Dillon Brooks gets best of Mike Conley, adds emotional lift in Memphis Grizzlies' Game 1 win

Evan Barnes
Memphis Commercial Appeal

Dillon Brooks had broken through the cool, calm and collected demeanor of Mike Conley once already Sunday. The fourth-year Memphis Grizzlies guard engaged his former teammate in some good-natured trash talk heading into the first media timeout of the Western Conference playoff series together.

So Brooks decided to test the boundaries once more.

On an inbounds play in the second quarter, Brooks shoved his head in the 33-year-old Conley's chest, just to let him know he's there. Moments later, Brooks hit a 3-pointer to give the Grizzlies the lead against the Utah Jazz after trailing by 14.

[ Giannotto: Grizzlies ready to give Jazz a fight they never saw coming ]

Conley couldn't help but compliment Brooks' passion after the eighth-seeded Grizzlies rode it to a 112-109 upset win over the No. 1 seed in Game 1 at Salt Lake City.

The 31 points scored by Conley — 24 in the second and third quarter — set a franchise record for most points in a playoff debut.

It's a role he's thrived in all season. Coach Taylor Jenkins called him a tone-setter while Ja Morant said he's an assassin.

Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks (24) lays the ball up as Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale (23) looks on during the first half of Game 1 of their NBA basketball first-round playoff series Sunday, May 23, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

"When he's intense, excited about the game, doing his thing on defense and getting us hype, it's just big for our team," teammate Kyle Anderson said.

Brooks embodies the Grizzlies' confidence  whether its wearing sunglasses postgame or eating gold steak before the win over the Miami Heat, But like star guard Ja Morant, he's also fearless as his reputation has grown the past month.

He's earned praise defending Luka Doncic, DeMar DeRozan and Stephen Curry. He's relished going into opposing arenas and quieting crowds like the 13,000-plus fans in Vivint Arena.

If players challenge him as Conley did or fans boo him like they did Sunday, he knows it plays right into his hands.

"Fans talking ish to you, it fires me up. Players talking ish to me, I love it. That's my game. The physicality, I was born into that," Brooks said.

His message to his teammates before Sunday's game and the rest of the playoffs  was to do a little bit more. He led by example. During the Grizzlies' 17-2 second quarter run in the second quarter, Brooks scored or assisted on 10 of the final 12 points.

They'll need Brooks to keep it up for the rest of the best-of-seven  series. Jazz All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell is day-to-day with a sprained ankle and if he returns Wednesday (9 p.m., TNT) for Game 2, Brooks will counted on to guard him.

Memphis Grizzlies' Dillon Brooks (24) and head coach Taylor Jenkins react during the second half of Game 1 of their NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz, Sunday, May 23, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

But he's not afraid of the challenge. In the third quarter, he had one more gift for Conley.

On a drive to the rim, Brooks got by Conley with a dribble behind his leg and kept his balance for a layup as Conley fouled him. Brooks jumped up and down as the Grizzlies' bench cheered him on.

Once again, he was at the center of motivating his team while at the same time letting his former teammate know how well he learned from their time together in Memphis.

"I think everybody on this team gets a lot of energy from him just seeing how active he is on the floor," Morant said. "It just makes us a very better team."

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You can reach Evan Barnes on Twitter (@Evan_B) or by email at evan.barnes@commercialappeal.com