Grizzlies end Spurs’ season, advance to face Warriors

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Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant (12) and center Jonas Valanciunas (17) react during the first half of the team’s NBA basketball Western Conference play-in game against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday, May 19, 2021, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The young Memphis Grizzlies finally have a play-in victory to their credit, yet they’re nowhere near satisfied.

Dillon Brooks scored eight of his 24 points in the fourth quarter to put Memphis ahead to stay and the Grizzlies eliminated the San Antonio Spurs 100-96 on Wednesday night in the first Western Conference play-in game.

“It feels good, but I mean we’re not in the playoffs yet,” Grizzlies guard Ja Morant said. “Just have to turn the page.”

The Grizzlies will play at Golden State on Friday night for the No. 8 seed and a first-round series starting Sunday against top-seeded Utah. The Los Angeles Lakers beat the Warriors 103-100 on Wednesday night to take the No. 7 seed and a first-round spot against Phoenix.

Memphis is trying to snap a skid of three straight seasons without a postseason berth with last season ending with a loss to Portland in the NBA’s first play-in game.

“We still have one more in front of us,” Grizzlies center Jonas Valnciunas said. “Really important. The same importance as tonight. It’s going to be do or die. That’s how we build our confidence. That’s how we build our experience.”

Valanciunas had a season-high 23 rebounds and 23 points for Memphis. Morant added 20 points and six assists. Jaren Jackson Jr. had 10 points.

DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay each scored 20 points as the Spurs lost their fifth straight. Dejounte Murray had his fifth triple-double with 10 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. Keldon Johnson added 11 and Jacob Poeltl 10.

Coach Gregg Popovich said he told his Spurs he didn’t know if he’s ever been more proud of a team that just doesn’t quit.

“No matter what the mistakes, no matter what the circumstances are, they really fight,” Popovich said. “That’s a good base. So, I’m really proud of the way they conducted themselves and played to win.”

The Spurs last led 83-81 on Johnson’s 3 with 6:55 left. Brooks started his scoring spurt with the Grizzlies trailing 80-79, and his driving 5-footer with 5:57 to go put Memphis ahead to stay at 85-83.

“We put ourselves in a hole early, but we fought all the way back, and had the game,” DeRozan said. “Let a couple of possessions slip away from us, and that kind of hurt us.”

Memphis pulled out all the stops possible in a pandemic in the biggest home game since the Grizzlies’ last playoff appearance in 2017 against these very Spurs.

Inside the FedExForum, capacity was doubled to 40% with a sellout of 7,019 fans, and a yellow towel proclaiming “NXT UP MEMPHIS” was on each seat. Rapper Al Kapone performed outside during halftime and was shown on the video board with fans joining in waving towels when he sang “Whoop That Trick.”

In five playoff series between these teams, the Spurs swept three of the four San Antonio won. Memphis’ only series victory came in 2011 as the then-No. 8 seed, the start of seven straight playoff seasons for the Grizzlies.

Those players are long gone.

On this night, the Grizzlies’ next generation took over with a roster that was the second-youngest at the start of this season rebuilt around Jackson, the No. 4 overall draft pick in 2018, and Morant, the second overall draft pick in 2019 and reigning NBA Rookie of the Year.

The Grizzlies led 38-19 after the first quarter. The Spurs answered with a 22-3 run that pulled them within 41-39. But Morant ended Memphis’ cold spurt with a dunk, and the Grizzlies led 56-49 at halftime.

The teams each scored 16 points in the third as this game turned into a battle. Memphis took a 72-65 lead into the fourth quarter.

TIP-INS

Spurs: San Antonio finished 7-32 when trailing after three quarter. … Murray had his fifth triple-double, most for the Spurs since David Robinson in 1993-94. … Poeltl tied his career-high with five blocks.

Grizzlies: Memphis improved to 35-11 when leading after three. … Valanciunas had his 50th double-double this season during the second quarter. He also had his sixth career game with 20 or more points and 20 or more rebounds and fourth this season, most in the NBA. Only Zach Randolph has more in franchise history with 11. … Kyle Anderson matched his career-high with four blocks. … Grayson Allen returned after missing seven games with a left abdominal strain.

BROOKS’ NIGHT

DeRozan led the Spurs in scoring this season and in all but one of their final six games. But he was just 1 of 11 shooting in the first half and finished 5 of 21 from the floor. Morant said Brooks made another case for his inclusion on the NBA’s All-Defense team with how he played against the talented DeRozan.

The Grizzlies improved to 38-14 over the last two seasons when Brooks scores 20 or more.

QUOTABLE

“I just don’t like losing. I wanted to get to the playoffs,” Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV said.

UP NEXT

The Spurs go into the offseason with Popovich having more time to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics as head coach of the U.S. team.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at https://twitter.com/TeresaMWalker

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