The Memphis Grizzlies did their best Dr. Jeckyl/Mr. Hyde impression Monday night in their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. At times, their offense looked coherent and their defense flowed nicely. At other moments, the Memphis defense allowed Minnesota to get whatever they wanted and their offense was stagnant/ineffective. It was a game that lacked consistent flow for the Grizzlies, and that played a large role in this near-loss. There were lows of double-digit deficits and highs of Ja Morant ice in his veins buckets to get the team in a position to win the game. And when Memphis needed their much maligned defense to make a play, a forced five second call with seconds left helped them lock in the win...
Until it didn’t, when Karl-Anthony Towns made a desperation three to send the game to overtime. Then, Brandon Clarke happened. And the Grizzlies survived.
Some quick takeaways from a tough 125-118 overtime victory that keeps Memphis above .500 through 10 games.
On a positive note...Brandon Clarke!
Clarke looked much more active in this game, especially on the defensive end of the floor. With Ziaire Williams out for the evening, minutes opened up for Clarke to push Kyle Anderson to the small forward spot. The Anderson/Clarke/Jaren Jackson Jr. lived up to the hype (and the numbers) in the first half, causing all sorts of defensive issues for the Timberwolves with their combined length and athleticism. Offensively Clarke was active at the rim, attacking when the opportunity presented itself and not forcing too much on that end as he tries to find his shooting stroke. And when the team needed him most in overtime - as Jaren Jackson Jr. fouled out - he gave great minutes, getting key rebounds and strong put backs late to help Memphis get the win.
To this point in the season, Clarke has been the odd man our of the rotation. Brandon of course is still a competent NBA player, but Memphis continues to prioritize development (hello Ziaire WIlliams rotation spot) and Kyle Anderson is simply a better “4” than “3” at this stage of his career. But in this particular matchup, Anderson playing more on the wing didn’t hurt the Grizzlies. This gave Clarke a chance to remind folks of what he could do...and he took advantage. Perhaps he sticks around the rotation for a while now?
Now for the bad news...the defense...
It remains miserably bad. Minnesota entered this game as the 27th best offense in the NBA by offensive rating (per basketball-reference.com) and they had their way with the Grizzlies, especially in the third quarter and for much of the fourth. The Timberwolves are a sneaky competitive team - they may well be a play-in team in the Western Conference this season, if they can stay healthy. But the Minnesota team’s strength to this point this season has been on the defensive end (a top-10 squad in defensive rating), not in terms of scoring. The Wolves shooting so strongly from three is disappointing, but not unpredictable. While Memphis misses Dillon Brooks, he alone will not cure what ails the Grizzlies. Missed rotations, poor leverage on closeouts, an over-commitment to trying to attack passing lanes...it is a combination of issues at this moment.
During this mini-homestand perhaps the Grizzlies will get some chances to watch film and perhaps get a walkthrough or two in to try to work out these issues. Right now, they’re severely limiting what Memphis is able to do in terms of winning basketball.
- If Steven Adams isn’t rebounding, he can’t play. And he didn’t much in the second half. Adams holds value as a screen setter especially, and his defense hasn’t been as bad as many let on (it isn’t great, but again, he’s far from the only issue). He should continue to be given opportunity to get minutes eating up the glass and creating space for the likes of Ja Morant with his size and strength in the pick and roll. But three rebounds in 19 minutes is unacceptable for him with his offensive limitations.
- Folks continue to hate on Jaren Jackson Jr...and it’s silly. The team is clearly much better with him on the floor - and especially when he is at the “5” alongside Kyle Anderson. Rebounding isn’t at a premium with a Morant/Desmond Bane/De’Anthony Melton/Anderson/Jackson Jr. lineup, but defensive activity increases and the probability of offensive mismatches does as well. Not many centers can defend Jaren, nor can many power forwards stay with Kyle as a creator. Regardless, Jaren is vital to the team in terms of his versatility and ability to move in and around the basket on both ends. Memphis needs him to keep getting better through consistent minutes and being fed a ton of offensive opportunity.
- Desmond Bane didn’t make a three point shot. We will never speak of this again.
- Ja Morant is a bad, bad man. 33 points. 8 assists. Just another ho-hum night for the future All-Star.
The Grizzlies will be back in action at home in FedExForum Wednesday night against the Charlotte Hornets at 7:00 PM CT.
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