“It’s simple. I told the guys we’ve got one game left, we’ve got to find a way to play our best game up to this point,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said. “We’ve got to lay it on the line. Whatever’s been in the past is in the past.”
The situation is simple for Memphis. If they win on Thursday against the Milwaukee Bucks, they’re in the play-in series. If they lose? They’ll have to scoreboard watch, needing both Phoenix and San Antonio to lose.
One of the surprises of the season, the young Grizzlies looked to be in solid position for the postseason before the shutdown in March. And even in the bubble, it was unthinkable that they might not even make the play-in series. But with a 1-6 record, in part because of a key injury to Jaren Jackson Jr., it has slipped away.
“For us we should be motivated by the fact we haven’t played up to how good we can play,” Jenkins said. “We’ve had our moments, we’ve had close games to win. Today is a clear day we didn’t play our best. We play hard, we get the looks that we want. We’ve just got to play better.
“What motivates us is that 1-6 record, that’s not good enough for us,” he continued. “We’ve got a chance against the best team in the league on Thursday and whatever we can throw at ’em, we’ve got to throw it all on the line and see what happens after that.”
The Grizzlies came into the Orlando restart as the West’s 8-seed — holding that spot since Jan. 24 — with a 3.5 game lead on the Portland Trail Blazers who were ninth. But after the Blazers beat the Mavs on Tuesday, the Grizzlies have fallen out of eighth.
“I feel like every game we’ve played as the underdog,” guard Ja Morant said. “We were projected to be 27th this year, and we’re here. So that’s how we’ve been attacking every game, so I feel like our next game will be no different.”
Morant was electric against the Celtics, finishing with 26 points (7-of-13 shooting) and 13 assists, but with inconsistent shooting around him and the firepower of the Celtics (Jayson Tatum had 29 on 10-of-13 shooting), it was too much for the Grizzlies to overcome. They trailed by double figures for much of the game, making runs to cut into the lead, but were never able to make a final push.
If the Blazers win their final game on Thursday (against the Brooklyn Nets), they secure the 8-seed, meaning the 9-seed would need to win two games to qualify for the playoffs and a series against the Los Angeles Lakers. If the Grizzlies beat the Bucks and the Blazers lose, they would take the 8-seed and have the upper hand for the play-in.
For the Grizzlies, though, who plays and who doesn’t isn’t their concern. They are trying to focus on themselves and winning the game that’s in front of them.
“One game left. Attack that game as any other game,” Morant said. “Don’t put any pressure on ourselves and go out and try to do what we do every game, try to get a win.”