have four players on the floor at all times that can be a threat from 3-point range. The Jazz finished the regular season making more 3s than any other team and so long as the Jazz are moving the ball and creating space, they can be deadly from long range.
- The Jazz have one of the best reserve groups in the NBA in Joe Ingles, Jordan Clarkson, Derrick Favors and Georges Niang. Though players like Grayson Allen, Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman have been impressive for the Grizzlies, the Jazz are just a more talented and deeper team.
- The Jazz just match up better against the Grizzlies than the Grizzlies do and they can switch with better results than the Grizzlies can. Valanciunas has been outstanding this season, but Gobert is better. Brooks is a great defender, but the Grizzlies won’t have too many answers for Bojan Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neale, Clarkson and Ingles. Jackson and Kyle Anderson are a couple of options, but they likely won’t be able to win their matchups. Jackson might have a size advantage over O’Neale and Bogdanovic, but will he be able to keep up with them?
Jazz weaknesses: Turnovers, reliance on the 3
- They Jazz average 14.2 turnovers per game, which isn’t horrible (13th most in the league), but as you’ll see below, the Grizzlies are not a team that you can turn the ball over against. Additionally, the Jazz’s turnovers tend to come in bunches and early in the game, which can allow their opponent a chance to get an early lead and gain confidence.
- When the Jazz aren’t shooting well they’ll have to prove that they can score in other ways. Bogdanovic showed more and more as the season progressed that he’s able to score in multiple ways, and the Jazz will need that from him. If the shots aren’t falling and the Jazz don’t change things up a bit, they could find themselves in trouble.
Memphis strengths: Forcing turnovers, transition offense, rebounding
- These are all connected and intertwined. Simply put, the Grizzlies are one of the best, if not the best transition team in the league. They force the most turnovers, grab the most steals, lead the league in fast-break points, are third in the NBA in points off turnovers and fourth in the league in defensive rebounding. They like to get out and run and have plenty of players who are faster and more athletic in the open court than those they’re going against. The Jazz will need to execute with precision to keep their turnovers down and maybe choose to get back rather than try for offensive rebounds against the Grizzlies.
“They have a lot of strengths,” Snyder said. “You can just statistically look at the board, the way they turn people over and steal the ball and convert, the way they rebound. A lot of things with their personnel that present problems.”
Memphis weaknesses: Foul trouble, halfcourt offense predicated on getting to the rim, production outside of Ja Morant
- Jackson and Brooks are both in the top five in the NBA in personal fouls committed. That’s not a great statistical category to be leading in. We also saw Valanciunas foul out of the final play-in game against the Warriors on Friday, so he’s not immune to getting into foul trouble, either. If the Jazz start attacking those players early and often, the Grizzlies could be at risk of losing their three best players to foul trouble. This might be the Grizzlies’ greatest weakness. If you can’t keep your best defender and one of your more versatile and athletic talents on the floor, how do you expect to win?
- The Grizzlies lead the league in points in the paint with 55.8 per game, which has been one of their strengths through the regular season, but against Gobert, they’ll have to score elsewhere. They rank 23rd in 3-point attempts and 20th in 3-point percentage — they’ll have to do better than that in the postseason.
- The Grizzlies have seven players that average double-digit points, but they’ll be relying on Morant to be their leading scorer. At 19.1 points per game, Morant will have to really step up and if he isn’t able to, the Grizzlies will be asking a lot from their supporting cast. And, with O’Neale on Morant, the Grizzlies’ young leader will have as hard of a time as anyone on the floor.
The Grizzlies have nothing to lose and have already exceeded expectations.
“It we was such a unique situation, playing them three times in a short period of time (in the regular season) and those games were, very competitive games, we were fortunate to come out on top,” Snyder said. “You can throw those games out like the rest of the regular season. We know what a competitive team they have, and you saw that over the last couple games.”
With that kind of mindset the Grizzlies might be able to steal a game from the Jazz if they catch them on a bad shooting night, but the Jazz are the more talented team and should be able to get through the first round with relative ease.
Jazz in 5.