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December 8, 2021

Grizzlies shock Jazz to steal Game 1 of playoffs

SALT LAKE CITY — Bojan Bogdanovic laid on his back near midcourt, arms fully extended above his head after his potential game-tying 3 was nowhere close.

That shot could have changed the narrative — a shot that Bogdanovic said was a “pretty good look” — or at least saved face a little.

Do the Utah Jazz deserve credit for how close things were at the end? For the fight they showed to at least have a shot to win in the final seconds after trailing by 17 in the fourth quarter? Sure.

But they should be ashamed of just about everything else in a 112-109 Game 1 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies Sunday at Vivint Arena.

It doesn’t matter that Donovan Mitchell was out or that they got a tough whistle during parts of the game leading to major foul trouble; it doesn’t matter that they may have been a bit rusty after a week off or that they haven’t played a truly intense game since, well, last postseason. They were the No. 1 seed with a week off, and they got punked at home for large portions of the game by a much more inexperienced team.

Memphis was more aggressive, more physical and was far and away the team more prepared for a playoff atmosphere (it had already played two play-in games just to get to Game 1 of the playoffs, after all).

Dillon Brooks had 31 points in a villain-making performance to lead Memphis, and Ja Morant added 26 points, including some back-breaking shots down the stretch as the Jazz frantically tried to make a comeback.

Such was the Grizzlies’ demeanor on Sunday that it feels strange to think back to the second quarter when the Jazz were on the verge of running away with the series-opening game — just as most expected them to do. Utah’s shots weren’t falling but the team held Memphis without a bucket for over seven minutes of game time, which led to a 14-point advantage.

Eventually some 3’s fell and the Jazz looked like they’d rout the apparent-lowly Grizzlies, right? Not so much.

Instead, Utah coughed up the ball, gave up offensive rebounds and soon enough the lead was gone. The Jazz had 16 turnovers on Sunday, and Memphis grabbed 16 offensive rebounds.

“Turnovers. We gave them way too many easy points in transition,” said Rudy Gobert, who had 11 points and 15 rebounds. “When they have to play against our half-court defense, it’s a different story.”

Especially when Gobert, himself, was back there. Due to foul trouble, however, he only played 25 minutes. with 9:03 left in the third quarter, Gobert went to the bench with his third foul; he eventually fouled out midway through the fourth quarter.

“It was hard for me to try to figure out what kind of game they were calling early in the game,” Gobert said. “They were allowing us to play physical, and then, at some point, they hit me with two quick ones on rebounds when (Jonas) Valanciunas is doing the exact same thing.”

Gobert wasn’t alone in facing foul trouble. Conley also picked up two quick fouls to start the second half, leaving the Jazz without all three of their All-Stars (Donovan Mitchell missed the game as he still recovered from his right ankle sprain) for the majority of the third quarter.

“I thought Mike’s foul trouble hurt us during that one stretch where he was out because he controls the game for us,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said.

Conley had 22 points and 11 assists in 33 minutes, but was just 6-of-18 from the field. The Jazz actually outscored the Grizzlies by 9 points in Gobert’s 25 minutes. So were the calls that led to the 13,000 strong at Vivint Arena chanting “refs you suck” the reason for the loss? They were maybe a factor, but hardly the reason.

Utah was just 4-of-21 from 3 in the first half and shot just 12-of-47 for the game. Add that bad shooting with the turnovers and you have a recipe for a pretty ugly game.

“For us, if the ball is not going in, it just means we need to be even more efficient and more locked in. … Whether it was the offensive rebounds or the turnovers, they just had a lot more possessions than we did, and that’s hard to overcome,” Snyder said.

If there’s a silver lining from Sunday’s loss, it’s that the Jazz — as bad as they played — were still one shot from sending the game into overtime. Bogdanovic scored all 29 of his points in the second half, including 20 in the fourth quarter, to lead a huge rally from 17 points down. He brought the Jazz back, but his final shot to tie the game went wide left.

“I was happy with the fact that we fought and got back in the game there at the end,” Snyder said. “But I think we all know we need to play better.”

And that’s the final takeaway from Sunday: If the Jazz want to accomplish their lofty goals, they have to play much better. If not, they could be in a fight just to get out of the first round.

Game 2 will be played Wednesday at 8 p.m. MT at Vivint Arena.

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