Depending on where you may be logging in today, let’s start with a good morning, good afternoon, or even good evening (especially to our friends over in Australia and New Zealand).
For just the second time in nearly two decades, the Minnesota Timberwolves logged on this morning to prepare for Game 5 of a real, authentic NBA playoff series. The first four games between the Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies has had practically everything you’d want in a playoff series — superstar performances, blown leads, strategic coaching adjustments, technical fowls, clutch shots, etc. As the series pivots back to Memphis later tonight, both teams suddenly find themselves in a simple best-of-three series, with the winner of tonight’s game grabbing a commanding lead in what has quickly become the best first round series of the 2022 playoffs (at least in my opinion).
The beauty of the #NBAPlayoffs is the massive momentum swings from one game to the next.— Kyle Theige (@KyleTheige) April 26, 2022
After blowing Game 3, ALL the pressure was on the Timberwolves in Game 4.
Fast forward to tonight? ALL the pressure in Game 5 is now squarely on the shoulders of the Memphis Grizzlies.
I tweeted about this earlier on Tuesday, but one of the cool aspects of the NBA Playoffs (and having your favorite team participate in said playoffs) is the massive momentum swings from one game to the next. Simply put, the Wolves absolutely choked away Game 3 last Thursday, which meant ALL of the pressure coming into Game 4 was squarely on their shoulders.
To the surprise of many, the Wolves actually responded in Game 4 by evening the series, which now means the pressure pendulum swings back to the Grizzlies, who aren’t necessary in a “must win” scenario tonight, but their is some historical data about 7 vs. 2 seeds that might make them sweat a little more than usual:
Since the NBA went to a best-of-seven in the 1st round in 2003, #7 seeds are 1-37 in series vs. #2 seeds.— Alan Horton (@WolvesRadio) April 25, 2022
San Antonio has the only series win, beating Dallas in 6 games in 2010.
As the great Alan Horton tweeted out on Monday, #7 seeds are 1-37 in first round matchups dating back to 2003, which reinforces the idea that the Grizzlies simply cannot put themselves in a position to become another statistic if they lose tonight (and ultimately lose the series).
Memphis will likely enter Game 5 with some additional juice, as it was announced yesterday afternoon that their superstar PG Ja Morant was the recipient of the 2021-22 Kia NBA Most Improved Player award:
The 2021-22 Kia NBA Most Improved Player is Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant! pic.twitter.com/XNLdPFQwFe— NBA Communications (@NBAPR) April 25, 2022
The Grizzlies actually had THREE different players finish in the Top 10 of the voting for this award, which is a testament to just how successful of a season Memphis truly had.
(The petty side of my brain would like to acknowledge that for a team that has complained all year about not getting enough respect, they did have three players get votes for MIP, a head coach receive votes for Coach of the Year, and Jaren Jackson, Jr. finished in the top five for Defensive Player of the Year. That seems like a LOT of respect — MUCH more respect than what Minnesota has received this year — but let’s not let facts get in the way of how much fun we’re having).
FWIW, I had no problem whatsoever with Ja Morant winning MIP. You could argue it was slightly disrespectful simply because he was also pretty damn good last year, but for him to take the type of leap he did from Year 2 to Year 3 is damn impressive, and now the third-year guard will enter next season (and many seasons after that) as a perennial MVP candidate. Awesome story for an awesome young player.
I’d be lying though if I didn’t mention that Ja winning MIP in his third year had me daydreaming yesterday about another super talented young guard who took a leap in Year 2 and is setting up to take another massive leap next season in Year 3 — Anthony Edwards. The parallels between Morant and Edwards thus far in their careers have been pretty interesting, with both of them finishing in the Top 2 of Rookie of the Year voting, both of them making the playoffs in their sophomore season, and both of them being the type of dynamic personality that can revitalize a franchise’s culture and set it up for long-term success.
We’ve already seen the type of impact Ja has made on Memphis in just three short seasons, and I think it’s more than fair to expect ANT to make a similar type of leap next season after he gets another summer to work on his game, rest his body, and use the lessons he learned from his first taste of playoff basketball.
But enough about the future for now — tonight is all about Game 5. Timberwolves at Grizzlies. Each team has taken various punches from their opponent over the last week or so and responded quite nicely, so I’d expect FedExForum to be LOUD and PROUD tonight as they welcome Minnesota back to Memphis. What started as a 7-game series between two young, inexperienced teams has quickly evolved into a simple best-of-three series between two of the more promising young rosters in the entire NBA.
Tip off is set for 6:30pm CST, and the staff here at Canis Hoopus will have you covered pregame and postgame for what should be another night of fun and exciting playoff basketball.