Utah Jazz at Memphis Grizzlies: Keys to the Game


The Utah Jazz haven’t defeated a team with a winning record since the last time they faced the Memphis Grizzlies, so hopefully they can get that trend started anew as they take on Memphis once again tonight.

After a long and hard-fought week which saw the Utah Jazz go without point guard George Hill for three of the first four contests, the team will finish off the five-game road trip tonight against the Memphis Grizzlies.

The low strength of the opponent aside, Utah’s win last night against the Minnesota Timberwolves ended up being one of their most impressive performances of late. After playing pretty pathetic ball pretty much the whole way through, the Jazz used a 25-12 fourth quarter and a late 11-0 run to close out Minnesota.

It was a gutsy and determined finish that was unlike almost anything we would have witnessed from last year’s Jazz squad.

So while it was disappointing to see Utah struggle so greatly against the last place team in the Western Conference, it was great to see George Hill, who recorded 19 points and seven assists, and Derrick Favors, who finished with 15 points including a late clutch three, get back on track. Hopefully the Jazz can use that improbable comeback to fuel them with some momentum going into tonight’s contest against a staunch Memphis team.

They’ll definitely need it as the Grizzlies come in just a half game behind the Jazz for fifth place in the West and are coming off an even more impressive comeback victory of their own in which they overcame a 24-point third quarter deficit and a 19-point fourth quarter deficit to top the Golden State Warriors in overtime.

Yes, the Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green Warriors. The ones that had won 91 straight games when leading by 20 or more at some point in a game. Memphis is now 2-0 against Golden State and a fun little side tidbit is that the Warriors are now 0-5 on the season against the Spurs, Cavs, Rockets and Grizzlies. If only the Jazz could get in on that party.

Anyhow, if any team is feeling high and coming in with momentum, it’s got to be the Grizzlies. However, while Memphis has enjoyed success against the Warriors, the season series between them and Utah is currently knotted at a game apiece.

The last time these two teams met at the FedEx Forum, the game was neck-and-neck the whole way until the Jazz used an impressive 21-15 fourth quarter to pull away and seal the deal with an 82-73 win.

Whenever these two teams get together, you can expect a grind-it-out defensive battle that really could go either way. But perhaps the best news for the Jazz this time around is that while last game Dante Exum was their starting point guard and he failed to log a single point, this time George Hill will be back in action.

The bad news, however, is that Utah is playing on their second game in as many nights and, as the final game of their road trip, the fifth game in just seven days. With tired legs and fatigue setting in, a physical Grizzlies team has to be one of the last the Jazz would like to face.

Nevertheless, the schedule is what it is and Utah has no choice but to simply be ready to go. Ironically, Memphis is the last team with a winning record that Utah defeated all the way back on December 18th. Matching wits with fellow playoff teams hasn’t really been a strength for the Jazz so far this season as their 5-12 record against the current top eight teams in both conferences indicates, so they’ll need to prove otherwise beginning with tonight’s contest.

Key Match-up – George Hill and Mike Conley

One of the best parts of games between the Jazz and Grizzlies are some of the tightly contested individual match-ups across each roster. Last time these two teams met, I slotted Rudy Gobert and Marc Gasol as the key match-up and Rudy’s dominance against his counterpart was a leading contributor to the win.

While Gasol finished with just eight points on 4-of-22 shooting and seven rebounds, Gobert put up an impressive stat line of 21 points, 9-of-9 shooting and 12 rebounds.

In the Grizzlies win over Golden State and the last time they faced off against the Jazz, their sixth man power forward Zach Randolph was also an effective weapon, so the match-up between him and an improving Derrick Favors will also be an exciting and crucial contest.

However, the battle I’m most looking forward to is Mike Conley against George Hill. Hill has had so much bad luck this season with injuries, it’s almost hard to believe. But each time he has come back, he has hardly skipped a beat. Last night’s performance was no exception as he came back strong and willed his team to victory.

Utah has been torched lately by elite point guards such as Isaiah Thomas and Kyle Lowry, but with George Hill’s lockdown defense, it’s doubtful that Mike Conley will be able to do the same.

Don’t get me wrong, Conley is one of the more underrated players in the league and in the same tier of point guards as Thomas and Lowry. He has proved this all season, including in the recent Memphis win over Golden State where he converted clutch shot after clutch shot, including the one to force overtime, and finished with 27 points and 12 rebounds.

But with the length and quickness of George Hill set to make life difficult for Conley, I have a hard time believing he’ll be able to replicate that kind of performance. Both Hill and Conley are similar players and fill nearly identical roles on their respective teams as the floor generals that make the offense flow and the leaders that provide the heartbeat for their squads.

As such, it’s very likely that whichever one of them has the better game defensively, scoring and in facilitating good performances out of their teammates will likely lead his team to victory.

Key Stat – Rebounds

In the previous match-up between these two teams, I pinned three-point shooting as the stat that would be the most critical in determining who would win the game. In a lot of ways that was true as Utah shot a less than stirring 8-of-27 (29.6 percent) from deep but it was much better than the Grizzlies 2-of-23 shooting performance.

It’s unlikely that Memphis puts up that horrible of a night from behind the arc again, though, so Utah will have to look for an advantage in other ways. Last time they played, the Jazz also took care of business defensively as they recorded 11 blocks compared to one for Memphis, but the area where Utah was most noticeably outmatched was in rebounding.

Dec 18, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Utah Jazz center Boris Diaw (33) lays the ball up against Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen (9) during the first half at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 18, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Utah Jazz center Boris Diaw (33) lays the ball up against Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen (9) during the first half at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports /

Surprisingly enough, Utah did much better on the defensive boards as they logged 37 rebounds while Memphis grabbed 29, but the Grizzlies were monsters at offensive rebounding as they pulled down 19 compared to Utah’s five to bring the total rebounding numbers to 48-42 in favor of Memphis.

Those offensive rebounds and the second chance opportunities they created gave the Grizzlies a big lift and were a significant reason why they were able to stay in the game. There’s no doubt about it, Memphis is a good rebounding team, especially when considering the slow pace that they play at, so Utah will have their work cut out for them if they hope to top a team that boasts solid rebounders such as Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and JaMychal Green.

Doing so, however, will be critical if Utah wants to take control of the game and eliminate the second chance points which made up a big part of the Memphis offense the last time these two teams met.

Key Performer – Rudy Gobert

Although he wasn’t the leading scorer (Gordon Hayward had one more than him), there’s no denying that Rudy Gobert was the key performer the last time Utah took on Memphis. He almost single-handedly altered the outcome of the game as he scored at will and shut down Marc Gasol.

He didn’t have a bad game against Minnesota last night, finishing with a 12-point, 13-rebound double-double, but he missed some very makeable shots and went just 5-of-10 from the field (which sounds silly to say “just” but in Rudy’s case we’ve come to expect a much higher field goal percentage).

And on several occasions this year, Gobert has followed up a game in which he’s struggled with a monster performance. Most recently, he bounced back from a disappointing nine-point performance against the Sixers to log 18 points and 13 rebounds in a big win over the Suns.

Given the way Gobert was able to outmatch Gasol the last time these teams faced and knowing how apt he is to prove himself after performing beneath what he knows he’s capable of, I expect Rudy to come out fired up tonight and ready to make an enormous impact for the Jazz.

Prediction – Grizzlies 88, Jazz 83

Nearly every time I write these keys to the game pieces, after covering three sections about what the Jazz have to do win I come close to convincing myself that they’ve got the game in the bag and they should definitely be able to take care of business in the areas I describe to win the game. However, then I get down to the prediction part and have to come back to earth a little bit and assess everything going on around Jazzland.

Utah is certainly capable of winning this game. They beat Memphis on the road without George Hill three weeks ago. However, since that win, the Jazz have not notched that impressive of a victory against any opponent.

Dec 18, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) drives to the basket between Memphis Grizzlies forward JaMychal Green (0) and Memphis Grizzlies guard Andrew Harrison (5) during the second half at FedExForum. the Utah Jazz defeat the Memphis Grizzlies 82-73. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 18, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) drives to the basket between Memphis Grizzlies forward JaMychal Green (0) and Memphis Grizzlies guard Andrew Harrison (5) during the second half at FedExForum. the Utah Jazz defeat the Memphis Grizzlies 82-73. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports /

Yes, last night’s comeback was awesome, but it was against the worst team in the Western Conference. Utah’s exciting victories over the past three weeks have come against lottery teams and each time they’ve faced a playoff opponent, they’ve been unable to take care of business.

So that, combined with the fact that Memphis has to be licking their chops at a Jazz team coming in on a back-to-back and the tail end of a five-game road trip, has me worried about Utah’s chances. It should still be a close, grind-it-out kind of game, but I’m going to stick with my prediction from earlier in the week and pin the Grizzlies as five-point victors.

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With that being said, due to the nature and style of the games these two teams play against one another, one simple run or a few simple mistakes could make all the difference in one team pulling ahead of the other. Thus it’s very possible (and I hope ends up being the case) that the Jazz prove me wrong and steal another road win in Memphis.

It definitely would be encouraging to see them do so as they haven’t been up to the task against winning teams so far this season and they’ll need to find a way to turn that around quickly as, including tonight, they’ll be playing a lot more high-caliber teams over the course of the next two months, including against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Salt Lake City on Tuesday.

They’ll need all the momentum and confidence they can get for that contest and others that are upcoming on the schedule, so hopefully they can build some in tonight’s game against the Grizzlies.

All stats courtesy of NBA.com