The Memphis Grizzlies and Minnesota Timberwolves tried to play a basketball game on Saturday night. But it at times resembled a car getting stuck in the mud, or a football game where a linebacker sees the screen pass coming and puts a receiver in the ground at the point of attack. Another protest was thwarted (nice tackle, security guard - get to Game 5 early Memphis) and the officials once again had their say in the matter, disrupting rhythm to the tune of A LOT of fouls called. But again credit the Timberwolves and their fans - the Target Center was rocking once more, and despite the massive Game 3 misfortune the Wolves played a solid game.
Jordan McLaughlin helped more than anticipated. The Timberwolves made a LOT of threes. Memphis dealt with foul issues the entire game.
And yet...the Grizzlies hung around. And Memphis, even after this disappointing loss, has regained home court advantage thanks to their improbable comeback win in Game 3. It now is a Best of 3 series.
Thoughts from a weird, weird game.
It wasn’t ALL the officiating
Yes, the refs were less than ideal in this game - a concerning trend throughout this series, and you can argue even beyond that back in to the regular season. The rhythm of the game gets disrupted with all the whistles, and that probably affects the Memphis Grizzlies more than any team in the NBA. They need transition and movement to be most effective - standing at the charity stripe doesn’t make that happen.
But at the same time, the Grizzlies defensively have been foul happy this entire era of Memphis basketball. Jaren Jackson Jr. and Dillon Brooks have historically been the largest culprits, but part of creating “stocks” (steals and blocks) and deflections is being more “handsy”. When that comes with lack of lateral movement, fouls occur at a higher rate. Combine that with the Grizzlies for some reason refusing to try to take charges when players like Karl-Anthony Towns come barreling down the lane, and you get a better picture of why Memphis finds themselves in these situations.
Officiating has been bad more often than not. And in close games, the argument they impacted the outcome is easier to make. A 15 free throw differential when you lose by 1 is tough to swallow. But the Grizzlies foul a good amount. They must find a way to negate that (TAKE CHARGES) or at the very least be more confident in their rotations and coverages so they have better opportunities offensively to get in to a rhythm.
Desmond Bane can’t do it alone
Jaren Jackson Jr. fouled out of this game having only scored 7 points in 23 minutes of play. Ja Morant posted a TON of assists (15 is remarkable), but was almost non-existent as a scorer and also faced foul issues, in part because he was once again a target of the Timberwolves offensive game plan - they attacked him relentlessly. Meanwhile, Desmond Bane was a literal human flame thrower from beyond the arc (8-12!!!) and gave every bit of energy and effort he had to help Memphis stay in a game they had no business being in.
All heart. Grit. Grind.
But Desmond Bane being the best player on the Memphis Grizzlies and the Memphis Grizzlies being a title contender - and possibly even getting out of this series - are not simpatico. More is needed from Morant and Jackson Jr. The attention that stardom brings is wonderful, but with it comes responsibility. To both their credits, they accept that often and are among the first to say they must improve.
But words must become action. Both Jaren and Ja have underachieved in this series. The Timberwolves have something to do with that. But it goes beyond that, as well.
- Why play 12 dudes in the first quarter? This screamed of desperation to this writer. Yes, foul trouble was happening throughout the roster. But this is the playoffs. Rotations historically shrink, not expand. Steven Adams played for the first time in a while and only for four minutes - why? John Konchar was on the floor less than a minute. Want to argue De’Anthony Melton should lose playing time because of his struggles? That conversation can be had. But the way the first quarter played out was indicative of the chaotic, ugly feel of the game just like the play of the players and the officiating was.
- Minnesota shot 18-36 from three...and Tyus Jones had a clean look from three to tie the game that he missed. Usually the best team wins a Best of 7 series. Minnesota played nearly an immaculate game and the Grizzlies still had a chance to tie it late. Memphis was 10 games better than Minnesota in the regular season, and while the series is tight the Grizzlies figure to be the better squad. They have time to try to figure out what is happening to them. But it is running out.
The Grizzlies have two days off and will play a critical Game 5 in Memphis on Tuesday night. Home court advantage is once again theirs after the Game 3 comeback. But Game 4 reminded us that this team has struggled for much of this series. And literally anything can happen.