The Memphis Grizzlies entered Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals with their backs against the wall and responded with their most emphatic win of the postseason.
Down 3-1 to the Golden State Warriors heading into the match, another loss would have ended their season. Their star guard Ja Morant missed their three-point Game 4 loss with a bone bruise that he suffered in Game 3 and was once again unavailable for Game 5.
The odds seemed stacked in Golden State’s favor, but Memphis responded with a complete team effort that resulted in a 134-95 blowout victory that forced a sixth game in this series. Starters Jaren Jackson Jr, Desmond Bane, and Tyus Jones scored 21 points apiece as they set the tone for the Grizzlies early on with their belligerent approach.
Dillon Brooks added 12 points while Steven Adams chipped in with seven points and 13 rebounds. Five Memphis reserves also scored at least nine points which further underscored the strength of their collective effort.
The Grizzlies held a sizable lead all throughout the match which reached a high of 55 points late in the third quarter.
The lopsidedness of this contest may come as a surprise to some, yet this has actually become somewhat a typical response from this team when Morant is sidelined. They went 20-5 without him in the regular season and would have had an even better record in his absence if they did not lose three games that had no bearing for them late in the regular season.
This should not suggest that this Memphis team is better without their 22-year-old NBA All-Star. Instead, it highlights the depth and talent that this team has on its roster.
Though back-up point guard Tyus Jones may play like an elder veteran, he is still only 26 years old and has consistently stepped up when called upon to fill in the void left by Morant.
Jones’ ability to facilitate is invaluable and his reliability has given this young team a crucial sense of steadiness. His 21 points in Game 5 came on eight-of-12 shooting and he also tallied nine assists, three rebounds, two steals, and a block without committing a single turnover.
With Jones setting up the offense, this allows Jackson and Bane to become the focal points of their attack.
Jackson’s smooth offensive skill set at 6’11 makes him tough for the undersized Warriors to cover and this mismatch was especially glaring in Game 5. Still only 22 years old, Jackson has grown more assertive this season, addressing the concerns since he was drafted fourth overall in 2018 that he was too passive, and it has allowed him to flourish.
He controlled the game on both ends of the floor and it showed in his statline where he garnered eight rebounds, three assists, a steal, and two blocks to go with his 21 points.
Meanwhile, the second-year guard Bane was a +46 on the evening which was the highest mark by any player since LeBron James in 2017.
Despite being slowed by a nagging back injury, Bane was particularly aggressive in Game 5 and his physicality continued to bother the Warriors’ guards. The fighting spirit of the 30th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft has been a key driver for this team and they will continue to look to him for a spark as they try to extend this series once more come Game 6 in Golden State.
This battle is far from over and the Warriors will have to bring their A-game come the next match since a potential Game 7 will be played in Memphis given their superior regular season record.
These spunky Grizzlies will not go down without a fight and it will be interesting to see how this veteran Golden State group responds to this embarrassing loss. The Warriors may have the championship experience, yet this Memphis team that they are up against plays with an air of confidence and heart that is reminiscent of the Golden State team that won this group’s first title seven years ago in 2015.
One of the breakthroughs of that Warriors team was a series win in the Western Conference Semifinals versus this same Grizzlies franchise, then in the latter days of their bruising “Grit and Grind” era. That turned out to be a watershed moment for that Golden State team and as destiny may have it, this might end up being a similar one, but with the tables turned for this young Memphis core instead.