The Minnesota Timberwolves were too much early on for the Grizzlies, which contributed greatly to the Grizzlies’ post-game refrain about the need to come out ready for game two of the opening round of the NBA Western Conference playoffs.
Jumping on Memphis with a 9-2 spurt, the No. 7-seeded Timberwolves rode a wave of confidence to defeat the No. 2 Grizzlies 130-117 and take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven, first-round series at FedExForum on Saturday afternoon.
Memphis surrendered a nauseating 41 points in the first quarter, prompting this reflection from head coach Taylor Jenkins: “I can’t imagine how many times, on one hand, we gave up 40 points in a quarter all season. So, very disappointing there. …
“As our team has done all season long, when we have a game like this, we respond. So, we’ve just got to play better. It’s as simple as that,” Jenkins said.
“We’ll go watch the film, understand where we made our mistakes, where we played great, how we’ve got to continue to find more of the good, and replicate that more. That’s the biggest thing. … So, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. They got the better of us in Game 1.”
The Grizzlies’ All-Star point guard Ja Morant (32 points) played with an attacking force from the outset, going 8 of 18 (0-2 on three-pointers) and shooting 80 percent (16-20) from the free-throw line.
“We have to come out and be ready to play from the jump,” said Morant, who took his lumps attacking from the paint. “When you play good teams and you give them life early, they get a lot of confidence. It can come back and bite you in the ass.
“They got it going early. They made some timely buckets. They were able to come out with a win.”
Trailing 41-33 at the end of the opening frame, Memphis used a 17-6 run in the second quarter to take its first lead (49-47) when reserve point guard Tyus Jones connected with rookie reserve forward Ziaire Williams for an alley-oop with 6:52 left.
The Grizzlies’ defense improved in the second quarter, only allowing 24 points, as Memphis went into the half-time break trailing 65-62.
With the homecourt crowd eager to see the Grizzlies take charge, Memphis knotted the score on a couple of occasions in the third quarter, only to trail 97-92 as the buzzer sounded and the fourth quarter loomed.
Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards, who made his first playoffs appearance since joining the Timberwolves as the overall No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, was a game-long thorn for the Grizzlies. With 4:37 left to play, Edwards (36 points) hit a three-pointer that gave Minnesota a 10-point lead (114-104).
Memphis pushed back with a 5-0 run, with a promise of more when Minnesota subsequently was whistled for a clear-path foul. Memphis’ floor general Ja Morant (32 points) missed a free throw and the Grizzlies came up empty on the ensuing play.
Showing no panic, the Timberwolves essentially sealed the victory with a 6-2 run, leading 120-111 with 1:39 left.
In addition to the troublesome Edwards, Minnesota was aided demonstrably by center Karl Anthony-Towns (29 points, 13 rebounds) and Malik Beasley, who came off the bench with 23 points.
While the Grizzlies led the NBA in rebounding margin this season, setting a plus-6.2 franchise record, Minnesota outrebounded the Grizzlies 46-35.
Memphis got 24 points from Dillion Brooks and 17 from Desmond Bane. The two starters connected on 6 of 12 from deep in a game that the team only hit 7 of 27 (25.9 percent). Minnesota shot 39 percent (16 of 41).
Grizzlies’ starting forward Jaren Jackson Jr. (12 points) set a franchise record with 7 blocks in a playoff game. However, his offensive opportunities were limited by foul trouble that landed him on the bench for large stretches of time. He picked up his third foul with 9:58 left in the first half.
After playing their way into the playoffs last season, the eighth-seeded Grizzlies stunned the No. 1 seed Utah in game 1 before the Jazz ended the series with four straight wins.
Now the highly-favored Grizzlies, the team with the second-best record in the NBA this season, get a chance to respond as a highly-favored team coming off of a first-game upset.
“We were in the same situation that they (the Timberwolves) were in last year,” said Morant. “We know a series can get out of hand quick. It is all positive. We are locked in on Tuesday trying to come out and get a win.”
Memphis will look to even the series on Tuesday (April 19) at 7:30 p.m. at FedExForum. The game can be seen on both NBA TV and Bally Sports.