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Grizzlies Mike Conley, Jonas Valanciunas go large in win over Jazz

By Updated: March 08, 2019 11:11 PM CT | Published: March 08, 2019 10:45 PM CT

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert is the NBA’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year and one of the only players in the association who can make Jonas Valanciunas look small, or at least short.

But after leading by 16 points in the third quarter, the Grizzlies were clinging to a precarious four-point advantage when Mike Conley took his mid-fourth-quarter rest. Where to go for a stay-afloat bucket or two with Conley on the bench?

How about right at the DPOY?

The Grizzlies’ barrel-chested new center, who’s made fast friends among the FedExForum faithful, got the ball on the left block, bumped into Gobert’s chest, and hit a turnaround right over him.

Valanciunas hit a 16-footer over the shotblocker and finished at the rim off a pick-and-roll.

Valanciunas scored eight straight for the Grizzlies, with Gobert guarding him, and the team didn’t just hold the lead, they extended it, pushing to 10 by the time Conley returned three minutes later, on the way to a 114-104 win.

This wasn’t an isolated stretch.

Valanciunas seemed to relish the challenge of attacking Gobert from the opening tip. In the first quarter, he drove Gobert toward the rim, spun, and dunked. In the third, he held back to hit a baseline jumper over him. Multiple times, Valanciunas got into Gobert’s body and finished up close, on the way to 27 points (12 of 17 shooting) in only 25 minutes.

And no one in the building was less impressed with this performance than Valanciunas himself.

“That was my job, you know,” Valanciunas said, impassively, after the game. “To be able to put the pressure under the rim. That’s what I do.”

“He can steady the game for you,” coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “Whenever they go on a run or they make a big shot, (Jonas) is a comfort blanket, because you can throw the ball down there to him in the post, and he’s efficient.”

“He’s a guy who just goes out there and tries to inflict as much pain on the other team as possible,” said Conley. “(Jonas) plays so hard, and it’s easy to give him the ball and give him opportunities because he does such a good job of making space for the guards to get open, to get into the paint. We rely on him and Joakim (Noah) to do that.”

Valanciunas’ mid-fourth-quarter heroics were the body blows. It was Conley, upon return, who delivered the knockout via his patented floaters, in triplicate. Conley made three floaters in the span of 68 seconds to put the game away, on the way to team highs of 28 points and 11 assists.

The Jazz were missing all three of their nominal point guards (Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum, Raul Neto). Scoring guard Donovan Mitchell took over the position and had a big night with 38 points, but didn't have enough help. Think the Jazz were watching this game wondering what Mitchell and Conley might have looked like together had the Jazz been more aggressive in their trade-deadline pursuit of the Grizzlies guard?

The final punctuation? That would be Noah, who attacked the rim – and Gobert – in transition and (kinda, sorta) dunked it home. Valanciunas is credited with two assists in the box score, but probably deserves a third for keeping the rest of his teammates on the bench from rushing the floor after Noah’s final flourish.

The win improves the Grizzlies to 27-40 and marks their first consecutive wins since the trade-deadline shakeup a month ago. Those wins happen to have come against a couple of teams – Portland and Utah – fighting for home court advantage.

The Grizzlies playoff hopes are over, and while the organization may want to be good enough to convey the draft pick they will owe to Boston sometime over the next three summers, the players don’t care about that. They’re finding their meaning 48 minutes at a time, and making this closing kick more fun than there was reason to expect.

Clip of the Night

Valanciunas’ first-quarter baseline drive on Gobert:

The Tweets Were Watching

The Athletic’s visiting Jazz writer takes note of something those of us in Memphis can confirm:

Rabb feasted off the bench in the first half when Gobert was out of the game, finishing plays in the pick-and-roll and knocking down midrange jumpers. He ended up with 15 points on 7 of 11 shooting and six rebounds in just 15 minutes. 

Elements of Style

H-O-R-S-E shot of the night:

Parsons shot 100 percent on banked 3s and 0 percent on everything else, but this proves that the hoops gods like him more than Grizzlies management does.

Arena Action

The Grizzlies celebrated International Women’s Day in pregame attire and pregame operations (an all-female choir on the anthem and team analyst Nicki Gross sitting in as PA announcer, among other things). Jaren Jackson Jr. isn’t playing, but took the mic for an introduction, shouting out his mom and telling the women in the buildings that their stories mattered “not only today, but every day.”

Among their own organizational women's stories, the Grizzlies spotlighted VP of team operations and player programs Chantal Hassard and equipment manager Briane Miller, among others. 

In the meantime …

It certainly wasn't the worst crowd of the season, but if this guy wanted to make the live-action version of the game a challenge, he probably should have chosen a team still in a playoff race.

Finally, Dillon Brooks took his turn on the game broadcast:

To Draft or Not to Draft

In regard to draft lottery positioning, the Grizzlies remain where they were when the day began: Sixth from the bottom. But the three teams above the Grizzlies – the Mavericks (in Orlando), Wizards (in Charlotte) and Pelicans (at home against the Raptors) – all took losses tonight. With the Grizzlies win, they’re now only a game behind the seventh Mavs and eighth Wizards and 2.5 games behind the ninth Pelicans. If you prefer to see the Grizzlies get off their draft obligation to Boston this summer – or at least minimize their chances of staying in the middle of the lottery – this was a good night.

Deflections

  • With his 28 points, Mike Conley is now 139 points away from passing Marc Gasol to become the Grizzlies' all-time leading scorer.
  • Speaking of Mike: This was his seventh game this season of at least 20 points and 10 assists, the most in a season for his career.
  • Facing two traditional bigs, the Grizzlies started Joakim Noah alongside Valanciunas. It was Noah's first NBA start since February 4, 2017.
  • The Jazz's first 14 field-goal attempts were 3-pointers and they finished 18 of 48 from long-range, a season high for attempts
  • ICYMI: Earlier in the day, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Dillon Brooks met with local media for the first time since each went out with injury. I was there and filed a report

 

Topics

Memphis Grizzlies Jonas Valanciunas Mike Conley
Chris Herrington

Chris Herrington

Chris Herrington covers the Memphis Grizzlies and writes about Memphis culture, food, and civic life. He lives in the Vollentine-Evergreen neighborhood of Midtown with his wife, two kids, and two dogs.


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