The Memphis Grizzlies and Milwaukee Bucks entered Wednesday night in essentially the same situation. Both teams aspire to advance to the conference finals, or farther. Both teams lost Game 1 at home to a lower seed. And both teams, most crucially of all, were missing their best player, as both Ja Morant and Giannis Antetokounmpo were ruled out because of injuries suffered during collisions on drives in their first game.
And on Thursday morning, the Grizzlies and Bucks still find themselves in similar situations: They both evened their series at 1-1 with near wire-to-wire victories despite the absences of their stars. Memphis paved the path first, with a 103-93 win over the Los Angeles Lakers, while Milwaukee followed with a 138-122 beatdown of the Miami Heat that was much more lopsided than the final score suggests. The Bucks led by 33 points entering the fourth quarter.
The similarities aren’t perfect. Memphis was playing a full-strength Lakers team that, after a midseason glow-up, looks like a threat to win the conference; Milwaukee was playing a Heat team that had been outscored in the regular season, lost Tyler Herro to a broken hand, and benefitted from outrageous shooting luck in its Game 1 upset win. Those differences appear in the two games’ specific outcomes: a 10-point win for Memphis, a full-scale romp for Milwaukee.
But the ultimate result is the same, and while both teams surely hope their leading scorers return for Game 3 this weekend, they outlined a proof of concept to win without Morant or Antetokounmpo. Here are the five lessons from the playoffs’ first week for how to survive without a star:
1. Rely on Depth
This lesson is obvious, but no less impactful for that obviousness. With all its late draft finds and player development success stories, Memphis has built such a deep rotation that it can’t even keep all its useful role players, and the Grizzlies have tended to play well without Morant.
Doing so in a must-win playoff game, against LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and without Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke as well—because both big men were injured before the postseason—seemed like a tougher task. Yet, as Lakers coach Darvin Ham said in his between-quarters TNT interview during Game 2, “Ja in, Ja out, doesn’t matter. They’ve got more than enough over there.”
Six Grizzlies scored in double figures, led by center Xavier Tillman Sr., starting only because of the Adams and Clarke injuries. Tillman scored a career-high 22 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, and shot an efficient 10-for-13 from the field.
The Grizzlies are so deep that they thrived even though the guard most expected to step up in Morant’s absence—Desmond Bane, who averaged 21.5 points per game this season—struggled after a hot first quarter in Game 2. Bane scored 10 points in the first, but made just one shot the rest of the way and…
Read More: The Grizzlies and Bucks Showed How to Survive Without Your Best Player 2023-04-20 14:36:36