SAN FRANCISCO – Even as the Grizzlies continue to provide resounding answers about their collective postseason growth, coach Taylor Jenkins is far more interested in the next set of questions as they push forward in the playoffs.
Barely 12 hours after staving off elimination with a historic, lopsided win at home in Game 5, the Grizzlies boarded a four-hour flight to play Game 6 against the Warriors on Friday night.
Although 48 hours is an incredibly short turnaround for a cross-country flight and pivotal game, it’s plenty of time to reflect on priorities when a team’s postseason fate is at stake.
You don’t get to win the series until you win one possession. It’s going to be a tough one, but are we accepting the challenge? Are we responding to it? And are we going to do everything we can in our control to go in and get a victory?
So while proudly answering questions about the Grizzlies’ 39-point throttling of the Warriors to make it a 3-2 series, Jenkins was locked in philosophically as the Grizzlies returned to the Bay.
Ultimately, the Grizzlies want to defy the odds, rally to win this series and advance to the Western Conference finals. To do that, they must force a Game 7 back in Memphis on Monday. But first, to set any of that in motion, the Grizzlies need to win Game 6 on Friday.
But Jenkins doesn’t want his team even thinking about the bigger picture heading into the Chase Center. The immediate goals are much smaller and more incremental than that.
“Moving forward, how do you win one possession, to win one game, to win one series?” Jenkins rhetorically asked. “You don’t get to win the series until you win one possession. It’s going to be a tough one, but are we accepting the challenge? Are we responding to it? And are we going to do everything we can in our control to go in and get a victory?”
Essentially, that’s the same question the Grizzlies answered in convincing fashion, with their backs against the proverbial wall, to deliver their most lopsided win in postseason history the other night. So, the confidence is there that these Grizzlies can beat the Warriors.
Evidence also suggests Memphis has discovered a formula for success against Golden State despite losing star guard Ja Morant likely for the rest of the playoffs to a knee injury. In their previous game at Chase Center, the Grizzlies built a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter with stifling defense before late-game lapses derailed their chances to even the series at 2-2. Instead, they suffered a 101-98 loss that sent the Grizzlies home facing elimination.
But after struggling to finish Game 4, the Grizzlies never let up from the start in Game 5 and built as large as a 55-point lead to cruise to the finish. The hope is that the Grizzlies can maintain their edge in three areas in which they were dominant with their season on the line.
On Wednesday, Memphis capitalized on nearly every turnover Golden State committed in the first half. By the end, the Grizzlies had scored 29 points on 22 of the Warriors’ miscues. Memphis also finally found a consistent rhythm from 3-point range, connecting on a series-best 18 attempts from beyond the arc as seven players made at least one from deep.
And the return of center Steven Adams from the league’s health and safety protocols absence has drastically impacted the Grizzlies’ success in the third area: rebounding. After getting outrebounded in each of the first four games of the series, the Grizzlies fared much better in Game 4 and outright dominated the Warriors on the boards in Game 5 with a 55-37 edge.
Over the past two games, the Grizzlies have outrebounded the Warriors 103-91 and have outscored them in the paint by a total of 28 points. In other words, Golden State is leading the series by a game, but it is no longer beating the Grizzlies at Memphis’ preferred style of play.
We’re trying to keep surviving so we can force a Game 7. But first comes Game 6. We’ve got to give that same effort. That’s the only way we’re going to have a chance to win. It’s going to be a hostile environment, as you know. We’ve got to give our whole effort and just follow the game plan and work out the adjustments.
“I would say we’re energized; we’re locked in and we’re all eyes on Game 6,” Grizzlies swingman Dillon Brooks said. “We’re trying to keep surviving so we can force a Game 7. But first comes Game 6. We’ve got to give that same effort. That’s the only way we’re going to have a chance to win. It’s going to be a hostile environment, as you know. We’ve got to give our whole effort and just follow the game plan and work out the adjustments.”
In the span of three games in this series, the Grizzlies have gone from suffering one of their worst playoff losses in franchise history in a 142-112 drubbing in Game 3 to securing their biggest postseason victory ever in Game 5. More than anything, that speaks to the resilience and growth the league’s second-youngest team has shown over the course of this series.
The characteristics and makeup of this team was recognized with another high honor when 33-year-old Zach Kleiman became the youngest recipient in history to win NBA Executive of the Year. In his third season as Grizzlies executive vice president for basketball affairs, Kleiman and his staff assembled a roster that tied the franchise’s single-season record win total at 56-26.
We’re on the road against a veteran Golden State trying to close out a series. They’re obviously going to throw a good punch. So go in there, be ready and keep that same mindset.
In addition to that, Jenkins finished second in Coach of the Year voting, Morant was sixth in MVP balloting and three different Grizzlies players received votes in both the Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player award races.
Right now, the Grizzlies are only focusing on maintaining their stride to keep their season alive.
And they have plenty of respect for Golden State and its core of three-time NBA champions in Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
But this series has proved that the respect is mutual. The Grizzlies know exactly what it’ll take to get one more victory to swing the series back to Memphis for a seventh and decisive game. To do that, they must beat a Golden State team that has won seven straight home games.
“Across the board, we understand what’s at stake,” Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane insisted. “We’re on the road against a veteran Golden State trying to close out a series. They’re obviously going to throw a good punch. So go in there, be ready and keep that same mindset.”
These Grizzlies have already answered plenty of questions this season.
Regardless of Friday’s outcome on the scoreboard, they’ve proved quite a point.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.