It took overtime to decide a winner but we now know who the Utah Jazz will be facing in their opening round playoff series after the Memphis Grizzlies took down the Golden State Warriors, 117-112, on Friday night to clinch the final spot in the NBA playoffs.
With the win, the Grizzlies keep their season alive while the Warriors will begin their vacation plans. Looking forward, the Jazz won all three meetings against the Grizzlies this season but Memphis has the momentum they've built this week on their side while the Jazz have not played a game in over a week.
In the end, the play-in tournament proved to be a success as we have seen a number of highly competitive basketball games not only this week but over the course of the last few weeks of the regular season. While it remains to be seen whether or not this will become an annual tradition, it worked out well for the Grizzlies this season.
Here are three key takeaways from the game:
1. Morant steps up with a big time performance
When the Grizzlies selected Ja Morant with the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, they did so hoping he could become the face of the franchise as they embarked on a rebuild. So far, so good. In his first two seasons, he's won Rookie of the Year and then led the team to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
He was absolutely terrific in this game, and you really can't say enough about his performance. He finished with 35 points, six rebounds, six assists and four steals, made a season-high five 3-pointers and came up with some huge baskets time and again throughout the game.
There were two different times -- once in the third and once in the fourth -- where Steph Curry hit a 3, the crowd started to get into it, and Morant came down the court and answered with a 3 of his own to silence them. Those kinds of responses are huge on the road, and can really swing momentum.
Then, in overtime, he hit two clutch floaters in the final minute to seal the win. First, with the Grizzlies clinging to a one-point lead, Morant went one-on-one with Curry and cleared him out before dropping in a tear-drop to make it a three-point game. On the next possession, he hit Juan Toscano-Anderson with a nasty spin move into a floater to push the Grizzlies' lead to five with 4.5 seconds left and effectively seal the win.
It would have been easy, understandable even, for Morant to get overwhelmed by the moment in what was easily the biggest game of his career. Instead, he put the Grizzlies on his back. That, even more than the result, is the biggest positive for the Grizzlies from this game.
2. Curry battles tough defense to get 39, but it's not enough
Last weekend, when the Warriors beat the Grizzlies on the final day of the regular season, Steph Curry dropped 46 points. Based on their defensive scheme in this matchup, it seemed the Grizzlies were intent on making sure he didn't repeat that performance.
Dillon Brooks and Co. were face-guarding Curry every second when he was off the ball, and when Curry did have the ball in his hands he was often getting trapped or seeing multiple defenders. Somehow he managed to almost get to 40 points again, and finished with 39 points on 13-of-28 from the field. It's a testament to his greatness that even with those numbers you still walked away from the game feeling like the Grizzlies did a terrific job defending him.
They were physical, forced Curry into seven turnovers and stuck to their game plan of daring other players to beat them. While Curry still fought his way to 39 points, the Grizzlies made sure few of them came in the biggest moments. On the last two possessions of regulation, they took the ball out of Curry's hands; in overtime Curry only took two shots, and none in the final 1:51.
Here's a sampling of those possessions late in the fourth quarter and overtime. Even if he wanted to, it would have been hard for Curry to force anything.
Look at this screenshot. That's three Grizzlies chasing him off the ball. Absurd. Whatever happened, they decided they weren't losing because of Curry, and it worked.
3. Grizzlies make first playoff appearance since 2017
Last summer in the bubble, the Grizzlies just barely missed out on the playoffs because they blew an eight-point fourth quarter lead to the Trail Blazers in the play-in tournament. History almost repeated itself on Friday night, as the Grizzlies wasted a 10-point fourth-quarter lead against the Warriors. This time, though, they were able to get to overtime and held on during a frantic extra period to secure the win.
Now, the Grizzlies are moving on to the playoffs for the first time since 2017. They're officially the No. 8 seed in the West, which means they'll play the Utah Jazz, who finished the regular season with the best record in the league and are elite on both sides of the ball. We've seen in these play-in games that the Grizzlies can really guard, but it will be a challenge for them to score enough to keep up.