NBA Play-In Matchup Set: Blazers vs. Grizzlies

Before Thursday, there were four teams fighting for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. After an exciting finish to Thursday night’s slate of games, the field of potential teams narrowed down to two: the Memphis Grizzlies and the Portland Trail Blazers. They will face off in the NBA’s first play-in games to determine the Western Conference playoff picture.

What We Know:

  • The first must-win game of the day was the Memphis Grizzlies vs. the Milwaukee Bucks. The Grizzlies came into the bubble as the 8th seed, but a dismal 2-6 record in the seeding games pushed them to the edge of elimination. Still, they controlled their own destiny and could secure a spot in the play-in game with a win against the Bucks. On paper, this was the worst possible matchup the Grizzlies could have asked for with the Bucks having a league-best record of 56-17. But, a lot of things went in the Grizzlies’ favor on Thursday. Reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo sat out for the Bucks due to a suspension and the team didn’t play any of their starters for more than 20 minutes. The Bucks already secured their playoff seeding so there was no point in going all-in for their last game. The Grizzlies took advantage and won the game 119-106. Ja Morant and Jonas Valanciunas both had triple-doubles and Dillon Brooks went off for 31 points, scoring 14 in the third quarter to put the game away.
  • The Phoenix Suns played the Dallas Mavericks for their last seeding game. The Suns played excellent basketball right from the start and basically won the game in the first half, putting up 76 on the Mavericks through just two quarters. Like the Bucks, the Mavericks were already locked into their playoff seed and had nothing to prove. Kristaps Porzingis did not play and Luka Doncic only played in the first half. Still, the Suns played with a sense of urgency to win this game. Devin Booker put up another excellent performance with 27 points and he got a lot of help from his supporting cast. Although the Suns won 128-102, they needed help in the form of losses from the other teams trying to make the play-in game. Unfortunately for Phoenix, this won’t be the year they end their playoff drought. Even though the Suns will not be in the play-in game, they surprised everyone in the bubble and were the only team to win all eight of their games. There’s something special going on in Phoenix and they have a bright future.
  • The San Antonio Spurs came into their last game with the worst record out of the four teams trying to make the play-in game. Because the Grizzlies and Suns won their games earlier, the Spurs were mathematically eliminated from making the play-in right before their game tipped off. They played the Utah Jazz, who already had their playoff seeding fixed, so neither team really had anything to play for. Rudy Gobert did not play for the Jazz and the Spurs rested most of their veteran players. The Jazz won 118-112 and the Spurs will be leaving Orlando shortly. Although this seemed like a nothing game, it was an opportunity for the young Spurs players to get some time on the court. Rookie Keldon Johnson had a fantastic game with 24 points, tying his career-high. This marks the end of Gregg Popovich and the Spurs’ 22-year playoff streak, last missing the postseason in 1997. Popovich won three Coach of the Year awards and the Spurs won five NBA championships during that time.
  • For the last game of the night, all the pressure was on the Portland Trail Blazers as they faced the Brooklyn Nets. If they won the game, they would make the play-in. If they lost, it would have propelled Phoenix into that position and Portland would go home. Phoenix coach Monty Williams said that his team got together in the hotel lounge to watch the game and root for the Nets. The entire game was a back-and-forth affair with no defense and a thrilling ending. The Blazers held a lead through the first two quarters, but the Nets erupted for 37 points in the third led by Caris LeVert and Garrett Temple. With their season on the line, the Blazers entered the fourth quarter down 7. But, everyone knows that the fourth quarter is Dame Time. Damian Lillard scored 12 in the final stretch of the game including a deep three-pointer from near half-court. The game came down to the last possession where LeVert missed a potential game-winner for the Nets. At the end of the night, the Blazers squeaked by with a 134-133 win to climb to the 8th seed in the Western Conference and secure a spot in the play-in game.

The Blazers-Grizzlies play-in game will be Saturday, August 15th. If the Blazers win on Saturday, they will advance to the playoffs. Since Memphis has a worse record, they will have to win Saturday’s game and a second play-in game to advance. The winner of this scenario will face the top seed Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs.