MEMPHIS — Early in the season, the Memphis Grizzlies handed the Jazz a pair of disheartening losses in Salt Lake. That was when the Grizzlies still had Marc Gasol and the Jazz were struggling a bit. Surely the Jazz, with their improved play of late, couldn’t lose again to the Grizzlies, who came with in the second worst record in the Western Conference, a third time could they?
Yes, they could and they did.
The Jazz climbed an uphill battle all night and while they didn’t play poorly, they couldn’t stop the Grizzlies, who shot above 50 percent all night, finishing at 51.1 percent for the game. The result was a 114-104 loss Friday night at the FedEx Forum, giving the lowly Grizzlies a final 3-1 edge in the season series with the Jazz, who dropped to 37-28 on the season.
Of course coach Quin Snyder laid the blame on the defense
“We didn’t do a good enough job defensively,” Snyder said. “They got by us too easily and we weren’t as urgent as we needed to be. When a team’s getting in the lane that way, they hurt us a number of different ways with the bigs driving the ball and making shots down low in the paint. We didn’t play well defensively.”
Center Jonas Valanciunas, who was acquired in the trade for Gasol last month, dominated Utah’s Rudy Gobert inside, scoring a season-high 27 points on 12-of-17 shooting, and backup big man Ivan Rabb added 15 and six rebounds off the bench.
“That’s been the strength of our team,” Snyder said when asked about Gobert’s defense. “(Valanciunas) made some shots over Rudy. Like everyone, we all needed to be better defensively but there were a lot of other things that impacted it.”
On the offensive side, the Jazz relied too much on their outside shooting and on Donovan Mitchell.
The Jazz started the game by shooting 11 straight 3-pointers and finished the game with a franchise-record 48 3-point tries, making 18. Meanwhile, Mitchell pretty much carried the offensive load on his shoulders, finishing with 38 points, including the final 18 Jazz points of the game over the last seven minutes.
“They just clogged the paint and made us shoot jump shots for most of the game,” Mitchell said. “But the biggest thing was our defense. We can miss and make whatever, but we have to be able to defend everybody from top to bottom."
Besides Mitchell, the Jazz got 14 points from Joe Ingles, 13 from Kyle Korver, 11 from Jae Crowder and 10 from Royce O’Neale, who started in place of Ricky Rubio, who sat out because of tightness in his left hip.
Memphis was led by Mike Conley, the guy who was rumored to be heading to the Jazz just before the trade deadline. The 6-foot-1 guard finished with 28 points — 23 in the second half — and a game-high 11 assists. Besides Valanciunas’ 27 points and Rabb’s 15, former Ute Delon Wright was the only other Memphis player in double figures with 11 points.
Snyder had warned before the game that the Grizzlies were “a good team,” noting that they had beaten Portland earlier this week and should have beaten Oklahoma City before falling by four. In fact, Memphis had won three of its last five games and besides the OKC loss, had lost to the Bulls by just two points.
“Sometimes when you get players in a new environment, it’s fresh and you’re able to raise your level,” he said. “They’re playing with a lot of enthusiasm, they’re always playing hard — they’re a good team.”
As Mitchell put it, “They’re playing free, like they’re having fun and they’re together. We let them be comfortable. When you’re comfortable, things start to fall and the rim gets bigger.”
The two teams played even in the first quarter, exchanging the lead four times before the Grizzlies finished the quarter on a 9-3 run in the final 1:39. By halftime the lead was 60-53 and Memphis moved the lead to 16 in the third quarter before the Jazz cut the lead to five at 84-79 heading into the final 12 minutes.6 comments on this story
Utah cut the lead to four at 91-87 midway through the quarter on a pair of Mitchell free throws, but Valanciunas made back-to-back shots and Wright followed in a miss by Avery Bradley to put the lead back to 10.
It seemed the Jazz had all the momentum, but Conley kept coming up with big shot after big shot as he went 5 for 6 for 13 points in the final quarter.
Next up for the Jazz is a game at home against Oklahoma City Monday night before games against Phoenix on the road Wednesday and home games Thursday against Minnesota and Saturday against Brooklyn.