When Ja Morant virtually spoke to the media Wednesday night, he wasn't sure which California city would be the destination for the Memphis Grizzlies' team flight the next day. He just knew that he'd be packing a big suitcase.
"Our plan is to pack for a three-game road trip," Morant said after Memphis' 100-96 win over the visiting San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference's 9-10 play-in game.
The victory gave the Grizzlies the right to continue their season with another win-or-go-home game against the Golden State Warriors. That game will be played Friday night, and the winner will punch its playoff tickets as the West's eighth seed, opening up the first round Sunday against the first-place Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City.
The young Grizzlies, who were booted from the bubble in the play-in round by the Portland Trail Blazers last season, will be a decided underdog against a star-studded opponent with championship credentials. That's fine with them.
"We get fired up over those little underdog [labels] or whatever," said Grizzlies shooting guard Dillon Brooks, who scored a game-high 24 points and played stifling defense against Spurs star DeMar DeRozan (20 points on 5-of-21 shooting).
"We're just going to be ready to come to play and play our game. If we play our game to the best of our ability and guys just do a little bit extra than what they've been doing, we'll be fine. We're going to bring the intensity and bring the energy, because we've got a goal in mind. I know from the beginning of the year, everybody was bought into that goal, and we're all locked in."
Memphis jumped to a 21-point lead over the Spurs in the first quarter but had to fight off San Antonio down the stretch to advance.
The Spurs got back in the game with a 17-0 run in the second quarter -- a rally that happened while Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas (23 points, 23 rebounds, 3 blocks, plus-26) was resting -- and remained within striking distance the rest of the game. San Antonio briefly took the lead in the fourth quarter, when Brooks responded with a flurry of buckets on four consecutive possessions.
"It don't matter if things are going good or things are going bad," Valanciunas said. "We've got to stick together and we've got to play our way. The start of the game, we went up and I was telling them, 'Let's not get crazy. Let's execute. Let's do little things.' That's what good teams do, and we did it."
Valanciunas has 43 games of playoff experience from his tenure with the Toronto Raptors, by far the most on the Memphis roster. Morant, the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year, quickly mentioned to the media that Wednesday's win was simply a step toward his first real taste of the NBA postseason.
"It feels good, but we're not in the playoffs yet," said Morant, who had 20 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. "We have to turn the page."