No excuses. The officiating as viewed from several vantage points was horrible. Still, no excuses; the Grizzlies lost Game 4 of their opening-round playoff series with the Minnesota Timberwolves and the matchup is knotted 2-2 headed back to Memphis for Game 5.
“Yeah, some things we gotta clean up and get better at but I’ve never seen a more inconsistent … officiated game,” said Memphis head coach Taylor Jenkins after the Grizzlies’ 119-118 loss to the Timberwolves at Minnesota’s Target Center on Saturday night. “So, I’ll take whatever hits coming my way. I gotta protect our guys. … There was actually one play where the foul whistle was blown before contact was even made. It’s embarrassing.”
The Grizzlies – from coach to players, starters to reserves – must now look in the mirror with a central question: how do they coach and play better.
Saddled with foul trouble, the Grizzlies fought to the end. For the third consecutive game in the best-of-seven series, Memphis was burdened with four starters – Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks and Xavier Tillman Sr. – carrying two fouls each to end the first quarter. The Grizzlies were whistled for 33 fouls in the game, which led to 40 free throw attempts for the Timberwolves. They made 31 of them.
“I don’t even wanna talk about officiating,” said Brooks, acknowledging that the fouls affected the Memphis rotation?
“I am ready to play no matter what the cost is. We obviously had minor slippage towards the end of the game or down 1. I was missing rebounds and guys under the rim. You can’t put everything on the officials. Some of this us we just gotta be able to keep guys in front and bring the energy and bring the intensity next game.”
Nonetheless, Brooks (24 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist) took it as a positive that Jenkins defended his game – possible to the point of getting fined – during the coach’s postgame session with the media.
“I got his check for him,” said Brooks.
Desmond Bane poured in 34 points, including eight from deep, a franchise record. Morant and starting forward Jaren Jackson Jr. each had subpar offensive performances. Morant finished with 11 points but had had 15 assists. Jackson fouled with 7 points and 6 rebounds.
Morant (11 points, 15 assists, 8 rebounds), the league leader in points in the paint during the regular season, has been limited in executing his patented, above-the-rim scoring soars.
‘Most time when I go to the rack I’m getting bumps,” said Morant. “I gotta worry about finishing the bucket instead of the guys in stripes. So, yeah, pretty much chalk it up to continue to battle out there. … I’m almost there. … It is not an excuse though.”
Weathering a slow start, the Grizzlies erased Minnesota’s six-point, out-of-the-gate lead and led by as many as seven points (19-17) with 5:40 left in the first quarter. The Timberwolves stormed back to a 32-28 advantage as the buzzer sounded.
Minnesota center Karl Anthony-Towns bounced back from an eight-point performance in Game 3 to finish with 33 points and 15 rebounds. Anthony Edwards scored 24 points.
Minnesota’s aggressive play and the suspect officiating notwithstanding, Memphis stayed within range of the Timberwolves in the second half, trailing by a point on multiple occasions. When Morant made a free throw at the 6:19 mark in the fourth quarter, the Grizzlies trailed 105-104.
With 10.5 seconds remaining and Minnesota leading 115-112, reserve point guard Tyus Jones, a Minnesota native and former member of the Timberwolves, missed on a three-pointer to end any hopes of extending the game.
Memphis committed 19 turnovers that led to 19 points for the Timberwolves, who won the rebounding battle 39-34.
Brandon Clarke (15 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) was matter-of-fact about is ahead for the No. 2 seed Grizzlies in their battle with the No. 7 seed Timberwolves.
“I mean the series is tied two to two. You just gotta find a way to win two more games. That’s about it, man,” he said.
“We gotta go and watch the film .. gotta go see … what we gotta change. We’re trying hard to figure it out every night but they got a pretty good team. We just kind of gotta find a way to have the … the full 48 minutes every night.”
Game 5 is set for 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday at FedExForum. The game can be seen on TNT and Bally Sports.