Through three games between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Minnesota Timberwolves, my life expectancy has dropped by approximately five years. It’s been the ultimate “peaks and valleys” series thus far, and not to be overly-pessimistic, but it seems as if the deepest valleys are on the horizon.
Alas, let’s dive into how we’ve ended up where we are.
Game 1 - April 16:
In a game that ended with a Wolves 130-117 win, there were a few different things that stood out.
Karl-Anthony Towns was disciplined — and really solid — on defense. He didn’t pick up a foul until the third quarter, which allowed Chris Finch to play him 42 minutes in the game. With rotations being shortened, plus the fact that it’s the playoffs, it’s even more important to have your best players on the court as much as possible. KAT’s essential to this team’s success not just because he’s the Wolves’ best player, but because he is their depth at the five. Naz Reid came in and couldn’t keep up, forcing heavy minutes on KAT. Forcing him to not foul for 42 minutes is a tall order, considering composure hasn’t been his strongest trait recently (and also he’s consistently involved in physical plays).
A reason for KAT’s success was his matchup. Taylor Jenkins decided to let Steven Adams guard KAT for the majority of the game, without bringing much help. It’s safe to say that won’t continue to happen (definitely not saying that because I’m writing this after Game 2 in which Adams may or may not have played only 2 minutes), considering KAT has thrived in single coverage all year long.
In addition to KAT’s performance, wonder boy Anthony Edwards came to play. He scored 36 points in what was his first career playoff game. He started his scoring with a deep three less than a 1:30 into the game, and just kept going from there.
He was arguably the best player on the court, a court that held two All-Stars and the cast of a 56-win Grizzlies team.
He did tell us that he “shows up when the lights come on,” though. Man, he wasn’t lying.
Ant imposed his will on both sides of the ball, showcasing his ability to be a tremendous two-way player.
But it wasn’t just KAT and Edwards that helped the Wolves to a Game 1 victory, they got a massive boost from their bench.
Malik Beasley scored 23 points on 8/14 shooting, including four threes. He also rebounded the ball well and played good defense, huge bonuses for Finch and the Wolves.
According to Ant, Jaden McDaniels was the best player on the court for the Wolves tonight. Can’t really argue with that, as McDaniels stuffed the stat sheet with 15 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks. His shooting was incredibly efficient, as he made five of his six shots, with two makes coming from behind the arc. In this game specifically — one which Jarred Vanderbilt saw just 18 minutes — McDaniels’ production was huge.
Although the team struggled as a whole, Jaren Jackson Jr.’s defense was a major bright spot for the Grizzlies.
Despite being in foul trouble for most of the game, he racked up seven blocks. His help defense was great, as he frequently came soaring in from the weak side to contest shots. In addition to that, his on-ball defense was stout. He wasn’t able to contribute on the offensive end, but was certainly a factor on defense.
Game 2 - April 19:
This game certainly had a different vibe to it. The Wolves’ tendency to get complacent and lackadaisical reared its ugly head, leading to a 28-point loss.
KAT picked up two fouls in eight minutes of play in the first quarter, while still managing to score nine points. He picked up his third foul in the second quarter, forcing him back to the bench. He played just 13 minutes in the first half.
While KAT struggled to stay on the court, so did Vanderbilt. However, it was for a much different reason.
Vando was essentially played off the court, with his lack of shooting getting to the Wolves. That made the frontcourt depth incredibly thin, giving Reid the opportunity to bounce back from Game 1 when the team desperately needed him. To say he kept the Wolves afloat would be a stretch. He was able to score 12 points, but still just wasn’t able to hold his own. Reid and Taurean Prince just couldn’t cut it tonight, which left the Wolves reeling heading into half. They were only down 11 at the break, but any hope of winning this game after half was running low.
The Wolves allowed nine offensive rebounds in the first half, just getting flat-out out-physicaled (definitely a word) by Jackson Jr. and Xavier Tillman.
Tillman was fantastic in this game, giving the Grizzlies some signature grit and toughness while ripping down seven boards and scoring 13 points. Brandon Clarke also provided them a rebounding boost and energy injection.
Game 3 - April 21:
Man, what a deflating loss. Two separate 20-point leads (26 and 25) blown. This was surely a loss that the fanbase won’t forget for a long time, and was one that epitomizes what Wolves fans have been through seemingly since the franchise was founded.
The Wolves came out with major intensity in the first quarter: getting steals, pestering ball handlers, Patrick Beverley hitting defenders with a “too little” more times than I can count, etc.
I won’t tell the story of this game, as everyone knows what happened. Also, I don’t want to think about it anymore. Rather, here are just a few things to consider heading into Saturday night.
Outside of those nightmarish droughts, the Wolves actually played really well in spurts (hence the 20-point leads).
Writing about this today, but the Wolves game plan was sooooooo good— jace frederick (@JaceFrederick) April 22, 2022
Should’ve called a timeout, for sure. But as far as Xs and Os, Finch and Co brought the goods last night
Players just seem to unwilling to carry out the plan consistently enough https://t.co/lhmd0SF2gE
The very beginning of the game was a clear sign that Finch wanted the Wolves to attack Ja Morant, who had been hiding on Beverley for the first two games. It worked out about as well as it could have, getting a few buckets and also getting Morant in foul trouble. It wasn’t something the Wolves could’ve done all night long, but it was a nice way to start the game.
They made Morant uncomfortable with their PnR defense early, not allowing him to get downhill and come screaming off screens.
While we’ve seen Morant split screens like this in the past, it seems like trapping him immediately/hedging hard is the way to defend these PnR. Now, it’s hard to do that with KAT on the bench, but going into drop coverage with the big seems like digging your own grave.
In general, defending these PnR’s needs to be super aggressive (as long as you have the right personnel on the court) in order to fluster Morant. He tore the Wolves apart with soft coverage, and while you can’t really stop him, it seems like playing aggressive and forcing the ball out of his hands is the best bet.
The first step toward competing in Game 4 will be appropriately dissecting Game 3, which is going to be really difficult. Taking note of what went right and what went wrong is obviously beneficial, but quickly forgetting about the blown leads is even more important. Allowing those demons to creep up on the Wolves in Game 4 needs to be avoided at all costs.
After a really rough past 24 hours, it feels necessary to be optimistic.
The series is just 2-1. The Wolves will have the home crowd with them in Game 4. Finch and Beverley are going to have the team ready to compete. We’ve seen this team bounce back from bad losses a couple times this year, they can do it again.