The energy in the FedExForum was electric. Growl-towels waving. Fans going absolutely berserk when the opportunity presents itself. I missed this part of sports and of the playoffs so, so much.
It is time for the Memphis Grizzlies and Minnesota Timberwolves to kick off their first round matchup. The scoreboard was popping, but it wasn’t in the Grizzlies’ favor.
The Memphis Grizzlies started the game out sluggish — falling 9-2 within the first 2 and a half minutes of the game. They started to find a little bit of a groove, primarily with Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks getting comfortable downhill towards the rim. However, the Timberwolves roared in the 1st quarter, as they took advantage of the mismatch with Steven Adams guarding Karl-Anthony Towns — giving the mobile big man a runway to drive to the basket. The Grizzlies battled back to provide a bit of an offensive punch, but the Wolves’ one was stronger. The quarter ended with the Wolves up 41-33.
There was a bit of trouble early in the 3rd quarter, as Jaren Jackson picked up his 3rd personal foul. The Grizzlies were able to close the gap in the minutes without Karl-Anthony Towns. They did so by generating stops and getting out in transition — the Grizzlies’ bread and butter. Ziaire Williams even finished off two of those lobs as well. Though the Wolves got back into it, the Grizzlies weathered the storm to be down 3 after the half.
The Grizzlies and Timberwolves remained back and forth in the 3rd quarter. The Grizzlies tried to gain offensive momentum, but Anthony Edwards proved to be too much. Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, and Jaren Jackson put pressure on the Wolves’ defense. Jackson, though, picked up his 4th foul to find his way out of the game for the last half of the 3rd period. The Grizzlies entered the 4th quarter down 97-92.
The fourth quarter kicked off with a questionable challenge. Taylor Jenkins challenged a blocking foul on Ziaire Williams that result in a Towns and-1; the inspiration probably came after Jaren Jackson was called for a charge on something similar. The challenge failed, and a better opportunity presented itself, as Malik Beasley saved the ball while he was out of bounds — but it was Minnesota ball. D’Angelo Russell then hit a 3 that served as a swing.
Ja Morant woke up the crowd with a powerful poster-dunk on D’Angelo Russell midway through the 4th quarter.
The Grizzlies had the chance to swing the game off a clear-path foul, but Ja Morant only hit 1 of those free throws, and they didn’t capitalize on that offensive stretch. Minnesota made enough big shots, and Memphis couldn’t answer offensively.
Grizzlies drop game 1, 130-117.
- More Clarke, less Adams. The Grizzlies got torched in the Steven Adams minutes, as Karl-Anthony Towns and the Timberwolves were able to use their speed to virtually play him off the court. They found more success with the more versatile Brandon Clarke, who was one of 3 players with a positive point differential. Clarke also finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds in 27 minutes of play, using his energy to find opportunities around the rim. Meanwhile, Adams finished with an uncharacteristic 3 rebounds and 0 points in 24 minutes of action. This may be not be a case of a bad game for Adams; it might be a bad matchup. Jenkins should consider going with more Clarke and less Adams in this series.
- Need more shooting. The Grizzlies were relatively lackluster from 3, only making 26% of their 3’s (7-27). The Timberwolves played the longer Jaden McDaniels on Desmond Bane, which clearly bothered him — though Bane quietly hit 3 three’s. They got virtually nothing from De’Anthony Melton, whose ability to be a perimeter firecracker is pivotal to the Grizzlies. Jaren Jackson missed all 5 of his three’s, some of them pretty wide open. It sounds simple, but the Grizzlies need to hit 3’s to be effective in this series. It opens up the floor a lot when they’re on, but it really clogs things when they’re off — as we saw in the closing moments of this game.
- Ja Morant is channeling his inner D-Wade. Ja Morant showed up in this one. He finished with 32 points and 8 assists, while getting to the line for 20 free throw attempts. He seemingly found his way into the paint at will, and utilizing his star whistle to find offense at the line. However, the Grizzlies did miss 11 free throws, a lot of them at inopportune times. Nonetheless, one positive sign from this game was how Ja Morant was able to dissect the defense and get into the paint, especially when a lot of people beforehand were concerned about the Wolves’ perimeter defense hounding him.
On to the next one. Game 2 is on Tuesday.