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Dillon Brooks is now the most-hated man in Utah, but the Jazz have other concerns

Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks (24) runs over Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic (44) as the teams play Game 1 of their NBA playoff series at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Sunday, May 23, 2021.

(Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)



SALT LAKE CITY — In 2011, Mike Conley was on the other side of things. His Memphis Grizzlies had knocked off the San Antonio Spurs in Game 1, setting the stage for the Grizzlies to become just the fourth No. 8 seed to beat a No. 1.

Ten years later, he'll be trying to stop that same franchise from making history again.

"I know what they're feeling," Conley said Tuesday. "I think that's what, if anything, kind of helps me a little bit more, knowing the mindset that they have to have to come in and complete the series and being an underdog and all that."

That mindset was evident Sunday. Early in Game 1, Joe Ingles hit a 3 and yelled in the direction of Dillon Brooks — Ingles is usually the best trash-talker in the game, but Brooks went right back at him and the rest of the Jazz, and his Grizzlies teammates followed.

Brooks and Conley were soon jawing, and Brooks not-so-nicely pushed Conley on the crown of his head. Dust ups and more talking followed, which led to two technicals on the Jazz and one on the Grizzlies.

In the matter of a couple quarters, Brooks, who University of Utah fans may remember for his infamous flop while playing the Utes when he was at Oregon, went from the guy Donovan Mitchell had roasted in the regular season to the most-hated person in the state. By the second half, Brooks was getting booed just about every time he touched the ball. Jazz fans had found a new villain; but, to be frank, that's just what he wanted.

"It fires me up," Brooks said. "Players talking ish to you. I love that."

His actions spoke louder than the words ever could. As the boos rained down, Brooks posted a scintillating 31-point night to lead the Grizzlies to a Game 1 win.

"Dillon obviously plays with a lot of passion," said Conley, who was Brooks' teammate for two years in Memphis. "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 (Sunday)."

Conley said Utah has to match Brooks and Memphis' physicality. But there's a caveat: He doesn't think the Jazz need to necessarily engage in the talking or any of the other extracurricular stuff that only seemed to flip the game toward the Grizzlies.

"I think it's important for us to be physical, but not lose ourselves. By that I mean not getting technical fouls or flagrant fouls, just being senseless with a lot of things," Conley said. "But have a plan — be able to take a bump, keep moving; be able to talk and keep going and play through all that."

So it's less about winning the war of words with Brooks, who credited Conley for helping his development as a player and who is now the occupant of Conley's old locker in Memphis, and more about just focusing on not letting him erupt again.

"I think there were times we probably should have focused on the game instead of the talking or the refs or anything like that," Conley said.

Because this fact remains: Utah is the more talented team. There's a reason the Jazz are the top seed and Memphis just barely got into the playoffs. But the 2011 Spurs were more talented than Conley's Grizzlies and that didn't matter much when Memphis advanced with a 4-2 win. And it didn't matter much when the Grizzlies were celebrating a Game 1 victory on Sunday.

"We're capable of executing at a high level, but we have to do it at a consistent level," Conley said. "We just didn't do that in the first game and come with the same intensity as they did."

History has some good news for the Jazz: Even after No. 8 seeds win Game 1, they often are still quickly eliminated

Since the NBA expanded to 16 playoff teams in 1984, the No. 8 seed has won the first game 14 times before Memphis' victory on Sunday. Those Game-1 winners have gone on to win the series just three times.

So the Jazz don't have reason to panic yet. But Conley's past experience should provide some extra urgency.

"They played a lot hungrier than we did," Conley said. "And that's what an 8 seed, in order to beat a 1 seed, that's what you have to be."

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