With the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, experienced sharpshooter Jordan Clarkson, and one of the other leading candidates on their bench, the Utah Jazz will generate more scoring production from their bench than any other team in the league.
So the Memphis Grizzlies haven’t been too dismayed by the fact that their bench has been completely outshone in Game 5 of the Western Conference first-round series, which Utah leads 3-1 heading back to Vivint Arena on Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. MDT, NBA TV).
After Utah’s 120-113 win Monday night at FedEx Forum, Grizzlies standout Ja Morant stated, “They’re a great team that makes you pay for mistakes.” “It’s difficult. They’ve got a lot of good shooters.”
In Game 4, though, the Grizzlies showed some promising signs. A player who was not named Grayson Allen came off the bench and had a fantastic fourth quarter.
De’Anthony Melton, a third-year guard from USC, scored 15 points in the fourth quarter alone to lead the Grizzlies back from a 13-point deficit entering the final session.
With 5:30 remaining, Melton’s 3-pointer cut Utah’s advantage to 106-104, but Mike Conley responded with a triple on the other end, and the Grizzlies never went closer than three points the rest of the way.
To be honest, I think my teammates helped me stay aggressive,” Melton added. “I feel like I’m a game-changer, and all I have to do when I go out there is find a way to make an impact.”
After hitting five 3-pointers en route to 17 points off the bench in Saturday’s Game 3 loss, he did it again Monday.
Until Monday’s heroics, Melton had been a non-factor in the series.
“I’m just going out there with the same mentality — be aggressive, keep confident, and vary things up,” he said of Game 5.
In total, Memphis’ bench produced 30 points in Game 4, with Allen contributing eight points and Desmond Bane contributing seven to go along with Melton’s 15.
Despite the fact that Joe Ingles, Utah’s other Sixth Man candidate, only scored two points, the Jazz gained 40 points from their bench, with Clarkson scoring 24 points and Derrick Favors adding eight points and five rebounds in 15 minutes. Georges Niang scored six points on a pair of triples.
“We’re right there, as everyone saw,” Melton added. “This team has a lot of fight in it. It’s the No. 1 seed, and they’re not going down without a fight. All we have to do now is keep fighting. Take each game one at a time. We already grabbed one in Utah, so all we have to do now is have the same mindset and keep moving forward.
The Grizzlies have struggled with foul problems throughout the season, and Dillon Brooks, in particular, can’t seem to avoid sitting on the bench due to fouls. Coach Taylor Jenkins believes that this makes the No. 8 seed’s bench production even more crucial.
“When the reserves come in, we get more attempts and the ball moves a little bit better,” Jenkins said. “Hopefully, in the next game, we are moving the ball even better and getting the same looks and knocking them down.
“Our bench was important tonight,” Jenkins continued, pointing out that starters Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant both missed open 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter that could have swung the game in their favour. “All we have to do now is step it up a level and break through for another win here. As a result, the bench was a significant factor in the final two games. A variety of men are stepping forward. That effort will be required again on Wednesday night.”
Melton, who went 13 minutes without scoring in Game 1 and had just 10 points in 30 minutes in Games 2 and 3, said the Grizzlies are looking forward to stealing another game in SLC.
“We like to go out there and show who we are as a team, and we like to silence other crowds,” he remarked. “Because Memphis is such a small market, we have to go out and build a reputation for ourselves, and we will fight no matter what. We are going to fight and try to put everyone on notice, regardless of who is in the crowd.”
Another thing that has become clear during the series is that these Grizzlies have a lot of self-confidence. They don’t lack self-assurance. They acted as if they would be heading to Memphis for Game 6 on Friday after Monday’s setback.
“We just keep our heads down,” Jackson said after scoring 21 points on 9 of 18 shooting, including 3 of 10 from long range. “It makes no difference whether we win or lose….” We’ve always had a chip on our shoulder and kept going. It makes no difference what happens. It’s a lengthy collection.”
After the loss, one of Jenkins’ messages to his team was that Utah had previously wasted a 3-1 series lead. Last October, the Jazz appeared to be in command in Orlando before the Denver Nuggets won three straight and advanced.
“It’s very encouraging that the group that we have is going toe to toe with the group that they have. “It’s awe-inspiring to watch,” Jenkins remarked. “Obviously, you wish it would swing, but our effort and discipline were both present tonight. … Game 5 will be the most difficult for them to win. We’re going to go out there and focus, fight, compete, and give it our all in order to play our best basketball.”