By Terry Davis
The Memphis “Road Warriors” – known officially as the Grizzlies – maneuvered past the Golden State Warriors and into the Western Conference Playoffs with an overtime win for a hungry young team on Friday night.
“We are not taking anything for granted. We’ve had a chip on our shoulders our whole lives. We are just hungry,” Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. said after the victory at the $1.4 billion Chase Center in San Francisco. “We know (what) we still have to do.”
What the Grizzlies did was upset the host Warriors, who have not made the playoffs since their on-the-court home opened in 2019. With the 117-112 overtime win, Memphis is headed to the playoffs for the first time in four years.
Memphis is the youngest team in the last 10 years to make the playoffs.
“I am really proud of everyone in our organization, so proud of our players,” Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins said in his postgame interview. “They have been seizing every opportunity all season long. We have a lot of basketball left ahead of us.”
The Grizzlies next take the court in Salt Lake City, Utah, where they will face the No. 1-seeded Jazz in a seven-game series starting Sunday (May 23). Tipoff is set for 8:30 p.m. and can be viewed on TNT.
The Jazz won all three game this season against the Grizzlies including two in Utah. And yes, Utah, which includes former Grizzlies fan favorite Mike Conley Jr., is a heavy favorite.
Memphis was ready from the jump for the favored Warriors, who rode the excellence of Steph Curry (39 points) to within a whisker of turning back the visiting Grizzlies.
“It took a lot out of us,” Jenkins said. “One game to decide your season. I am so proud of the growth and learning from everyone.”
The Grizzlies, who controlled most of the game, led by as many as 17 points (59-42) with 2:57 left in the first half and went into the break ahead 62 to 49.The Warriors’ largest lead was only two points and that came with 3:57 left in overtime.
Ja Morant was what he is when at his best – sensational! Check out this stat line: 35 points, six assists and six rebounds.
“It is crazy,” the second-year star of the Grizzlies making the playoffs. “This is what we worked for.”
Morant recalled the Grizzlies falling one game short in the pandemic-influenced, play-in format held in the “bubble” environment in Orlando last season.
“Right after that game, we were talking to each other,” Morant said. “We knew what we had to do and what we wanted to accomplish. We were ready to gel as one. I am grateful to be where we are at.”
Double-digit losers to Golden State in the final game of the regular season, the Grizzlies found gold from beyond the three-point arc on Friday night. They connected on 15 shots from three-point range compared to the Golden State’s 12 from deep.
Memphis overcame the foul trouble of big men Jackson and Jonas Valanciunas, who had nine points and 12 rebounds in 25 minutes and fouled out before the start of overtime. Jackson finished with 10 points and two rebounds in 15 minutes.
Jenkins relied on the play of big man Xavier Tillman Jr. and the timely shooting of guard Grayson Allen as Memphis sought to offset the foul trouble of Jackson and Valanciunas.
Tillman scored 11 points, grabbed seven rebounds and came up big defensively. Allen made two big three-pointers down the stretch and finished with 12 points.
“It was a gut feel,” Jenkins said of playing Allen and Tillman down the stretch.
“I had a conversation with the coaching staff; a really tough call for sure. ‘X’ did a lot of great things in the first half. Allen had a lot of big-time shots. It is a credit to those guys.”
A reflective Allen said, “I am truly blessed to be in this position. … I had a lot of DNP (did not play) my rookie year. … It (making the playoffs) is an awesome feeling.”
Tillman, who hit a monster three-pointer in OT on an assist from Morant, noted the roller coaster of emotions at the end of the game.
“It was definitely up and down,” said Tillman, the rookie from Michigan State. “They went on a little tear. When it went into overtime I was happy, but I was mad. I felt like it was a missed opportunity. I was happy I got another opportunity.”
Morant gave props to Dillon Brooks, letting it be known that Brooks should get all the credit due him for his great defensive play and what he contributed during the season.
Brooks (14 points, three rounds, three assists) came to the Grizzlies in the second round of 2017 NBA Draft. His arrival, he noted, preceded first-round picks Morant and Jackson.
“It is amazing to be a part of something new,” Brooks said, adding that the playoffs-bound Grizzlies were “back to where we are supposed to be.”
Rookie Desmond Bane (10 points, four rebounds, two assists), slammed home the final two points for Memphis.
“It is special,” said Bane, “… from where we have come. The season has moved really fast. We have continued to grow and we have handled it well.
“Experience is something you cannot put a price on. We are all trying to find our way in this league.”
Now comes the opportunity to find a way past a Jazz team that won all three games this season against the Grizzlies, including two in Utah.
This article originally appeared in the New Tri-State Defender.
This content was originally published here.