The Utah Jazz lost Game 1 of the 2021 Playoffs to the Memphis Grizzlies last night by the score of 109-112. The final score is not indicative of the embarrassing collapse that took place to spell out a loss mid-game.
After leading by 14 points midway through the 2nd quarter, the Jazz got blitzed by the Grizzlies so bad the lead wasn’t just lost, it flipped on Utah to the tune of a 17 point deficit early in the 4th quarter.
What was a 93.7% probability of a win flipped to a 4.0% chance in a quarter and a half (per Inpredictable). That’s the drastic collapse that has Jazz fans trying to make sense of the whole thing.
The evening started out in the worst possible way with Donovan Mitchell being announced as “OUT” for the contest despite the coaching staff and himself affirming he would play that night.
The next couple hours were filled with cryptic social posts from Donovan, further confusing reports, and wild theories surfacing from every corning of the fanbase and media.
Donovan Mitchell, who suited up for two of the three regular season matchups versus Memphis, averaged 35.0 points, 6.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 3.5 turnovers on 77.3% TS efficiency.
It was clear the Jazz would miss him, though the magnitude of which was far more than most realized. Donovan messaged the fanbase postgame with words of encouragement:
Sorry y’all... I wish I could say more.... I’ll be out there soon !❤️— Donovan Mitchell (@spidadmitchell) May 24, 2021
While such a PR fiasco certainly set a terrible tone for the night, the “about face” that took place in the 2nd quarter had little to do with Donovan.
So what happened? How do we digest this loss?
Let’s first compare game 1 to the regular season matchups, then dive into the wild swing that took place mid-game.
Game 1 vs Regular Season
The Utah Jazz played the Memphis Grizzlies 3 times during the regular season, pulling out 3 wins, 1 of which without Donovan Mitchell and 1 of which without Mike Conley.
The Jazz offense scored 118 points per 100 possessions over the 3 games. Last night, the Jazz mustered just a 111.3 ORTG. Looking at each game, the Jazz had two excellent offensive games while the final one was a dud at 109.9.
Throughout the regular season, the Jazz had the league’s 3rd best shooting team at 56.9% eFG. Against the Grizzlies in the regular season, that wasn’t far off at 56%. Game by game, Jazz had a phenomenal shooting game in the 2nd matchup while the other two hovered at 52%. Last night the Jazz hit just 49.4%.
This tells us that Utah has now had 3 bad shooting nights against Memphis. Interestingly, however, the Jazz have gotten good shots, the best coming last night.
In the 3 regular season game, Jazz got 71.5% of their shots at the rim or from 3. Last night Utah got 80.4%. If we dig even deeper, we can see the Jazz got more open shots as well!
Utah normally gets 49% of their shots as “open”. During the 3 regular season games, that went down to 43%. But last night in Game 1, Jazz got 51% of their shots as open.
So they got better shots and ended up with a worse efficiency. As unfortunate as it is to waste such an opportunity, Memphis got pretty darn lucky.
In fact, if the Jazz shoot their season efficiency from every zone, last night should have resulted in a 55.1% eFG.
This meant the Jazz transition offense was terrible at a 91.7 rating. For comparison, every other game in the regular season versus Memphis resulted in a 137 ORTG in transition for Utah.
By night’s end, the Jazz did as well as they normally do on offensive rebounds (30.4%) but the turnovers were a bit worse than the regular season matchups (16.5%). That all resulted in a -11 possession swing and a -5 points swing.
What kept the Jazz afloat in this game was the free throw attempt rate. Though Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley picked up several fouls early, it turned out that the Jazz went to the line much more than Memphis (35.8% versus 15.2%). In the 3 regular season games the Jazz had a 18.4% free throw attempt rate.
Ultimately, Memphis did what they do best—generate extra opportunities. Their volume exceeded our efficiency enough to pull out the win.
Defensively, the Jazz were stout at 107.2 points allowed per 100 possessions in the 3 game set. In Game 1, the Jazz allowed 114.4 ORTG to the Grizzlies. Outside of the first matchup in the regular season (116.3 DRTG), the Jazz have defended the Grizzlies well.
Memphis hasn’t had one good shooting night against Utah, their best come in the first matchup of the regular season (51.5% eFG) while last night they hit on 49%. Had the Grizzlies shot their season average from each zone, their efficiency should have been 50.5% eFG.
They got poor shots too, just 48.1% of which came from the rim or the 3P line.
The real damage came in transition, where MEM scored 170 points per 100 possessions and got in transition more than the Jazz allowed in their 3 regular season matchups.
Combine that with a slightly better OREB% than the Jazz and a lower TOV%, Memphis did enough to swing scoring opportunities their way and matched Utah’s game-end efficiency.
6:30 left in Q2
The Jazz built a 14 point lead midway through the 2nd quarter. Given the game script, it absolutely felt like a fairly sizeable margin. By halftime the Jazz trailed by 6 and by the 4th that deficit ballooned to 17.
What was going well early and how did it all fall apart?
Early on, the Jazz defense was impeccable, allowing just a 59.5 ORTG in the first quarter and a half. Memphis wasn’t going to the line or getting OREBs. Per usual, Jazz weren’t forcing TOVs either.
The Grizzlies were shooting just 26.3% eFG. That was no where near sustainable but what ensued no fans were prepared for.
Over the next 20 minutes of game time, Memphis put up a 167.4 ORTG, making 69.8% of their shots, turning the ball over even less, and amassing a 47.4% OREB rate. Meanwhile Utah stayed a consistent 46% shooting, stopped going after offensive rebounds, and coughed up nearly 30% of their possessions as turnovers.
Let’s debunk a few myths:
- “The Jazz just couldn’t make a shot” - Yes and no. Yes, 47% is poor efficiency, but it was the same mark they had in the first 17 minutes.
- “Rudy Gobert was in foul trouble” - Rudy played 9 of the 20 minutes, so basically half. He ended that stretch with a -14. It would’ve been better if he was out there but he was by no means good in that stretch.
- “Rudy Gobert couldn’t play due to foul trouble” - This an extension of the first. While he picked up his 4th foul early in the 3rd quarter, Rudy Gobert should have stayed on the court. At the very least, when Utah trimmed the lead to 3 points in the middle of the 3rd, that was the time to come in and retake the lead. That was the most critical moment of the game. If he comes in, maybe the Jazz don’t fall behind by 17 points in the 4th.
The truth of the matter is the Jazz lost that game long before they mounted a 17 point comeback late in the 4th.
As disappointing as it was to not see Conley pump fake a late 3 on Valanciunas to draw a foul or watch Bogdanovic pass up a wide open 3, teams don’t come back to win when trailing by 17 that late into the game.
The solutions for next time are to play consistent, focused defense. The defense broke like a dam releasing water. The flood gates were open to the tune of a 167.4 ORTG in between 6:30 in the 2nd quarter and 10:06 in the 4th quarter.
Utah needs to trust their offense to make the shots they generate and continue to force the issue by getting to the free throw line.
Whether Donovan Mitchell comes back in this series or not, the Jazz can beat the Grizzlies. But they won’t win by accident or sleep walking until the 4th quarter. It will take focus, energy, and execution.
With that said, having “Spida” Mitchell back in the lineup is likely to have a cascading affect throughout the roster, especially given the bizarre nature of the last 24 hours.
Here’s to making sense of it all!
Stats thanks to Cleaning The Glass and NBA.com