Five takeaways from the Memphis Grizzlies’ 104-95 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday night at the Target Center in Game 3 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series:
1. Oh, being a fly on the wall…
Can’t you see it? Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins used a video of his team’s performance in Thursday’s first quarter as a dozen different teachable moments, followed immediately by the Grizzlies’ turnaround over the next 12 minutes, when Jenkins he would have to shrug and take note. the resilience of the guys from him. Followed by a third quarter in which he and his staff were able to raise their voices and freeze a series of misses, only to turn around and smile like proud dads about what happened down the stretch.
Memphis was eliminated twice in Game 3, only to return twice. The Grizz trailed 37-18 at the end of the first and 26 at the start of the second. However, at halftime, the gap was only 51-44.
Then they did it again, falling behind by 25 points less than nine minutes from third. And then finally racing all the way back with 21 unanswered points, going 83-62 to tie with 8:33 left, and finally a 16-7 finish to win handily and take a 2-1 lead at this best-of-seven series.
Sometimes in sports we say that a certain win or loss counts double because of its impact. But in this case, it really could. Memphis, once it puts aside why those big deficits were dug, can focus on the tenacity it showed in beating the Wolves.
“Usually when I’m down 26, I end up down 30,” Grizzlies forward Brandon Clarke said when asked to recall a similar comeback in his career.
Said Desmond Bane of Memphis: “I’ve never dropped 20 twice.”
Meanwhile, Minnesota could work through the summer to shake off the feeling that it blew control of the series twice. You may never trust a big lead again, as long as you manage to get one again.
Coach Chris Finch acknowledged the impact on his players’ systems by stepping into the empty elevator shaft and then climbing 10 flights of stairs to do it again.
“I’m sure they tightened up,” the Wolves coach said. “We missed a lot of really good shots. Some of them seemed tight. But I didn’t necessarily feel it. I thought we were still in the game.”
The Wolves missed 10 of their first 11 shots in the fourth quarter. They shot 3-for-19 overall in that stretch, including 1-for-11 on 3-pointers. They were outrebounded, 19-5, and outscored, 37-12.
By the way, if Minnesota reviews, rather than burns, their copy of the videotape, the players might want to grill Finch by pointing out moments during Memphis’ 21-0 run in the third and fourth quarters when their coach might have had, maybe (just for the heck of it?) asked for a timeout. To regroup a bit or maybe break the rhythm of the Grizlies.
“I got burned a lot early on, so I was hoping we could get into the fourth a little bit deeper,” Finch explained.
He still had a timeout on the board when this one ended.
2. The Twin Cities have a Towns problem.
Karl-Anthony Towns is one of the most talented big men in the NBA, now and possibly forever. He will have garnered plenty of All-NBA votes for the just-completed regular season when those honors are announced. And let’s not forget how he won the 2022 MTN DEW 3-point Contest at All-Star Weekend, a crown Towns was seeking and snagged in Cleveland two months ago, during a season in which he made 41% of his 3-pointers. .
All that said, the Timberwolves center is having a miserable postseason that tarnishes his reputation.
After a virtual no-show due to foul trouble in the Wolves’ Western Conference Play-In Tournament win against the Clippers, the first overall pick in the 2015 draft bounced back with 29 points and 13 rebounds in the team’s poignant win. Minnesota Game 1. But he was lackluster in Game 2 and shrugged off even that performance in Game 3, finishing with just 8 points (3-4 FG), 5 rebounds, 5 blocks, 5 fouls in almost 33 minutes.
The big man has been in the league for seven years, hungry for postseason opportunities like this one. He sees a heavy diet of double teams, it’s true, but going past them hasn’t translated into assists (five in three games). He needs to plant himself in the post, charm Memphis defenders with his combination of power and strength, but most of all, assert himself from start to finish.
“It’s swarmed everywhere,” Finch said. “Three on the post, and at the top of the key, they’re inside of it. We have to find it in the flow, and that’s how it’s going to have to be.”
After Game 3, Towns talked about relaxing, drinking some wine and taking some advice from Kevin Garnett about learning versus losing to heart. What the Wolves and their fans needed to hear were the things Chicago’s DeMar DeRozan had to say after sucking up Game 1 against the Bucks:
“No way am I going to shoot 6 for 25 again.” And then DeRozan scored 41 points to lead the Bulls to Game 2 victory.
At this point, saying it and not doing it would be less daunting than not saying it and not doing it.
3. The Grizzlies’ depth is overwhelming.
Jaren Jackson Jr. once again got into foul trouble. Dillon Brooks missed 10 of his 14 shots. Even Ja Morant was out for much of the game, shooting 5-for-18 from the floor and 5-for-10 from the line.
But Clarke had 20 points with eight rebounds off the bench. Backup point guard Tyus Jones efficiently converted 11 points, five rebounds and four assists in 14 minutes. Bane was the only weapon the Grizzlies had for a while, finishing with 26 points and seven 3-pointers.
Strictly on the bench, Memphis held a 41-22 scoring lead, 18-9 lead on the glass and 14-for-23 shooting to Minnesota’s 8-for-26 backup.
“We’re one of the deepest teams in the league,” Morant said. “A lot of credit goes to those guys. I feel like they pretty much won this game for us.”
Said Clarke: “It shows how deep our team is. We have other guys that can make shots. We have other guys that can make plays.”
4. Morant is Pat Beverley with a real bite.
If Wolves guard Patrick Beverley has been called a “professional irritant” once, he’s been called a thousand times. He yells, he annoys, he pushes the lines of decorum and fair play to the breaking point. He may not post big numbers, but he does play spirited defense, he can get under opponents’ skin and occasionally disrupt his focus.
Then there’s Morant, who does a lot of what Beverley does… but on a higher level. His defense isn’t as gutsy but his ball skills are better: 16 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, the first triple-double in Grizzlies playoff history. And he didn’t give up anything to mess with the crowd at the Target Center, speaking to several fans in the closing seconds.
us in minnesota now 🙂 https://t.co/p9JPRp3wvB
— JaMorant (@JaMorant) April 22, 2022
“I am disrespectful as they are disrespectful,” Morant said of their back-and-forth. “Come in, win away games and make the fans go crazy. I probably drink a lot with that L.”
5. The Wolves’ playoff history looms large.
There’s no getting around it: The Game 3 result for Minnesota was straight out of their playoff history book. A humbling effort, according to the franchise’s rare and mostly dismal postseason results (2-10 in best-of-seven series in 33 seasons).
It’s time to do better. If this goes back to Memphis with the Grizzlies one game out of the conference semifinals, it won’t go back to Minnesota. An end-to-end performance that ties this up at 2-2, guaranteeing at least one more crowd at the Target Center, That’s it what the organization needs.
This playoff stuff doesn’t happen very often in Minnesota. The Wolves need to get this right. Or at least less wrong.
Steve Aschburner has been writing about the NBA since 1980. You can email him here, find his archive here, and follow him on twitter.
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