The Memphis Grizzlies deserve recognition for their ability to keep pace in the Western Conference standings despite being without their primary and secondary scoring options in Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. Memphis was riding a two-game win streak heading into this one with victories over the depleted Nets and Cavaliers. The trademark “next man up” mentality that is often used to describe this Grizzlies team has been on full display as of late. Players have been asked to fill the enormous shoes left by the absence of Memphis’ two young stars, and they have fearlessly embraced the challenge.
The Grizzlies’ opponent on Wednesday, the Minnesota Timberwolves, saw two of their most talented youngsters return to the floor for this one. Karl-Anthony Towns, who has suited up just once since December 26, donned the Timberwolves jersey for the first time in weeks. Also, prolific on-ball defender Josh Okogie rejoined the lineup after recovering from a nagging hamstring impingement. With a depth chart including D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley and the aforementioned Towns and Okogie, it was apparent that Minnesota held a clear advantage in terms of talent. But instead of lying over and giving up because of the talent gap on paper, Memphis once again competed with palpable energy and cohesiveness on both ends.
The Grizzlies are a team that plays to their strengths. Two of Memphis’ most prominent positive attributes dating back to last season are their bench scoring and expertise in scoring near the paint. These strengths kept the Grizzlies in the game when Minnesota went on several runs across 48 minutes.
The Beale Street Bears’ reserves destroyed the Timberwolves in bench points to the tune of 48-19. While most of Memphis’ reserves made an impact in one way or another, two bench players, in particular, stood out: Xavier Tillman and Grayson Allen. Tillman played perhaps his finest game as a pro — he scored 12 points off the bench and torched the Timberwolves inside with his feathery touch. Allen, who’s struggled to find the range thus far in 2020-21, nailed three long balls and converted some aesthetically-pleasing layups. Hopefully, this sizzling shooting display from the Duke product will be a harbinger of future success.
As was the case in the bench battle, the Grizzlies handily outperformed the Wolves in the paint. Jonas Valanciunas, Brandon Clarke, and the rookie Tillman all feasted inside and scored at the rim with little resistance from the Minnesota bigs. The absence of a reliable rim protector for the Wolves gave the bigs and guards alike of the Grizzlies free reign to tear up Minnesota for easy point-blank scores. Memphis combined for a whopping 80 points in the paint (a franchise record) compared to the Timberwolves’ 44. On a night in which the long-range shots weren’t falling for the Grizzlies, it was wise of them to prioritize creating scoring opportunities involving the most rudimentary shot in basketball — the layup.
This showing was far from a perfect one for Memphis. Dillon Brooks struggled mightily to find the net. The Grizzlies allowed Beasley, Russell, and Towns to each score 25 or more points. The third quarter was rough in all aspects for Memphis. But the team managed to pull away with a 118-107 win because they decisively beat Minnesota in both the bench scoring and points in the paint departments. Once again, Memphis played to their strengths. And as long as the Grizzlies continue to stick with what is working — they will have no problem weathering the storm until their future stars inevitably return.