The young and gritty Memphis Grizzlies have done it. By defeating the Golden State Warriors, they become the only road team to record a victory in the Play-In Tournament and become the only ninth or 10th seed to advance to the playoffs.
The win helps them clinch the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference for a first-round matchup against the Utah Jazz, the team with the league's best record in the regular season.
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The 2021 NBA Playoffs will begin on Saturday, May 22
- Game 1 - Sunday, May 23 at 9:30 p.m. ET
- Game 2 - Wednesday, May 26 at 10:00 p.m. ET
- Game 3 - Saturday, May 29 9:30 p.m. ET
- Game 4 - Monday, May 31 9:30 p.m. ET
- Game 5 - Wednesday, June 2 (Time TBD)
- Game 6 - Friday, June 4 (Time TBD)
- Game 7 - Sunday, June 6 (Time TBD)
Best game: March 31, 2021 - Jazz 111, Grizzlies 107
Best performance: Ja Morant (March 26, 2021) - 32 points (11-21 FGs; 1-2 3Ps; 9-11 FTs), 11 assists
Despite the major gulf in how both teams have performed in the 2020-21 season, two of their three contests in their season series were tightly contested. Apart from the Jazz's 126-110 blowout victory on March 27, the other two games went down to the final seconds and were decided by a combined margin of just seven points.
While both teams can boast of balanced offences, with the Grizzlies having as many as seven players averaging double-digit points this season, it's quite clear that both teams are led by their point guards in Donovan Mitchell and Ja Morant. In both close games, Morant's performances was key to the game being tightly contested.
Playing thrice in the span of five days, all three wins were part of Jazz's nine-game streak, one of three such unbeaten streaks of nine games or more they recorded this season.
Other than Jaren Jackson Jr., who missed 61 games this season, and Mitchell missing one of the three contests, both teams had pretty much all of their key rotation players healthy in all of these contests.
Key Storyline: Can young Grizzlies make any noise against dominant Jazz?
The young Grizzlies, led by reigning Rookie of the Year Ja Morant, are riding high coming off two consecutive wins in the Play-In Tournament. They'll have to ride every bit of that momentum to make some noise and ensure the games are competitive against the league-best Jazz.
From their regular season play, Memphis can be a handful on both ends of the floor. Despite how young their squad is, they were amongst the top-ranked teams in multiple key stat categories. They led the league in steals and fastbreak points while ranking seventh in defensive rating.
On the other hand, Utah was the only team this year to finish in the top four in offensive and defensive rating.
Nearly every member of their rotation has appreciable playoff experience to fall back on. Jordan Clarkson, the newest member of their squad and least experienced, with respect to postseason games, has appeared in 26 playoff games.
Unless Memphis can pull something out of the hat and surprise everyone, this series is really a classic 1-8 series and should be expected to finish early.
Three Players to watch
Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
Mitchell missed the final 16 games of the season but with the extra week's rest after the regular season, he's set to make his return from a sprained right ankle in Game 1 of the series.
Even if he takes his time to return to form, Utah would be expected to take care of business against Memphis. So, Mitchell finding his groove before the next two rounds will be among the biggest agendas on the Jazz's list for this series.
For the season, in 53 games played, he averaged career-highs of 26.4 points, 5.2 assists and a 3-point efficiency of 38.6 percent.
How he looks and feels not just in Game 1 but for the rest of the series will be critical to not just how this series progresses but how the Jazz's postseason unfolds in the ensuing rounds.
Jonas Valanciunas & Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
The Lithuanian center, averaging career-highs this season with 17.1 points and 12.5 rebounds, has been a huge reason for the Grizzlies' success this season. His activity in the paint is a huge part of the Grizzlies' offence, and is a big reason why the Grizzlies lead the league in points in the paint and second-chance points.
However, in this series, he will be matching up against two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, who is also a finalist for the award this season, and the Jazz's third-best defence in the league.
Needing to keep Valanciunas, for his value to the team, might actually play into the hands of Gobert and the Jazz but only time will tell how the Grizzlies counter and here's where Jaren Jackson Jr. plays a huge role.
The top pick from the 2018 Draft will be a difficult matchup for the Jazz as, at the four spot. He is too long for Utah's small line-up but is also too agile and quick if they decide to counter with two bigs of their own.
Bojan Bogdanovic, Utah Jazz
Ruled out of last year's playoffs during the 2020 hiatus, Bojan Bogdanovic will be looking to make a huge impact in this postseason.
Him stepping up and carrying his offensive load allows the likes of Mitchell to ease back into rhythm over the course of the series rather than force his way back and rush anything.
In the final nine games of the season, all in May, Bogdanovic averaged 25.6 points, which included a career-best 48-point night, with shooting splits of 52.2 percent from the field, 45.9 percent on long-range attempts and 90.5 percent on his free-throw attempts.
Picks and Predictions
Yash Matange (@yashmatange2694): Jazz in five
Benyam Kidane (@BenyamKidane): Jazz in five
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