With the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award winner — veteran sharpshooter Jordan Clarkson — and one of the other leading candidates also on their bench, the Utah Jazz are naturally going to get more scoring production from their non-starters than any team in the NBA.
So the Memphis Grizzlies haven’t been too discouraged that their bench is getting totally outshined in the Western Conference first-round series, a series Utah leads 3-1 heading back to Salt Lake City for Game 5 on Wednesday night at Vivint Arena (7:30 p.m. MDT, NBA TV).
But there were some encouraging signs for the Grizzlies in Game 4. A player not named Grayson Allen stepped off the bench and delivered a magnificent fourth quarter.
De’Anthony Melton, a third-year guard from USC, scored 15 points in the fourth quarter alone to spark a Memphis comeback after the Grizzlies trailed by 13 entering the final period.
Melton’s 3-pointer with 5:30 remaining cut Utah’s lead to 106-104, but Mike Conley answered with a triple on the other end and the Grizzlies got no closer than three the rest of the way.
“I think my teammates helped me keep being aggressive, honestly,” Melton said. “I feel like I am a game-changer, and when I go out there I just need to find a way to impact the game.”
He certainly did that Monday, after Allen did it in Saturday’s Game 3 loss with five 3-pointers en route to 17 points off the bench.
Melton had pretty much been a non-factor in the series until Monday’s heroics.
In Game 5, “I am just going out there with that same mentality — be aggressive, stay confident and just change the game,” he said.
In all, Memphis’ bench scored 30 points in Game 4, as Allen chipped in eight and Desmond Bane seven to complement Melton’s 15.
Despite Utah’s other Sixth Man candidate, Joe Ingles, netting only two points, the Jazz got 40 from their bench, as Clarkson poured in 24 and Derrick Favors added eight points and five rebounds in 15 minutes. Georges Niang hit a pair of triples for six points.
“Like everyone saw: we are right there,” Melton said. “We got a lot of fight in this team. It is the No. 1 seed and they are not going to back down. We just got to continue to fight. Take this one game at a time. We already stole one in Utah, so we just gotta keep the mindset and keep pushing along and keep fighting no matter what.”
Foul trouble has hampered the Grizzlies the entire season; Dillon Brooks especially can’t seem to avoid bench time due to fouls. Coach Taylor Jenkins said that makes production off the bench even more important for the No. 8 seed.
“We are getting more attempts and the ball is moving a little bit better (when reserves are in),” Jenkins said. “Hopefully we are moving the ball even better in the next game and we are getting the same looks and we are knocking them down.
“Our bench was huge tonight,” Jenkins continued, noting that starters Jaren Jackson Jr. and Morant missed open 3-pointers in the fourth quarter that certainly could have helped. “We just gotta take it up a notch and break through and get another victory here. So the bench was huge the last two games. Different guys stepping up. We are going to need that effort again Wednesday night.”
Melton, who didn’t score in 13 minutes in Game 1 and had just 10 points combined in games 2 and 3 in 30 combined minutes, said the Grizzlies are looking forward to stealing another game in SLC.
“We like to quiet other crowds, and we like to go out there and show who we are as a team,” he said. “Memphis being a small market, we gotta go out and make a name for ourselves and we are going to continue to fight no matter what. We don’t care who is in the crowd, we are going to fight and try to put everybody on notice.”
Another thing that has become apparent in the series: These Grizzlies think a lot of themselves. They don’t lack confidence. To a man after Monday’s loss, they spoke as if they will be returning to Memphis for Game 6 on Friday.
“Yeah, we just stay level-headed,” Jackson said, after popping in 21 points on 9 of 18 shooting, including 3 of 10 from deep. “It doesn’t matter if we win or lose. … We always got a chip-on-our-shoulder mentality and keep going. It doesn’t matter the result. It is a long series.”
Part of Jenkins’ message to his players after the loss was that Utah has had a 3-1 series lead before and blown it. The Jazz were seemingly in control last fall in the bubble in Orlando before the Denver Nuggets won three straight and moved on.
“It is actually encouraging that with the group that we have against the group that they have and we are going toe to toe. It is phenomenal to watch,” Jenkins said. “You obviously wish that it would swing, but our effort is there, our discipline was there tonight. … Game 5 is going to be their hardest game to win. We are going to go out there and focus and keep fighting and competing and give it our best shot and play our best basketball.”