The Memphis Grizzlies lost a slugfest to the Minnesota Timberwolves 119-118 on Saturday night. It was an ugly, four-hour affair where the Grizzlies played from behind, as they have much of this series, the majority of the game.
Memphis as a whole looked disjointed by the flow of the game forcing few transition opportunities and struggling to finish inside. For Minnesota, Karl-Anthony Towns made a major statement with 33 points after attempting just four field goals in game three.
Saturday, it was the Grizzlies star Ja Morant who struggled to carry his team finishing with just 11 points. Let’s evaluate his performance and others with the grades.
Desmond Bane - 34 points (11-18 FG, 8-12 3P), 4 assists, 2 rebounds
Bane carried Memphis for the first half of this game offensively. He had 14 of the Grizzlies 28 first-quarter points, that’s half folks, as the rest of the Grizzlies started slow once again. Bane would finish the first half with 21 going 6-7 from the three-point line.
The three-point shooting in these series has been one of the greatest deciding factors. Minnesota took the most in the entire league during the regular season and hit them at a 35.8% clip. Three-point shooting has not been the Grizzlies’ strong suit all year and just playing Minnesota to a draw in that category would be a win, but with three more makes from distance that proved to be the difference on Saturday.
Going forward, Bane needs others to hit more outside shots. His performance over the last two games isn’t sustainable for an entire series, Ziaire Williams and Jaren Jackson Jr. will have to bring more outside shooting to the table.
Bane finished the game with 34 points with eight three-point makes, he is just the sixth Grizzly to score 30+ in a playoff game and broke his own record for threes in a playoff game set in game three. The only room for improvement for Bane is he wasn’t much of a factor in the fourth quarter, that could be a result of fatigue from carrying the offense for the first three periods or cautiousness with five fouls.
Bane scored just four fourth-quarter points on a three as time expired with a four-point deficit and a split pair of free throws with 1:47 left in the game, you can’t blame the loss on a single missed free throw but when you have a 90% free throw shooter at the line and lose by one it’s hard to ignore.
Dillon Brooks - 24 points (10-20 FG, 3-4 3P), 1 assist, 2 rebounds
Brooks was the Grizzlies second-leading scorer with 24 but it took him 20 shots to reach that number and only went 1-2 from the free-throw line. In a game with 56 total fouls called I’d like to see Brooks get to the line more frequently, especially in crunch time, as the series continues. It also took him a while to get going starting 1-4 from the floor in the first quarter. He’s not the only one to blame but Brooks forcing the issue and struggling to finish at the rim contributed to the Grizzlies’ early deficit.
Despite the slow offensive start, I do have to give credit to Brooks for his late-game shot-making. He scored half of his points in the fourth quarter alone and kept the Grizzlies slim chances at a win alive with one of his two three-point makes in the period coming with 6 seconds remaining.
Offense aside, Brooks did another great job helping to slow D’Angelo Russell who finished with just 10 points on 3-12 shooting adding a steal and block to his stat line. Although they dropped game four, limiting Russell’s production and shifting the scoring responsibility to Edwards and Towns is in the Grizzlies’ favor for the long term.
Brandon Clarke 15 points (7-9 FG), 4 assists, 5 rebounds
Brandon Clarke has been out of his mind this series. He is 24-33 from the field through four games and it’s not all uncontested lob finishes. Clarke’s ability to finish inside as well as hit floaters over taller defenders has made him one of the Grizzlies best weapons. Jenkins also tried him out as a passer more in this game running some of the mid to high post actions that we’ve seen Adams thrive in this season.
Xavier Tillman may have served as the ceremonial starter for game four, but after another slow Grizzlies start coach Taylor Jenkins quickly got Clarke in the game just two minutes in. I think many of us expected Clarke to start Saturday night but Jenkins clearly likes his matchup against the Minnesota bench. My pushback would be if you’ve watched the Grizzlies start slow in three straight games now, why not use your best energizer from the opening tip? I would like to see Clarke in the starting lineup for game five to see what kind of lift it gives to the Grizzlies in the early going.
My only knock against Clarke for his performance in game four is he is definitely easier to move inside than Adams or Jackson Jr. and that hurts Memphis in the rebounding department and he finished just 1-4 from the free-throw line, Memphis has enough struggles at the stripe as it is we can’t have him start shooting 25% consistently if he’s going to be out there in crunch time.
Ja Morant - 11 points (4-13 FG), 15 assists, 8 rebounds
Morant was a ghost for the middle portion of this game. I understand him taking a step back from scoring for this series, Minnesota has proven they can limit his finishing ability inside with physical defense. I also understand that he finished with 15 assists, but he recorded just three in the second and third quarters. Worse than that, he barely even held the ball in the middle periods.
There were tons of possessions where he would bring the ball across half court, give it up to Bane, Brooks, or Jones, and stand in the corner. The reason the Grizzlies were able to win game three despite just 16 points from Morant is because he made the Minnesota defense pay for double-teaming, but you can’t draw a double team and find an open shooter when you don’t have the ball in the first place.
Ja just straight up did not look like himself. The body language was bad and even when he was off-ball his cutting looked lackadaisical. There are only so many reasons the Grizzlies star could look so bad in game four, he could be frustrated by his inability to draw fouls at a high rate in this series, he could be tired of being attacked every defensive possession but my best guess is he’s still not 100% from the knee injury that held him out toward the end of the regular season.
Whatever the cause for Morant’s struggles may be, if the Grizzlies are going to make it out of the first round he has to play better than he did in game four. Bane played a near-perfect offensive game and Brooks, Jones, and Clarke filled in the gaps but there is no amount of slack that can be picked up for an 11-point showing from their star.
Tyus Jones: B+
The steadiest hand in basketball, 13 points, 3 assists, and 4 rebounds. If he hit that three to tie the game late, Memphis wins that game. But I’ll live with him taking that shot any day of the week.
Jaren Jackson Jr.: D-
Picked up his fifth and sixth fouls 30 seconds apart in a three-point game. There were a few cheapies called on JJJ but you’ve got to be out there in a tight game like that down the stretch to anchor the defense even if your shot isn’t falling.
De’Anthony Melton: F
A full-on FBI level search party has been formed to find Melt’s shooting touch, 2-14 from three this series.
Steven Adams: Incomplete
Just had to shout out Adams for being a consummate professional by taking his relegation in stride. The reason I believe he made a four-minute cameo in this game was that Jenkins knows he will need him for the next round and you can’t have him sitting on the bench for two straight weeks and then ask him to play 25 minutes against the Warriors and throwing him in at the end of the first quarter doesn’t bury you for the game.
Team Grade: C+
I didn’t love the body language in this game, even in the midst of a comeback Morant and Brooks, the emotional leaders, seemed subdued. I didn’t want to mention the foul discrepancy because this is the playoffs, you’re the more experienced team. Act like it and overcome, you can’t let it take you out of your game plan or affect your effort level.
That being said, it’s only 2-2 and now a best of three scenario where Memphis will be at home in two games. Clean up the fouling, find a way to create more transition opportunities even if that means just getting the ball inbounded quicker off a make, and get more aggressive on the offensive glass. The Grizzlies were the best offensive rebounding team in the league this year but without Adams on the floor there’s been too many one-and-done possessions.
Game five will be in Memphis at 6:30 CT. Winners of game five in a tied best of seven series go on to win the series 82.8% of the time so it will be an important one in Memphis.