Unperturbed by the absence of Donovan Mitchell, the Grizzlies play high-level defense and get exceptional performances from Dillon Brooks


(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz center Derrick Favors (15) and Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) battle Memphis Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas (17) for the rebound as Utah Jazz faces off against the Memphis Grizzlies in the First Round Playoff Game 1 at Vivint Arena on May 23, 2021.

The news that Donovan Mitchell was a late scratch in the Utah Jazz-Memphis Grizzlies playoff opener on Sunday night may have surprised some people – including the Jazz themselves. But that didn’t scare the Memphis Grizzlies, who knocked out the Jazz 112-109 at Vivint Arena and stole the home field advantage in the series at seeded Utah.

While Mitchell is the offensive engine of the Jazz, Utah has plenty of other talented players on the roster and has beaten Memphis without Mitchell before. So, the visitors had a plan to deal with the Jazz, whether or not they had Mitchell – and made a quick turnaround when Jazz medical staff made the belated decision to hold All-Star custody for another game.

“He’s the No.1 seed because they have an amazing team with tons of depth and they’ve been playing great basketball all season, even with Mitchell out,” said Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins. “Obviously it was a last minute adjustment that we had to make – some minor adjustments to the game plan – but we understood that this team and who we are up against, what they are posing offensively and defensively .

The Grizzlies, after falling behind early, rallied, amplified their aggression and slowly took control as they played on Friday night. The Jazz had been down since the end of the regular season.

The Grizzlies, who specialize in opponent passing lanes and deflections, gave Jazz’s ball managers a hard time, forcing Utah to complete 16 turnovers – which Memphis converted to 15 points. Twelve of those Jazz turnovers occurred in the first half of the year.

Kyle Anderson, who was instrumental in defending the Grizzlies and was responsible for six robberies, said he watched a lot of movies to prepare for the Jazz.

“I kind of figured out, or tried to figure out, what they all like to do,” Anderson said. “So when I got a certain game I was just looking at what he’s been up to the last six weeks of the season and his strengths. And when they did those kind of moves there and I waited, I was ready to do whatever I had to do.

The Grizzlies who caused the most trouble for Jazz were Dillon Brooks.

The vanguard scored a game-high 31 points, shooting 50 percent from the field and was 2 of 5 from beyond the arc, while adding seven rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks.

In other words, he was all over the field. And that served as a debut for Brooks’ NBA Playoff.

“He’s the ultimate contender – I’ve said that all the time,” Jenkins said. “He loves these moments. He is preparing for these moments mentally, physically. He has the ultimate heart of a competitor and [I’m] so proud of him.

Seeing Brooks’ performance and energy has helped stimulate the Grizzlies even more.

In fact, Anderson said he loved playing the spoiler role and said it was the best feeling tonight.

If it’s up to him, the Grizzlies will continue to play that role throughout the first round of the NBA Playoffs.

“Just fans talking to you, that turns me on,” Anderson said. “The players talk like they’re nice, I love that. It’s my game. Physicality – I was born for it.

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