Memphis Grizzlies small forward Dillon Brooks oozed confidence before, during and after scoring 31 points in Sunday’s 112-109 upset win over the top-seeded Utah Jazz in Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series.
The 25-year-old set the tone for the rest of his teammates, while repeatedly silencing a loud Utah crowd with his recurring big plays.
“It’s the best feeling,” Brooks said after the win. “Fans talking ish to you. It just fires me up. … I love that. That’s my game. Physicality; I was born into that.”
Brooks, who also added 7 rebounds to go along with his 31 points, set a single-game franchise scoring record for a Memphis player making a playoff debut, surpassing the 24 points scored by Marc Gasol against San Antonio on April 17, 2011.
One of the reasons the Grizzlies look so at ease on the big stage is because Brooks and second-year guard Ja Morant continue to play without the fear that sometimes hits young players during their postseason debuts. After knocking off Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors on Friday night in a winner-take-all play-in game, both Brooks and Morant rose to the challenge again by stifling a Jazz team that was without Donovan Mitchell.
“An assassin, honestly,” Morant summarized in describing Brooks’ game. “He was locked in from the jump … me as a point guard, it’s keep feeding him the rock. Me and Coach got some play calls for him to continue to keep scoring. He delivered.”
Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said Brooks was the “ultimate competitor” and “spirit leader” for the group.
“He brings a lot of energy on the floor,” Morant added. “As soon as we get here in the locker room, he’s already up active and loud. He carried it onto the floor for us during the game. We just continue to play off him. I think everybody on this team gets a lot of energy from him, just seeing how active he is on the floor.”
Jazz guard Mike Conley, who played with Brooks for two seasons in Memphis, wasn’t surprised by his former teammate’s performance Sunday night. The rest of the league shouldn’t be, either. Brooks has repeatedly shown he can be an impact player on both ends of the floor.
“Man, Dillon obviously plays with a lot of passion,” Conley said. “That’s the word I use. You either like it or you don’t. When you’re his teammate, you love it. When you play against him, you hate it. But he was unreal tonight. He basically was unguardable there for a few quarters when he was making everything. It’s Game 1 and he performed very well. We’ll have to adjust some things next game and just try to slow him down.”
Neither Brooks nor Morant seem surprised that the Grizzlies have been able to raise the level of their play after facing two straight elimination games in the Play-In Tournament against the Spurs and the Warriors. The reason why is because Brooks said he feels his team set the tone for its season dating back to training camp and has carried that work ethic with them throughout the season.
“I try to push guys to the limit,” Brooks said. “Guys know I’m going to bring it every single night and bring it in practice. I’ll try and make them have that certain amount of attention to detail. We just feed off each other, when I get going, I get started, it’s just contagious. You see guys doing this a little bit more and that’s what I try to preach to the guys, just do a little bit more. It just comes to fruition 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, “kind of helped” keep the group in a rhythm heading into a series against the top-seeded Jazz. Morant, the second overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft, continues to raise the level of his own game, as evidenced by his 26 points and several clutch shots down the stretch.
“My message to myself is always, ‘If you don’t believe in yourself, who will?'” Morant said in explaining his mindset. “I take that on the floor. I always take two quotes that I got tatted on me that my mom and dad always told me that I’m trained to go, meaning that I work for this moment and I’m prepared for it. [And] ‘Beneath no one,’ my mom always told me that. So as long as I’m going out there I have all the confidence in myself. I’m not afraid of nobody. Anybody I play against tie their shoes the same way I do before the game. And I just go out there and play confident.”
ESPN’s Tim MacMahon contributed to this report.