The team looked sluggish, as though they hadn’t played a real game that meant anything in weeks and weren’t able to get up for this one. It happens in a playoff series every year, an underdog comes out more ready to play and steals one on the road. Kinda like the Grizzlies in Utah last year?
Give Minnesota credit, they beat the Grizzlies at their own game in their home gym, but that’s why you play seven games. It wasn’t all bad though, some players stood out while others under-delivered. Let’s look at their performances and give out some grades.
Ja Morant 32 points (8-18 FG), 8 assists, 4 rebounds
In the early going, Morant looked like the only Grizzlies player who was ready from the opening tip. The team as a whole looked sluggish and if not for Ja’s 15 points in the first quarter, Memphis could have been facing a much larger deficit than the seven-point gap after 12 minutes.
Morant’s early highlights were also timely and played to the crowd. His first dunk of the game seemed to ignite not only the Forum faithful but the Grizzlies as well, who were able to start finding some offensive success. He would end the first half with 19 points and the Minnesota lead had been trimmed to just three.
Morant, the second-highest third-quarter scoring player in the league this season, struggled coming out of the break. Ja finished with 32 points but made just two field goals in the second half, one of which came in garbage time with the game firmly out of reach.
Morant is the Grizzlies finisher, with the game on the line wins and losses in Memphis are determined by Ja’s ability to score or find the open man. But down the stretch against Minnesota, he struggled to find lanes to create and most of his success came by initiating contact and getting to the free-throw line. For the Grizzlies to be successful in subsequent games, Morant has to be able to continue his scoring late into games.
The main thing I noticed that Minnesota did to disrupt Morant was just how physical they were with him inside. They were perfectly content with giving up a foul as opposed to giving him an opportunity to finish at the rim. There were plenty of drives when Ja ended up on the deck after hard contact in the paint and sure he made them pay at the free-throw line but that much contact through a seven-game series isn’t sustainable.
The adjustment to look out for in game two is how much Morant incorporates his floater in lieu of taking hard contact. That was an adjustment Morant made against the paint presence of Rudy Gobert last year in game two of the Jazz series when he went off for 47, he may not have another scoring night like that one but a few more floaters could open up driving lanes later on and save him a few trips to the floor.
Dillon Brooks - 24 points (7-14 FG, 3-4 3P), 1 assist, 1 rebound
In Brooks’ first matchup against Minnesota since May 5, 2021, he scored 24 points and it was maybe his quietest 20+ point game this season. His shots came in the flow of the offense and he rarely forced anything offensively. The only two shots he took I didn’t like were his two threes in the third quarter and he made both of them, so what do I know?
On the other end of the floor, Brooks started out defending D’Angelo Russell who had averaged 31 points against the Grizzlies in their four meetings during the regular season. Russell scored just 2 points in the first half but that allowed Anthony Edwards to score against his more favorable matchup. Edwards scored 19 in the first half but 13 came in the first quarter and as he got going Brooks and Melton began keying on him and held him to just 6 points in the second quarter.
In game two, look for Brooks to start out guarding Anthony Edwards with Bane on Russell and hiding Ja on Beverly. Coach Taylor Jenkins may go to these matchups instead or may stick with his matchups from Saturday and move guys around as the game progresses similar to game one.
Jaren Jackson Jr. - 12 points (4-13 FG), 1 assist, 4 rebounds, 7 blocks
We saw the total Jaren Jackson Jr. experience in game one. High-level defending but settling for jumpers and foul trouble has plagued him all season as it did on Saturday. He picked up his fifth foul early in the fourth quarter and it forced him to be more conservative on defense and took him out of his game offensively.
Towns is inarguably a better offensive player than Jackson, but Towns played this game how you’d want JJJ to play. He was the aggressor getting into the paint routinely and his aggressiveness was a big factor in getting Jackson into foul trouble. In their play-in game against the Clippers, it was Towns’ foul trouble that led to him struggling offensively. In game two, Jackson has to flip the script and go right at Towns when he has the opportunities to either score or draw a foul.
For the Grizzlies to win this series they need more out of Jackson offensively. The three-point shooting will come and go as it has all season but he has to stay aggressive getting into the paint and I’d like to see him get to eight or nine free throws from the team who committed the most fouls in the league this regular season.
Steven Adams - 0 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds
Adams was played off the floor by Karl-Anthony Towns. Adams, the league’s leading offensive rebounder, struggled to control the glass Saturday. Adams recorded just three rebounds total, one on the offensive end, and the Wolves as a team outrebounded Memphis 46-35 as Adams’ struggles played a major role.
Defensively, when Adams was matched up with KAT he simply couldn’t stay in front of him. There were several actions Minnesota ran where Towns came off of screens and I just don’t think that’s something Adams has faced many times this season or his career for that matter. KAT is such a factor off the dribble or coming off screens I don’t see Adams guarding him much the rest of this series with more athletic options like Jackson or Clarke who have better lateral quickness to move with him on ball and chase him off screens.
In his reduced role, Adams was unable to establish any rhythm offensively either. We saw few actions with Adams passing out of the post that we had come to expect over the final weeks of the regular season. In game two look for more mid-post actions with Adams initiating or playing the two-man game with Tyus Jones or Dillon Brooks.
Team Grade: D+
Just a bad game overall for the Grizzlies. They didn’t play the efficient team basketball that had made them successful all season long. Minnesota beat them at their own game, winning the rebounding battle by being more physical and out-hustling Memphis.
The Grizzlies just looked out of sync from the jump and every time they made a run to tie the game, take a small lead, or make it close again they seemed to run out of gas instead of pushing on.
Having said all of that, I still believe the Grizzlies win this series. They shot horrendously from three going 7-27 Saturday and six of those makes came from Bane and Brooks alone. There are a lot of adjustments that can be made by coach Taylor Jenkins but at the end of the day, it’s going to be the effort of the Memphis Grizzlies that has to improve if they want to make a playoff run.