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NBA fans saw an up-and-down battle Wednesday night that ultimately ended with the Memphis Grizzlies taking care of business and eliminating the San Antonio Spurs.
The points swings were wild, as a 17-0 run in the second quarter pulled the Spurs back within two, but the Grizzlies’ hot start ended up being the difference in this one. That means they have a date with the loser of the matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors. The Spurs, meanwhile, are out of playoff contention.
Let’s take a look at three takeaways from what ended up being the first dramatic play-in game of the playoffs.
3. Young Memphis core is the real deal
The Grizzlies are known for being a young team. This time around, Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Dillon Brooks came to play. The trio combined for 54 points, 17 rebounds and 13 assists.
The story here is that the bench did nothing to help. Fourteen of the team’s 100 points came off the bench, meaning the young core of starters, and veteran big man Jonas Valanciunas, carried the load.
It may not even matter what happens later this week. This Grizzlies team took its next step in developing into a winner, and another win would be a bonus.
2. Spurs set for a youth movement
The Spurs were a fascinating team this season. DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay were the veterans in town, but both are free agents as the summer approaches. The pair combined for 40 points, but did so on a combined 13-for-42 shooting. Neither represents the future in town.
San Antonio will now move on and move forward with the likes of Keldon Johnson, Dejounte Murray and Derrick White as key pieces. One possibility is landing a big name in free agency. That is just not a given, because the Spurs are no longer the team they once were.
San Antonio played like a No. 10 seed, and while the fight was good, the slow start proved they are not ready to compete just yet.
1. Jonas Valanciunas gave it his all
The Grizzlies are led by young stars in Morant, Brooks and Jackson. But having Valanciunas was an absolute game-changer all season and also Wednesday night.
The veteran big man was all over the box score with 23 points, 23 rebounds and 3 blocks on 10-of-16 shooting in a vintage performance. He became the first player in franchise history to record a 20-20 game in just three quarters and finished as a plus-26 on the night. The team was a disaster when he was on the bench, posting a minus-22 in the 10 minutes he rested.
The Grizzlies will go as far as the young core takes them, but Valanciunas remains a key to success every night and especially in the team’s next elimination game on Friday.