After pulling off a Game 1 upset over the top-seeded Jazz, Grizzlies look to continue their brash, confrontational and physical play in Game 2 on Wednesday in Salt Lake City
Grayson Allen played 23 minutes of turnover-free basketball and hit a big 3-pointer in Memphis’ surprising 112-109 win over the top-seeded Utah Jazz on Sunday in an NBA playoff game, which had to feel good for the third-year player after the Jazz traded him away after just one season in Salt Lake City.
Well, not exactly.
Allen brushed off a question about his favorite memory from his rookie season with the Jazz (2018-19) during Tuesday’s virtual news conference, saying he didn’t get emotional or anything else before, during or after the thrilling victory for the Grizzlies.
Game 2 is Wednesday night at Vivint Arena (8 p.m. MDT, TNT) as the No. 8 seed attempts to go up 2-0 on the No. 1 seed in the first-round series.
“It has been two seasons removed now and it felt like a quick stop here. My rookie year felt like it flew by just because everything was new,” Allen said. “Now that I am like two seasons removed — I have been in Memphis longer than I was in Utah — I don’t really think about it that much.”
Allen went 2 for 4 from the field, including 1 of 2 from 3-point range, and had a rebound in the win. The Grizzlies were minus-10 when he was on the floor, but coach Taylor Jenkins said he played some valuable minutes to give starters such as Dillon Brooks (31 points) and Ja Morant (26 points) some needed rest.
Having mostly watched from the bench when Utah lost its first-round playoff series 4-1 to the Houston Rockets back in 2019, Allen does remember what kind of impact the Jazz’s crowd can have on a playoff game — for better or worse.
Sunday’s crowd was far from a sellout — about 13,000 — due to COVID-19 restrictions, but it felt like the arena was full, Allen and teammate Xavier Tillman said Tuesday.
The Duke product, who gained a reputation in college for being a dirty player who often pushed the bounds of sportsmanship, said the crowd actually gave the Grizzlies energy.
“It was honestly really fun to play in that kind of environment with it being loud the whole game and erupting in boos when we go on a big run or we make a big play, or cheering when they go on a run or hit a big shot,” he said. “It is a really fun environment to play (in) and it gives you a lot of energy.”
Allen, 25, averaged 10.9 minutes and 5.6 points per game for the Jazz his rookie season, after being selected by the Jazz in the first round of the NBA draft in June 2018. When he made his summer league debut a month later, he got the biggest applause of any Jazzman, and said the “Utah fanbase is incredible” after the game.
Obviously, those memories have faded a bit.
“I think (the boisterous crowd) kind of helped us, being in a first playoff game,” he said. “We have a lot of guys that love playing in these kinds of games with a big crowd and feed from them and get energy from that. We like that and we play into that.”
Indeed, Tillman, the rookie center out of Michigan State, said Memphis is a team that feeds off vitriol and verbal taunts from opposing crowds.
Brooks, for one, had some not-so-pleasant words with the fans who were courtside on Sunday.
“It is funny. We are a team that focuses on us. So when we see somebody trying to attack one of our guys, that’s the last thing you want to do,” Tillman said. “Because then we are even more together, we are even more focused, and we are more lethal, just because now we are trying to prove a point.
“Our thing is we are definitely not going out looking for a fight, but we are not the ones to pick on, either.”
Tillman didn’t score in eight minutes of action, but picked up two fouls.
“The environment was great,” he said during Tuesday’s virtual news conference.
Allen, who is averaging 10.6 points in 25.2 minutes per game for the Grizzlies, told the Deseret News on Nov. 29, 2019, before a Utah-Memphis game at FedEx Forum that he was shocked when he was included in the blockbuster trade on July 6 of that same year that sent him, Jae Crowder and Kyle Korver to Memphis for all-star guard Mike Conley.
“Oh yeah, I didn’t see it coming at all,” Allen said that night.
The shock has worn off. The trade turned out to work well for both teams.
Asked to compare the coaching styles of Jenkins and Utah’s Quin Snyder, because he has played for both, Allen pointed to the way the coaches approach and “dissect” game video.
“They are both really detail-oriented,” he said. “I think you see that in the film sessions the next day … no detail gets left (unmentioned). They are all-in on every little detail, and whatever can give us a little edge, a half a point here or there.”
A lot of questions in Memphis’ media availability Tuesday — starting center Jonas Valanciunas also participated — focused on how the Grizzlies were the more physical team Sunday and whether they can keep it up.
“The focus has got to stay on us,” Jenkins said. “Obviously, it was a highly competitive game. There was physicality. There were a lot of emotions, but I thought for the most part our guys did a pretty decent job. Many of those guys, it was their first playoff experience. … Luckily, these guys have embraced it. They were talking about it themselves before I even have to address it sometimes.”
The Jazz’s Conley, who was the target of Brooks’ attempt at a headbutt, said Memphis’ tactics didn’t catch the Jazz off guard, but acknowledged that Utah could have handled them better.
“That is part of who they are, their identity, the way they play and similar to a lot of (past) Memphis teams,” Conley said. “They are passionate and play with a lot of force, assert themselves and they play physical. The physicality of the game is something we have seen from a lot of teams, so did it surprise us? No.”
Conley said there were times when the Jazz stopped focusing on the game and worried too much about the “talking or the refs or anything” besides playing basketball.
“I think that is a situation we are going to see ourselves in throughout the series,” he said. “We have to continue to match their energy … They played a lot hungrier than we did.”