Timberwolves Could Prove Too Talented for Grizzlies

Photo: Justin Ford – Getty Images

If you listened to NBA “experts” across the league last week, you came away convinced the Memphis Grizzlies were going to run the Minnesota Timberwolves off the playoff court in their first round matchup this postseason. The only questions involved, surrounded the number of games it would take to get the job done?

But then, the two teams played things out on a basketball court in Memphis on Saturday afternoon and most of the sane people watching realized that those super smart NBA minds had no idea what they were talking about. The Wolves won handily, 130-117. In fact, it was difficult to leave game one without seriously questioning the lack of top-end talent surrounding Ja Morant. Now, the Timberwolves have the Grizzlies are on the ropes entering game two, which is scheduled to tip Tuesday night at 7:30 CT.

Memphis Needs More Than Ja Morant

Sure, Morant is an amazing player, one of the most exciting in the league. But what comes after him? He has confidence and he can talk all the shit. But this dude better be the next Michael Jordan if he’s going to lead this Grizzlies team over the Wolves by himself.

Jaren Jackson Jr, Dillon Brooks and Desmond Bane are very good role players, but that’s all they are. Even in a season that saw Morant sit out 25 games due to injury, those three guys averaged only 16.3, 18.4 and 18.2 PPG, respectively. Both KAT (24.6) and Ant (21.3) averaged over 21 points per game this season. DLo often becomes an afterthought in the scoring column and he went for 18.1 per game.

The 2021-22 Memphis Grizzlies won 56 regular season games this year because they brought effort every night, played stellar defense and did the little things right. They led the NBA in many hustle categories including steals, blocks and rebound rate.

They’re team depth is incredible too. The Grizzlies were able to run ten players deep all season, which helped them immensely when Morant was sidelined. But what wins games in the regular season, doesn’t always translate to victories in the postseason.

Postseason Hits Different

Now that Memphis is healthy, their depth matters less. Nobody’s rocking a 10-man rotation in the playoffs because coaches want their best players on the floor as much as possible. Matchups become much more about talent at the top of the roster. And that’s where the Minnesota Timberwolves appear to have an advantage. An advantage that could prove to be the difference in this opening-round series.

Anthony Edwards has now dominated two HUGE games in a row. He’s been able to do that, in part, because LA and Memphis both keyed on stopping Karl-Anthony Towns. But now that Ant has proven himself a superstar on the biggest of stages, will the Grizzlies turn their focus to slowing his dominance from the wing? If so, that should allow more room for Karl to work.

And therein lies the conundrum Memphis is facing. Two games in a row, the Minnesota Timberwolves have proven that slowing KAT may not lead to a victory for their opponent. The Wolves have Ant to lead the charge and even D’Angelo Russell showed vs the Clippers that he can takeover a contest when called upon. Hell, even Malik Beasley put up 23 in game one vs the Grizzlies.

Defined Roles Matter

The Timberwolves’ role players either (a) play really good defense and/or (b) shoot the lights out from three. KAT, Ant and DLo are the main attractions. Everyone else’ purpose is based off of those two principles. So roles are clearly defined. Does Memphis have that going for them?

If the Wolves slow Ja Morant, who’s job is it to produce offensively? Dillon Brooks was good enough to be that guy in college but has yet to prove himself as anything more than a highly functional team irritant in the NBA. Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr are behind him.

And if Memphis doesn’t have that second offensive star, can role players shoot well enough to make up for that lack of scoring? Well, regular season stats say “maybe”. The Grizz were 2nd in field goals per game, but 23rd in 3-pointers. The Wolves, on the other hand, were 1st in both categories.

It’s dangerous to get too far ahead of yourself after just one game of a seven-game series. But the game plan to beating Memphis is clear. Slow Ja Morant. The same can’t be said about the Minnesota Timberwolves and any one player.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan