Memphis Grizzlies little forward Dillon Brooks was confident before, during and after the 31-point win in Sunday’s 112-109 win over the top-ranked Utah Jazz in Game 1 of the Western Conference playoff series in the first round .
The 25-year-old set the tone for the rest of his teammates as he repeatedly silenced a noisy crowd in Salt Lake City with his recurring big plays.
“It’s the best feeling,” said Brooks after the win. “Fans talking to you. It just makes me angry. … I love that. This is my game. Physicality, I was born in it.”
Brooks, who also had seven rebounds, set a single-game franchise record for a Memphis player making a playoff debut, beating the 24 points Marc Gasol scored on April 17, 2011 against the San Antonio Spurs .
One of the reasons the Grizzlies are so comfortable on the big stage is because Brooks and sophomore security guard Ja Morant continue to play without the fear that young players sometimes encounter on their post-season debuts. After beating Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors in a jack-of-all-trades game on Friday night, Brooks and Morant rose to the challenge again by suppressing a jazz team that could do without Donovan Mitchell (ankle).
“An assassin, honestly,” summed up Morant Brooks’ game. “He was locked up from the jump … I as point guard, it keeps feeding him with the stone. Myself and Coach got a couple of playcalls so that he can continue to score.
Grizzlies trainer Taylor Jenkins said Brooks was the group’s “ultimate competitor” and “spirit guide”.
“He brings a lot of energy to the floor,” added Morant. “As soon as we get here in the locker room he’s already active and loud. He carried it to the floor for us during the game. We just keep playing against him. I think everyone on this team gets a lot of energy from him, just to see how active he is on the ground. “
Jazz guardian Mike Conley, who played two seasons with Brooks in Memphis, wasn’t surprised by his former teammate’s performance on Sunday night. The rest of the league shouldn’t be either. Brooks has repeatedly shown that he can be a hitter on either end of the floor.
“Man, Dillon obviously plays with a lot of passion,” said Conley. “That’s the word I use. Either you like it or you don’t like it. If you’re his teammate, you love it. When you play him, you hate it. But he was unreal tonight. He was there.” basically unguarded a couple of quarters when he did it all, it’s game 1 and he’s done very well.
“We have to adjust a few things in the next game and try to slow him down.”
Neither Brooks nor Morant seem surprised that the Grizzlies were able to step up their skill level after playing two play-in games against the Spurs and Warriors. Brooks said he feels that his team is setting the tone for his season, which dates back to training camp, and that it has maintained that work ethic throughout the campaign.
“I’m trying to push the guys to their limits,” said Brooks. “People know I’ll bring it in every night and put it into practice. I’ll try to have them have as much attention to detail. We just feed each other; when I go I start. It’s just contagious. You see.” that guys do that a little bit more and that’s what I’m trying to preach to guys, just do a little bit more.
“It only comes into play when it comes to this playoff stuff. We just bounce the energy off each other.”
Morant noted that the last three games the Grizzlies have played, two against the Warriors and one against the Spurs, “somehow helped” keep the group in a rhythm that would lead to a series against top seed jazz leads. Morant, the second overall winner in the 2019 NBA draft, continues to step up his own game, as evidenced by his 26 points and multiple clutch shots on Sunday.
“My message to myself is always: ‘If you don’t believe in yourself, who will?'” Morant explained his way of thinking. “I take this on the floor. I always take two quotes that got turned on me that my parents always told me that I was trained to walk, which means that I am working and prepared for this moment. [And] “Under no one,” my mother always said to me. As long as I go out there, I have all the confidence in myself. I am not afraid of anyone. Everyone I play against ties their shoes the same way they did before the game. And I just go out there and play confidently. “
ESPN’s Tim MacMahon contributed to this report.