The Memphis Grizzlies defied their inexperience, a red-hot Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, and Jaren Jackson’s foul trouble to defeat the Minnesota Timberwolves in FedExForum on Wednesday night, pouring in an astronomical (for Memphis) 137 points on 57% shooting from the floor.
The game marked KAT’s return from a two-game suspension after scuffling with Joel Embiid. Karl-Anthony Towns is no stranger to the “he’s soft” narrative, but many saw his mini-brawl with Embiid as a possible turning point for Towns, with hopes that we were witnessing his nascent “mamba mentality.” At the onset of the game, Minnesota appeared poised to continue their relatively strong start to the season, hitting 5 of their first 8 shots.
The Timberwolves started the lottery rookie Jarrett Culver at point guard in lieu of Jeff Teague, and they purposefully whipped the ball around within their offense, generating quality looks and good shots. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies started with a struggle to find their footing, not finding much cohesion and efficiency as a team, and shooting 3-7. Dillon Brooks buoyed the team with two triples, however. Ja also did his thing, which, right now, may be a bit heavy on the hero-ball and lighter on facilitating his teammates than expected.
Morant started the game 1-3, but earned three free throws at the line with his aggressiveness. I’m as excited as anyone to see his confidence in his own game, but there are other mouths to feed, and maximizing all aspects of Morant’s skillset is crucial, and now is the time to fail, learn, and develop. Those lumps and lessons are worth more where the Grizzlies are now than trying to put the team on your back every possession.
The Grizzlies hit their first and all-too-familiar speed bump about midway through the first quarter, when Jaren Jackson picked up two fouls within a few seconds of each other, and took an early seat on the bench. Unfortunately, Jackson was never able to mentally get back into the game after this point, but that’s not all on him (more about that later).
Fortunately, Brandon Clarke subbed in for Jaren Jackson, and proved to be the difference-maker in this game. Perhaps even more so than Dillon Brooks. Within a few moments of hitting the floor, Clarke deflected an entry pass to force a turnover, and converted on an alley-oop. He finished the half with 12 points on 4-4 shooting and 7 rebounds in 11.5 minutes! I also remember checking his stat line early in the fourth quarter, and seeing 18 points on 7-7 shooting, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists in 16 minutes. Clarke finished the game as a +30! I don’t care how, but he must start—unless the Grizzlies are intentionally trying to avoid winning games.
Another unexpected benefit of Jackson sitting early was Karl-Anthony Towns seeming to check out, mentally, for a while as well. He started the game shooting 1-6, and didn’t appear highly motivated. A lot of credit needs to go to Bruno Caboclo, who did an astounding job defending KAT. Caboclo managed to push Towns out of position on numerous post-up attempts, despite Towns’ 30 lb weight advantage.
The Grizzlies finished the half up 72-64, hitting a higher percentage on fewer shots than the Timberwolves, including going 8-13 from three (Brooks notching two triples and Crowder three), and out-rebounding Minnesota 24-18. 72 points was no small achievement for a team this young, and against what was the ninth-best defense in the league heading into the game.
Foul trouble and teammates neglecting to get him the ball in good spots rendered Jaren Jackson a non-factor in the third quarter. He picked up his third foul with 10 minutes left in the period, and attempted no field goals. He went 0-5 in the first half. Last season, we were surprised with Jackson’s prolific post offense, but Marc and Mike aren’t here anymore to zip passes high-low for easy buckets. Nevertheless, the Grizzlies will need to find a way to recover that asset on offense, and figure out how to get Jaren the ball down low with some space.
While he’s no Marc nor Mike, Kyle Anderson did an admirable job in the third quarter handling the ball and facilitating the offense (with some nice high-low assists I’ll mention) when Ja Morant exited the game after a scary elbow to the face. Thankfully, Morant was able to return and secure the win, but let’s take a moment to appreciate Kyle Anderson’s game since returning from surgery. He’s big, can defend, can handle the ball a little bit, and makes the right plays and the right passes. I love what he’s doing so far this season. He finished the game with 4 assists, 4 rebounds, 7 points, and 1 turnover. Anderson was also able to get the ball where people needed it, assisting Valanciunas with a high-low pass to the block, finding a trailing Brandon Clarke for a free throw line jump-floater, and getting to the rim in the half court and in transition with his slow and sprawling euro-steps.
Dillon Brooks and Ja Morant carried the team to victory in the fourth. Dillon was a man possessed, scoring 16 points in the final period and going 3-3 from deep. He finished the game with a team-high 31 points. Ja Morant returned to the game around the 5 minute mark, and secured the dub (when the game could’ve gone either way for most of the 4th). I especially liked his step-back mini Dirk one-legged fadeaway.
Shoutout to Jonas Valanciunas for notching another double-double and providing some offensive relief when the Grizzlies were able to pitch it down low for a bucket in a pinch. Clarke and Valanciunas shouldered the rebounding burden on this team, combining for 22 rebounds compared to the rest of the team’s 27. Not sure where the Grizzlies would be without these glass-eating bois.
Something to consider: is Ja playing too aggressively? Should Morant adjust his game? Is he a fiery explosion not long for this world?
The Grizzlies return to action tomorrow night in Orlando to take on the Magic.