The Spurs and Grizzlies will play a single elimination game to keep their playoff hopes alive. What do you expect from the play-in matchup?
Mark Barrington: Taylor Jenkins has shown that he’s a really good coach, so I expect the Grizzlies to be prepared. The Warriors dared Ja Morant to take outside shots, and he couldn’t hit them, so expect some wrinkles in their game plan to get Ja into high pick and rolls, which the Spurs haven’t defended well this year. The Spurs might fall back into a zone look for much of the game, so I’d expect Kyle Anderson to show off his improved three point shooting this year, and for Jaren Jackson Jr. to make the most of second chance points. I expect a great game from DeMar Derozan and Dejounte Murray, but I don’t think the Spurs have enough depth to stick with the deep Grizzlies. The Spurs starters should be able to keep pace with the Grizzlies, but when the bench comes in, unless Patty Mills breaks out of his late season slump in a spectacular way, the Grizzlies will feast. Sadly, I expect the post season for the Spurs to be one and done this year, but if I’m wrong about that, I’ll be ecstatic.
Marilyn Dubinski: From a results standpoint, it’s too complicated to guess. This Spurs squad is undermanned and, on paper, outmatched against a full-strength Grizzlies squad, but you never know how each team will show up. The Spurs said after their regular season finale they know they are the underdog and plan to play loose like they have nothing to lose. Maybe they will, with that elusive second day of rest doing them wonders, or maybe they’ll buckle under the pressure. Regardless, based on some of his previous comments, I expect Pop to ride the young players to see how they handle a little postseason pressure. (Lonnie Walker and Keldon Johnson in particular have little-to-no postseason experience.) I expect a dog fight and close game either way, and despite Memphis being the odds-on favorite, no result would be surprising.
Bruno Passos: I expect the respective supporting casts to be the difference — and the Grizzlies to probably come out on top.
Dillon Brooks can swing a game one way or another with his streakiness, but his in-your-shorts defense could give DeMar DeRozan trouble and either force the ball out of his hands or drive him to a cold night. Jonas Valanciunas versus Jakob Poeltl could be a tone-setter, and him playing alongside Jaren Jackson presents an interesting frontcourt matchup for a Spurs team that is thin on bigs and prefers to play small. On San Antonio’s side, the bench still has the potential to click and win big chunks of minutes if Good Patty Mills and Rudy Gay show up. It’s certainly feasible to see a script for a Spurs win—San Antonio slows the Grizzlies in transition, limit their mistakes, force Ja Morant to do too much— but I think the Grizzlies simply have more X factors that can turn this in their favor.
Jesus Gomez: I expect a fun mess. The Spurs have some battle-tested veterans who could show up big, but will also have to rely on a lot of young players with little to no experience as important pieces on playoff teams. The Grizzlies are even younger, like to run and are led by one of the most explosive but sometimes erratic playmakers in the league. I don’t expect perfectly executed, quality basketball, but there’s enough volatility in this matchup to make it extremely entertaining.
Will Ja Morant and DeMar DeRozan both go for 40? Maybe. Are the Grizzlies going to get 20 offensive rebounds? It’s possible. Are Drew Eubanks and Brandon Clarke going to dunk on each other at some point? Seems likely. Is this going to be The Lonnie Walker IV Game or The Dillon Brooks Game? Neither scenario would surprise me.
The Grizzlies are better and should win this, but when you put two mercurial teams in a win-or-go-home situation, things could get weird. And sometimes weird means fun.
J.R. Wilco: Short answer: if Morant and Jackson have great games, San Antonio loses. Problem is that those are the guys that the Spurs defense hasn’t shown the ability to slow down — so if it feels like a bit of a helpless situation, that’s why. Memphis has their most important guys healthy, and Derrick White is out of uniform. Thems the breaks.
Of course, it’s not all bad news. Just playing an extra game is important and hopeful. If a Game 7 is anticipated because anything can happen, how much more a play-in game? It’s a single game with the opportunity to extend the season; not something many of us expected we’d get when the season began. Let’s enjoy it.