The Memphis Grizzlies started their sprint to the postseason in Minnesota Thursday night against the Timberwolves. It was not the most beautiful showing of basketball that has even been displayed - there was a lot of officiating...confusion, perhaps may be the kindest way to put it. There were multiple health scares for the Grizzlies throughout the night, from a scary fall on the hip for Jaren Jackson Jr. to a potentially ugly non-contact injury to the leg or hip of Ja Morant (thankfully both of them were apparently fine and were able to finish the game). The Grizzlies struggled much of the evening, especially beyond the first quarter, with the physicality and defensive intensity of a tough Minnesota squad.
The game had the energy of a playoff affair. Kudos to the Timberwolves and their fans - a competitive, hard-fought game. This one made Memphis better in more ways than just the win-loss column. That doesn’t help in the short-term, though.
Some thoughts from a tough defeat.
Seriously, Ja, don’t scare us like that.
The injury scare didn’t happen in the picture above, but that image is indicative of the night that Morant had in Minnesota. The Timberwolves, as they have done throughout the season, made like very difficult for Ja more often than not. They face guarded him with Anthony Edwards and pressed him with Patrick Beverley. They forced him out of his rhythm with length and physicality, and it led to one of the most inefficient showings for Morant of the entire season.
But when you’re the leader for a franchise, one that is so important to the psyche of the roster, you fight and compete as best you can. That is exactly what Ja did. He returned from a scary-looking tweak of his leg and/or hip and put together a gutsy performance. It won’t always be your night offensively, or in general. The Wolves deserve credit for that, as does the All-Star Break.
But Ja was there for the Grizzlies and helped them hang tough. Regular season battle scars are rare. Yet Morant and Memphis earned some in this game. We shall see what the injury does to Ja’s chances of playing in the next Grizzlies game. Thank goodness Tyus Jones is still on the roster.
Ziaire Williams? Ziaire Williams!
As poorly as Ja shot the ball (and others as well - Desmond Bane and De’Anthony Melton shot roughly 33% combined on the evening) Ziaire Williams did that well. It was possibly his best game in this, his rookie campaign - the young man was active not only from three (3-6 beyond the arc) but also was a stout 4-5 from inside three point land. He grabbed four rebounds on his way to a career night, making up for missing production from key Grizzlies players. He also did admirably in his own right as a defender, contributing to Anthony Edward’s own putrid performance in terms of offensive scoring production (1-11 from the field)!
Tough times do not last - tough players do. Ziaire Williams rose up for Memphis when the team needed him to and helped keep the team in the contest when things were not going well. Without him, this game would’ve gotten out of hand.
- Brandon Clarke is getting better! He did not make a massive impact in terms of scoring (although he was an efficient 4-5 from the field) - but it was the way he got his limited shots that was most promising. Clarke continues to develop his handle, creating looks for himself off the dribble. Growth in his offensive game is promising, and a sign of the work ethic that has made BC the player he is to this point.
- Free throws and threes. The Grizzlies attempted many more free throws than the Timberwolves (but only made 72.5% of them). The Timberwolves made many more threes than the Grizzlies (16 to 9). Memphis is weak in both of these areas when compared to the rest of the NBA, and these must be places where the Grizzlies get better. Otherwise, games like this will continue to be out of their reach more often than not.
- The Timberwolves are going to be a tough out. Karl-Anthony Towns is a special talent. But D’Angelo Russell took over this game in the 4th quarter. Patrick Beverley and Wolves Head Coach Chris Finch have instilled a defensive intensity in this team that translates nicely to postseason basketball. Even in a poor shooting game, Anthony Edwards made his presence felt as an elite athlete checking Ja Morant defensively at times. They also stopped the transition game of Memphis in the 2nd half, limiting Memphis to just 3 fast break points. And of course, the 23-point 4th quarter from Russell closed the door late. They’re going to surprise even more than they already have.
- Rebounding helps Memphis stay alive. The Grizzlies had a massive +17 edge on the boards, snagging an absurd 26 offensive rebounds in particular. As Memphis continues to try to find their offensive touch, especially in the half court, these extra possessions will be their way of closing the gap. It will be vital to any run the Grizzlies hope to make.
The Memphis Grizzlies are off tomorrow (thank whatever gods may be) and will next take on the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night.