WHAT: 2022 NBA Playoffs - Western Conference 1st Round Game Six (Memphis leads series 3-2)
WHEN: 8:00 PM CT
WHERE: Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: ESPN/Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
BETTING INFORMATION (per DraftKings): Memphis (-1), Over/Under 229
MEMPHIS: Ziaire Williams (Doubtful, right knee), Steven Adams (Out, Health & Safety Protocols), Santi Aldama (Out, knee), Killian Tillie (Out, lower back procedure recovery)
MINNESOTA: Malik Beasley (Questionable, recovering from Ja-breaker)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr.
MINNESOTA: Patrick Beverley, D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Jarred Vanderbilt, Karl-Anthony Towns
Tonight, for the first time since 2015, Memphis has the opportunity to close out its opponent and advance to the Western Conference semifinals. After a miraculous Game 5 victory, the Grizz head to the Target Center with a 3-2 series lead. Led by a Ja Morant resurgence, the Grizzlies came back to win after being down as many as 13 with 9:15 to go in the fourth quarter. For the second time in the series, Memphis was outplayed for three quarters before making a late-game push to overcome Minnesota.
It is hard to tell if the two comeback wins are more of a result of historic Minnesota collapses or that classic Memphis grit, but either way, the Grizzlies are back in the driver’s seat.
It has been a frustrating series full of inconsistent officiating, horrendous three-point shooting, and complete duds from some of Memphis’s top guys. Jaren Jackson Jr. has been a total no-show for most of the series and Dillon Brooks has struggled offensively. Don’t worry, he joined some elite company on Tuesday.
Players to win a playoff game shooting under 18% on at least 18 fgas in the last 35 years:— Fastbreak Breakfast (@fastbreakbreak) April 27, 2022
Despite finishing second in the West, Memphis potentially drew the hardest first-round matchup of the bottom four seeds in the conference. Minnesota will not go away quietly and the Target Center has proven to be a difficult environment in the playoffs and the Wolves’ play-in game. Game 6 will be the Grizzlies biggest test yet and to survive and advance, Memphis will need to return to the basics.
Attack the paint
In the regular season, the Grizzlies averaged a league-best 57.4 points in the paint per game, over four points more than the second-place San Antonio Spurs. Ja Morant led all players with 16.6 paint points a game in 2022, which is absolutely unthinkable for a 6’3” guard. The other leaders in paint scoring include Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Nikola Jokić - all far larger than Ja.
Memphis knew what their bread and butter was for the entire regular season, producing 56 wins, but getting to the basket in the playoffs has proven to be more difficult. The Grizzlies have averaged 54.4 points in the paint for the series with Ja only scoring 12.4 from up-close. In Memphis’s Game 4 loss, they only had 30 points from the interior.
When the Grizzlies blew out Minnesota in Game 2 they outscored the Wolves 60-34 in the paint. On Tuesday, Memphis dominated the inside again, outscoring Minnesota 62-38.
So, why has Memphis not consistently found success in one of its best areas? Well, the Grizzlies recent rotations have been anything but consistent. With Jaren averaging 5.2 fouls a game – 8.3 fouls per 36 minutes – for the series, and Steven Adams riding the bench, it has fallen to Kyle Anderson, Xavier Tillman, and Brandon Clarke to hold down the inside. While there have been mixed results from Anderson and Tillman, Clarke has more than risen to the challenge, averaging 16.4 points, nearly all from the paint.
Still, the loss of Adams should not be overlooked. Despite only averaging 6.9 points per game for the regular season, Adams’s importance inside extends well beyond scoring. Adams set new career averages with 10 rebounds and 3.4 assists a game. Adams hauls in 4.6 offensive rebounds per game, leading to second-chance points and putbacks. Adams’s revelatory passing this season has provided slashers like Bane and Morant easy buckets inside. His rock-hard screens allow Ja to quickly get downhill and reach the basket but the matchup with Karl-Anthony Towns has relegated Adams to the bench.
There’s also this:
HUGE stat from @BillSimmons show and @ChrisVernonShow show: Jaren’s fouls go up 40% without Stephen Adams on the floor. Jaren is in a different position than regular season and @Jon_Roser is correct, the Wolves are foul hunting JJJ bc they know how important he is. #GrindCity— Will Jones (@GrindCity_Takes) April 27, 2022
With a chance to send Minnesota packing, I doubt Taylor Jenkins would have restored Adams to the rotation anyway, but with Big Kiwi in health and safety protocols, the Grizzlies are left without a choice.
Lean on the hot hands
Before Ja’s legend-making fourth-quarter performance on Tuesday, I think most Memphis fans would have agreed Brandon Clarke and Desmond Bane have been the Grizzlies best players in the series. Bane has been on a shooting bender for the past three games, shooting 18/35 (51%) from beyond the arc. He became the third player, along with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, to make 7+ threes in back-to-back playoff games. Throughout the regular season Bane showed his shooting prowess, finishing second in the league in three-point percentage, but in the playoffs he has exceeded every expectation imaginable. If Bane is able to continue his performance tonight and in potential future series, his star will only continue to grow.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Desmond Bane makes an All-NBA team someday. That’ll depend a lot on his usage but Bane averaged 18.2 points in only 29.8 minutes and 14.5 shots. I’d love to someday see what he can do with nearly 20 shots a night. Too much scoring talent not to explore.— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) April 24, 2022
I am not sure what there is to say about Brandon Clarke other than that his extension is getting more and more expensive with each rebound. Arguably the reason Memphis has a 3-2 series lead, Clarke has averaged six more points and over three more rebounds per game in the postseason. He became the first Grizzlies player with multiple 20-point games off the bench in the Playoffs. While Ja led the charge in Tuesday’s comeback, without Clarke’s hustle and defensive effort, the Grizzlies would be facing elimination tonight.
While Bane and Clarke have led the Grizzlies for most of the series, if Memphis is going to close out the series on the road tonight it will need the awakened Ja we saw in the closing minutes of Game 5. Any concern that Morant was hurt flew out the window when he baptized Malik Beasley at the end of the third quarter. Ja hitting his patented floaters in Game 5 was a welcome sight and if he is able to resume his paint dominance, Memphis might reestablish itself as the contender it was considered for much of the regular season.
As has been said many times, both on this site and on Twitter – it is the Playoffs. It is time for teams’ top guys to step up and if Morant, Brooks, and Jackson aren’t up to snuff then the Grizzlies should lean on the guys who have brought them this far.
Ahead of the series, I predicted the Timberwolves would be a tough out but that Memphis would prevail in six games. Alas, here we are. Twice now, Minnesota has suffered heartbreaking losses. How much do the Wolves have left in the tank?
I would like to think that Ja will carry his momentum from his iconic fourth-quarter and fully return to form in Game 6. Memphis can’t expect Bane and Clarke to carry them to the finish line again but the Grizzlies three-point shooting can not be worse than it was in Game 5. Memphis shot 25.9% from beyond the arc in Game 1 and 25% from three on Tuesday. I would expect that to improve, with better long-range shooting from Brooks and Morant sending the Memphis Grizzlies to the second round.
Memphis 114, Minnesota 108