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Weary Memphis Grizzlies not intimidated by top-seeded Jazz in pulling off opening-game stunner in NBA playoffs

Dillon Brooks and Ja Morant take over in the second half, lead supposed wearier and less-experienced Grizzlies to a 112-109 win in Salt Lake City

Memphis Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane (22) and Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks (24) celebrate after Bane blocked a shot as the Utah Jazz and the Memphis Grizzlies play in game one of their NBA playoff series at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Sunday, May 23, 2021.
Memphis Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane (22) and Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks (24) celebrate after Bane blocked a shot as the Utah Jazz and the Memphis Grizzlies play in game one of their NBA playoff series at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Sunday, May 23, 2021.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Memphis was supposed to be younger, wearier and less explosive than the Utah Jazz in their first-round NBA playoffs matchup on Sunday night.

Somebody forgot to tell the Grizzlies.

Outplaying the top-seeded Jazz from midway through the second quarter until early in the fourth and then desperately holding on, Memphis took a 112-109 win over the Jazz to take a 1-0 lead in a series many felt the team with the best record in the league would sweep.

“We definitely attacked the game with great aggression,” said Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins.

And the Jazz did not — until precious few seconds were left and Utah (52-21) nearly scratched its way back from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit.

Memphis (39-24) was playing in its third city in five nights, having knocked off San Antonio and Golden State in play-in games last week, while the Jazz — playing without superstar Donovan Mitchell, who was a last-minute scratch — hadn’t played since last Sunday.

“We just took the momentum from the Warriors (game) and brought it here,” said Brooks, who scored 14 of his game-high 31 points in the third quarter. “… They had a couple of guys that couldn’t guard me.”

Then backcourt running mate Ja Morant took over in the fourth, finishing with 26 and making all kinds of spectacular offensive plays and shots to seemingly will the upstarts to the victory.

“I tried to take over in the third and Ja took over in the fourth,” said Brooks. “That’s what he does.”

The rematch, Game 2, is Wednesday night at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, a place where the Jazz were 31-5 before Sunday night’s epic letdown.

The Jazz, who live and die with the 3-point shot, died by it Sunday. They were just 12 of 47 (25.5%) from beyond the arc, with Jordan Clarkson going a frosty 0-for-8 and Georges Niang going 1-for-6.

“I don’t think they are going to shoot 12 for 47 again from the 3-point line,” Jenkins said.

Having been swept 3-0 by the Jazz last month, losing by counts of 117-114, 126-110 and 111-107, the Grizzlies weren’t intimidated. Not in the least.

“That aggressive mentality was there from the start of the game,” Jenkins said.

Actually, the Jazz jumped out to a 36-22 lead and seemed to be in total control. But the Grizzlies finished the first half on a 27-7 run, then kept their aggressive engine revving, and their mouths yapping, into the third quarter.

At one point in the fourth quarter, Memphis had outscored Utah 72-41 since the Jazz’s 14-point lead midway through the second quarter. Suddenly, the Jazz looked tired and rusty, and the dust-ups and stare-downs fueled the Grizzlies.

“They started trying to play our game and we kinda loved it,” Morant said. “… Whatever they bring, we gonna fight back.”

As far as taking the ball at probable NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, who fouled out with four minutes, 25 seconds left, Morant said: “I am not afraid of nobody.”

Brooks, who finished 13 of 26 and only scored two points in the fourth quarter, a huge layup with less than 10 seconds left when the Jazz seemingly forgot about him out of a timeout, said some back-and-forth he had with Jazz fans only fueled his fire.

“Fans just talking ish to you, that just fires me up,” he said. “That’s my game.”

Kyle Anderson, who added 14 points, said Utah “didn’t take us lightly .. . that wasn’t the case at all. We went out and won the ball game. They threw some punches, we threw some punches, and we ended up winning the game.”

Asked whether Utah not playing Mitchell was a sign that perhaps the Jazz thought they could win without the two-time all-star, Jenkins said he didn’t see it that way.

“I mean, this is the No. 1 seed because they’ve got an unbelievable roster with tons of depth,” he said. “They have been playing great basketball all season long, even with Mitchell out. Obviously it was a last-minute adjustment that we had to make — a couple minor tweaks gameplan-wise. We understood who we were up against and what they posed offensively and defensively.”

Bottom line: By not putting taking the air out of the Grizzlies when they led by 14 in the second quarter and had the chance, the Jazz gave the big underdogs, who don’t lack confidence in the first place, all they would need the rest of the way.

“We just want to handle business at this point,” Anderson said. “Who cares about the respect people give us? Blah, blah, blah.”

Jonas Valanciunas added 15 points and 12 rebounds for Memphis, which missed its first nine 3-point attempts before making 7 of its last 11.

So the series is on in Salt Lake City, and Grizzlies are already planning to see a different team on Wednesday — with or without Mitchell.

“That’s a great team over there in Utah, and they aren’t ever going to give up,” Brooks said, adding that the Grizzlies are never going to give in, either.