- NBA writer for ESPN.com since 2008
- Former contributor and editor at NPR
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — After suffering a disheartening loss on their home court in Game 1, the Memphis Grizzlies roared back with a resounding 124-96 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night, squaring their first-round series at 1.
The Grizzlies, who finished the season with the NBA’s second-best record at 56-26, spent the previous 72 hours stewing over their Game 1 debacle. Coach Taylor Jenkins had characterized the team as “pissed,” and Grizzlies power forward Jaren Jackson Jr. groused repeatedly about playing “s—ty.”
The Grizzlies won’t need to subject themselves to that level of self-criticism after Game 2. They swamped the Timberwolves with 60 points in the paint — a Grizzlies hallmark this season — to only 34 for Minnesota. As is usually the case, point guard Ja Morant led the Grizzlies’ incursion into the interior. He had a game-high 23 points, and scored or assisted on 15 of the Grizzlies’ 30 field goals in the paint.
“I feel like I balanced very well on looking for my shots and making the extra pass,” Morant said. “It got us some open looks and the lead went up from there.”
Entering Tuesday’s game, limiting Morant’s impact near the basket was a point of emphasis for Minnesota, but Timberwolves coach Chris Finch conceded that the team didn’t execute its defensive game plan against the All-Star guard.
“It wasn’t supposed to be that way,” Finch said. “We’ll look at making whatever adjustments we need to make right now.”
Memphis experienced a scare in the third quarter when Morant took a knee to his left thigh while fighting over a screen from Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns. He limped off the floor and went to the Grizzlies’ training room but returned to action in the fourth quarter to help Memphis ice the game.
“I’m good,” Morant said of his condition. “A Warrior. I played on concrete.”
At the outset, it appeared as if Jackson would endure another rough effort, as he picked up two fouls in the first quarter and scored only 1 point in the period. But the Grizzlies power forward settled in, draining four buckets from beyond the arc and playing a key role in Memphis’ strong defensive game.
After being torched for 130 points in 105 possessions in Game 1, the Grizzlies’ sixth-ranked defense returned to form Tuesday. The defensive shifts on Anthony Edwards kept the budding star off-balance. Minnesota’s other prolific Game 1 scorer, Towns, was countered by a cast of Grizzlies big men that proved far more effective at disrupting his flow. He spent much of the game in foul trouble.
“Everybody has tendencies — everybody has things that they like to do,” Grizzlies center Xavier Tillman said. “Being able to limit those and to make a guy do stuff he’s not that comfortable doing, and living with the result if he makes or misses his shot is what we were focused on.”
Were it not for early foul trouble for starting center Steven Adams, Tillman might not have seen minutes. The reserve, who didn’t play in Game 1, scored 13 points and defended Towns for several possessions.
Kyle Anderson assumed Adams’ spot in the starting lineup to begin the third quarter. His versatile defense in 18 minutes of action was critical, as was bouncy big man Brandon Clarke and the Grizzlies’ anchor, Jackson. In addition, the Grizzlies’ transition defense locked down the NBA’s fastest-paced regular-season team, surrendering to Minnesota only 11 transition opportunities and 11 fast-break points.
The series now moves to Minneapolis for Games 3 and 4, where the Timberwolves will have an opportunity to go up in a playoff series in front of their home crowd for the first time since 2004.
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