The first round matchup between the Memphis Grizzlies and Minnesota Timberwolves has all the makings of a blockbuster series.
Ja Morant and the Grizzlies followed up their own postseason appearance through the play-in last year into becoming the second-best team in the league during the regular season – where the team has shown that they are more than just their superstar young point guard as they rattled off a ton of wins while Morant was hurt.
In the other corner are the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are the upstarts this season after dispatching the LA Clippers in the first play-in game after closing out the regular season strong to force their way into the seventh seed. They’ve also got a chip on their shoulder and have an exciting trio of stars.
If the first game of the series is any indication of how things are going to go, then we’re in for a doozy. It was a deeply entertaining contest that had just a little bit of everything.
The Timberwolves, who I felt would be a very good challenger to the Grizzlies, started the game strong and showed no fear as they raced to a 41-33 lead. Karl-Anthony Towns, who had the yips and finished with 11 points against the Clippers, got it going early this time around and contributed to that early lead. That of course, inspired the rest of his teammates.
The Grizzlies had their own counterpunch in the second quarter, though, which helped them cut the lead to 65-62 heading into the half.
The two teams put on a good battle in the second half, but the Timberwolves would not let their will be broken, especially when it came down to winning time. The Grizzlies, on the other hand, had plenty of chances to get themselves back into the game, but couldn’t execute. They will especially be haunted by 11 missed free throws in a game that they lost 130-117. Memphis also shot a dismal 7 of 27 from beyond the arc.
Anthony Edwards, who my fellow writer Gio predicted would be the breakout player of the postseason, made a strong case in his first game with 36 points and six assists while shooting 12 of 23 from the field.
Towns was no slouch either, finishing with 29 points, 13 rebounds and three assists while shooting 11 of 18 from the floor.
D’Angelo Russell, who had a quiet scoring night, still made his presence felt with 10 points, three rebounds and nine assists. Additional credit has to go to Minnesota’s bench, especially Malik Beasley, who had 23 points and five rebounds.
The win is a big boost for the Timberwolves, but the the Grizzlies will not go away quietly. Morant and the rest of them will remember that they won Game 1 away from home last year before eventually falling to the Utah Jazz, so they’re not going to panic. However, they have to watch the tape from today’s contest and realize that they can’t afford to make the silly mistakes that they did in clutch time, especially regarding taking bad shots too early in the clock.
Morant, who finished with 32 points and eight assists in the loss, shot 8 of 18 from the field, because Minnesota were happy to send him to the ground and to the line whenever he tried to force the situation. He shot 16 of 20 from the free throw line, but missed the last three foul shots that he took. He’s going to have to use a bit more craftiness in the paint, and he’s got the arsenal of floaters and other moves to do it. Otherwise, he risks taking far too much damage to his body. No one’s body is going to hold up to that kind of punishment throughout an entire postseason.
Morant’s dad may also have to shut the fuck up for a bit now, after talking shit to Towns’ dad while the Grizzlies were down late.
Before the playoffs started, this was on my list as the first round series to watch in the Western Conference. This game has only further reinforced that feeling, and I can’t wait for Game 2.