It was a game that felt like one that could go sideways for the Memphis Grizzlies.
After an emotional victory over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night to extend their winning streak to ten games, whoever the next opponent was had the makings of the proverbial “trap game”. In this case, it was the stingy Minnesota Timberwolves, a squad that has given Memphis fits at times this season (remember the 40+ defeat at the hands of the Wolves? We do) and had the capacity to disrupt the Grizzlies mojo, especially offensively. Throughout this game Minnesota, who had won four out of their last five games entering this contest, did just that - Memphis struggled with rhythm shooting and on defense at times, with the Timberwolves achieving and building leads throughout much of the first half and early third quarter.
Then, the Grizzlies called “12”. And when you have an All-NBA player capable of taking over games when the team as a whole is struggling, well...you’re a fortunate club.
Ja Morant did not do it alone. But he was again the catalyst in the third quarter and helped get the Grizzlies over the hump in this one.
Some quick takeaways from win #11 in a row.
John Konchar is apparently Zach Randolph
Konchar being a member of this roster is so valuable for a variety of reasons. His contract is a bargain for what he is - an end of rotation player that can fill in when folks ahead of him on the roster are out. While his three point shooting probably is not sustainable (3-4 from downtown in this one, 49% from beyond the arc overall probably is too high, although his career average is 43%...) what is would be his elite rebounding for a wing. Entering this game he was already one of the very best in the NBA (95th percentile in offensive rebounding percentage, 93rd percentile in defensive rebounding according to Cleaning the Glass) and this continued in this game as he cleaned the glass himself to the tune of 17 rebounds.
Yes...you read that correctly. 17 rebounds.
Effort is something that always comes with Konchar minutes when they are sent his way. But his ability to find the ball is reminiscent of Zach Randolph. No, he’s not better than Z-Bo at rebounding. But he seems to share that innate sense of how the ball will bounce off the rim, and times his attacking of the basket/lane well. He defended well with energy in this game and also contributed 15 points. A massive performance when his team needed it most.
He’s the best rebounding wing in the NBA. Not bad for an undrafted guy from Purdue Fort Wayne. Go Mastadons.
What Ja does when his shot isn’t there
Minnesota’s defensive game plan was pretty clear. Trap Ja Morant and make him uncomfortable by throwing multiple bodies at him. This clearly impacted Ja - he did not make a three, and was inefficient from the field. But a sign of maturation and understanding of game flow for Morant in this game was his ability to create for others. One of the flaws to the Timberwolves strategy was that the baseline was wide open - multiple times the sure-to-be All-Star found teammates cutting along that area of the floor for alley-oops. There were also opportunities for Ja to get “hockey assists” as weak side shooters would be open of of the double teams tossed at Morant - especially in the corner. Good ball movement off of Morant’s initial pass led to great shots for others.
Ja wants to win. He is more than capable even when the focus of an opponent to score (he dominated in the third quarter and helped turn the tide of the game alongside Konchar). But even when the Timberwolves were able to stop Ja from scoring or getting to the paint, Morant was able to still impact winning plays for the Grizzlies.
- De’Anthony Melton showed signs of life. Melton has played really, really poorly as a shooter of late. Between that and his struggles creating off of picks/screens off the dribble, it’s been a slow run of play for “Mr. Do Something”. But Melton heated up in the second half, attacking passing lanes and bringing energy to the floor. He must be that “energy guy” more consistently until his shot returns. Otherwise, his minutes may need to decline.
- The Jaren Jackson Jr. experience remains fun. 20 points, 5 blocks, 5 rebounds. His scoring while having some free throw issues (6-10 from the charity stripe) showed efficiency that was impressive considering the front court he was competing with. He got to the free throw line thanks to aggressive play, and he finished strong at the rim more often than not. He remained a defensive force, and when that combines with scoring, he is an All-Star caliber player in his own right.
- Brandon Clarke should never leave the rotation again. Another more than solid performance on his way to a team-best +14 in the game in plus/minus. He can rebound, switch defensively, finish well at the rim as a cutter/rim runner off of screens...he finds ways to control energy off the bench. Him closing with Jaren Jackson Jr. is a nightmare for opposing teams. They force so many poor looks and can pressure ball handlers while still utilizing their size. Clarke belongs.
Great teams win games when they’re not playing their best. That is exactly what the Memphis Grizzlies did in this game.
Tomorrow night Memphis plays Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks at FedExForum on ESPN in a 9:00 PM CT tip.