The Memphis Grizzlies Are the First-Ever #9 Seed to Make the NBA Playoffs

I wrote yesterday that I thought the Warriors would win, but that it would be closer than most people were expecting. By no means did I think the Grizzlies would win, but I also thought given the way they took care of the Spurs on Wednesday night, they were more dangerous than people were giving them credit for.

Memphis dominated that game last night up until the last few minutes. They almost imploded, but managed to regroup and win it in OT, 117-112. If you watched the whole game, though, you got the sense that Memphis deserved to win and was the better team overall.

Main takeaway, though: Ja Morant has officially arrived. That was the biggest game of his young career and he came up huge, 35 points on 14-29 shooting, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, a career-high 5 made threes (10 attempts), 4 steals and the game-sealing dagger with 4 seconds to go. He played 46 minutes. That game was the moment he arrived. We all knew he was special since the day he came into the league, and of course he won rookie of the year last season, but this was his first signature moment in a big-time game. Jonas Valanciunas fouled out of the game towards the end of the 4th quarter and the Grizzlies were still able to get it done in large part thanks to Ja–and huge contributions from their key role players. Dillon Brooks was doing a great job defending Curry for most of the game, and Grayson Allen hit two huge threes in overtime.

Steph had a good game, 39 points on 13-28 shooting and a +4 overall net, but he had to play 47 minutes and didn’t sit at all in the 4th quarter. You could tell that even towards the end of regulation he was completely gassed, and he basically turned into a passer for the rest of the game. He was getting doubled, too. That’s why Draymond ended up taking the last shot in regulation that could’ve been the game-winner but ended up being nowhere close. It’s hard to put too much blame on Curry because he just doesn’t have the supporting cast. I mean, Andrew Wiggins had 22 points but put up 22 shots to get them. Steph’s out there playing with guys like Kent Bazemore, Jordan Poole and Juan Toscano-Anderson–decent players, to be sure, but not guys who are going to be enough to help shoulder the load come playoff time. And Draymond just doesn’t have the offensive skillset to pick up the load.

I’m impressed the Warriors were able to rally back and force overtime; early in the second half the Grizzlies were up by as much as 14 points. Steph basically would’ve had to score 45+ for the Warriors to win, and he came up just a bit shy. You can tell how much they miss Klay Thompson; he really does make a world of a difference for that team.

But now you see why I said earlier that no matter which team won this game, they were going to end up losing to the Jazz in the first round either way. The Warriors were fun for a bit this season when Steph was cooking, but let’s be honest here: the Warriors without Klay are just not that great a team. They don’t have depth.

By no means should this diminish Steph’s regular season. He still deserves to be in the MVP conversation. We saw what that team looked like without him last season–they had the worst record in the league. Steph had to go out there and ball out every single night–he won the damn scoring title–and it was still not enough to get the Warriors into the playoffs. They just don’t have the talent around him.

The way Golden State’s season ended will certainly ramp up the “Curry to the Lakers” chatter. Losing to LeBron on their first chance to clinch a playoff spot, then losing to Memphis and missing out on the playoffs altogether–if you’re Steph Curry, you gotta be thinking about your future with that team. He averaged 32 points a game and they ended up only 39-35 with the two play-in games included. There’s only so much a guy can do.

Yes, he gets Klay back next year, but do we really think this Warriors team will become Championship contenders when they get Klay back? It’s gonna take a lot more than Klay Thompson to turn these Warriors into championship contenders. They’re in like a semi-rebuild mode: James Wiseman (out for the season) was a rookie, Jordan Poole is only 21 (turning 22 next month). Then you have 30+ veterans like obviously Steph, Klay and Draymond. Wiggins is only 26 but he’s been in the league since 2014. Kelly Oubre is only 25. They have this mix of 30+ vets and really young guys, but it feels like they need to commit to one group or the other.

I still think it’s a long-shot to see Steph on the Lakers, but what if LeBron and Co. get beaten in the Finals by Brooklyn this year? Steph might look at his situation in Golden State and think, “We’re not winning with this.” And then he’d understand he could be the difference-maker in LA and be the missing piece that enables them to de-throne the Nets. I know Steph wants to be a Warrior for life, but he also still wants to compete for Championships, and it doesn’t look like that’s happening in Golden State. I doubt he wants to wallow in mediocrity in Golden State while his old pal KD wins titles in Brooklyn.

Still, Steph definitely owes it to Klay Thompson to wait for him to come back and see how things go next season. If Steph ends up on the Lakers, it won’t be until the 2023 season, but by that point LeBron will be 38… It’s an interesting situation.

A few more points about the game: the Grizzlies definitely just crashed the party. We all know the NBA was rooting for Golden State to win. Curry is obviously a much bigger TV draw than the Memphis Grizzlies, but I think people should give Ja Morant and the Grizzlies a chance here. I don’t think they have a shot to beat the Jazz, but Ja Morant will definitely put on some fireworks in that series. He’s a special player and he’s officially arrived, so let’s hope he has some big games against Utah under the bright lights. If Ja goes crazy and balls out in this series, it could still end up being a good thing for the NBA as they’ll get a lot of national TV exposure for one of their brightest young stars. It already hurts the NBA that Zion’s Pelicans missed the playoffs, so maybe Ja Morant can steal the show and make his mark.

Austin Frank

Sports blogger

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