Gut reactions from the Memphis Grizzlies’ 111-109 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves in Game 5 of their first-round playoffs series on Tuesday night at the FedExForum.
Ja Morant to the rescue
Brandon Clarke hugged him first, wrapping his arms not wanting to let go. Around them, an entire team and an entire arena waited their turn to do the same.
Ja Morant had sauntered over to the announcer’s table, slowly at first as the last heave of the Timberwolves fell harmlessly to the court. He had rescued the Grizzlies, brought them back from the brink, with a performance that will live on in franchise lore.
CELEB APPEARANCES:NBA playoffs: Usher, John Calipari among celebrities at Grizzlies vs. Timberwolves Game 5
WILLIAMS OUT:Memphis Grizzlies’ Ziaire Williams out for remainder of Game 5 with knee soreness
‘JA BREAKER’:Watch Ja Morant hammer home a thunderous dunk over Malik Beasley in Game 5
He had 18 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter. He had the 3-pointer that finally gave them the lead back. He had the final 13 points the Grizzlies scored.
He had the dunk that changed the entire vibe in the building. The dunk that will eventually be turned into a poster hanging in bedrooms all around Memphis. The dunk that turned the groans of a another disjointed performance into the pure bedlam of the postseason in Memphis
“We called 12,” Jaren Jackson Jr. “He got it done. Everybody knows who got it done.”
Morant rescued Memphis in Game 5, giving the Grizzlies a 3-2 series lead by seizing victory from the jaws of defeat.
This team once again, for long stretches, bore little resemblance to the boisterous group full of joy that rampaged through this regular season like few expected. Morant, in particular, seemed not himself, his forays into the lane replaced by tentativeness.
But he transformed in the final 12 minutes, calling upon something only the greats can in the pivotal games that decide playoff series. Slowly at first, and then almost like a deluge, Minnesota’s double-digit lead evaporated as Morant’s legend grew.
There’s no other way to explain how Memphis is heading to Minnesota for Game 6 Friday with a chance to move past this grueling first-round series.
Jaren Jackson Jr. has soul searching to do
This was a chance at redemption for Jaren Jackson Jr. after foul trouble and his own ineffectiveness loomed so large over the first four games of this series. He appeared ready to deliver on that promise, too.
Jackson ignited the Grizzlies initially and then the game turned just as fast because of him. He hit his first 3-pointer and scored on an aggressive put-back as part of a 13-2 start for Memphis. But he picked up two early fouls, and each were of the bonehead variety.
The second one, in which he fouled Minnesota’s Patrick Beverley as he hit a 3-pointer, forced Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins to pull him from the floor less than four minutes in.
It was no coincidence the Timberwolves rallied from there. The Grizzlies’ defense wilted without Jackson, as has been the case all series.
The second half featured another crucial turn of events. As Memphis pushed to take the lead back in the opening four minutes of the third quarter, Jackson seemed to draw a fourth foul on Karl-Anthony Towns by taking a charge. A replay review, however, reversed the call to a block, which gave Jackson four fouls.
Jackson then picked up his fifth and sixth fouls in the opening 5:02 of the fourth quarter, finishing his evening as it started — with a careless foul on a 3-point attempt. This time it was guarding Towns, and it relegated an exasperated Jackson to the bench during the Grizzlies’ dramatic comeback.
The ferocious rebounding of Clarke, a small-ball lineup featuring Dillon Brooks defending Towns, and the exploits of Morant allowed Jackson a reprieve from the intense scrutiny of another disappointing showing. Another opportunity to reverse this troubling playoff trend of his awaits in a close out game Friday.
The details matter
The Grizzlies, by and large, went against the modern template for success in the NBA this season, doing more of their damage in the paint than any team, despite the league-wide trend tilted toward 3-point shooting.
The concern, of course, was whether that would work in the playoffs, when half-court offense would be at a premium and defenses would pack the paint. The returns through six games against Minnesota suggest it’s a flaw Memphis should have addressed at the trade deadline and must address moving forward, regardless of how the rest of this series plays out.
The 3-point shooting disparity between these two teams was never more evident than Game 5. Memphis was horrendous from the beyond arc, while Minnesota once again torched the Grizzlies in key moments. The Timberwolves hit seven 3-pointers in the first quarter, using them to erase an early 13-2 Memphis lead.
The Grizzlies, meanwhile, were a paltry 7 for 28 from the 3-point line, and many misses were of the wide open variety. Brooks was a shocking 1 for 10 from 3-point range
Their free throw shooting was an even bigger issue, though. After Jenkins blasted the officiating in Game 4, Memphis appeared to get a mostly favorable whistle Tuesday. But it turned that into a negative by going just 26 of 39from the line.
Same goes for the turnover battle. Minnesota committed 23 giveaways (and Memphis scored 23 points off them), but the Grizzlies’ own carelessness with the ball (16 turnovers) partially offset what was a strength during the regular season.
These details are magnified in a postseason setting and they momentarily stunted the Grizzlies’ push whenever they did manage to pick up any momentum. But they flipped when it mattered most. Morant and Brooks each hit their only 3-pointer of the game in the final minutes. Morant knocked down all his free throws as well. Clarke gave Memphis extra possession after extra possession in crunch time, an invaluable contribution that shouldn’t get overlooked in the midst of Morant’s heroics.
If the Grizzlies can bottle up that fourth quarter and take it to Minneapolis, they can put away these Timberwolves once and for all.
You can reach Commercial Appeal columnist Mark Giannotto via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @mgiannotto