2022 Playoffs: West First Round | Grizzlies (2) vs. Timberwolves (7)

5 takeaways from Game 2 of Grizzlies-Timberwolves series

Memphis responds to losing its 1st game as a No. 2 seed with a resounding victory to even the series, which shifts to Minnesota on Thursday.

The Grizzlies use a pair of big runs to put away the Wolves in Game 2.

MEMPHIS — Five takeaways from the Memphis Grizzlies’ 124-96 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night at FedEx Forum in Game 2 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series:

1. We knew this was coming

Memphis’ edge, Memphis’ defense, Memphis’ attention to detail and Memphis’ romp. All of it was predictable, based not only how poorly the Grizzlies had played in the series opener but how steamed they were at themselves for doing so.

The players and coach Taylor Jenkins spent about 36 hours doing some serious self-scolding over their defensive failings, impatience on offense, limited hustle and wandering from the game plan in losing the opener 130-117. They had an intense film session Monday, followed by a lengthy practice. They told the world about how angry they were at blowing the Game 1 opportunity. They even yapped a little amongst themselves throughout Game 2.

Worked like a charm.

A steady dose of Ja Morant and solid defense fuel Memphis' Game 2 win.

“We’re always talking to each other,” forward Jaren Jackson said. “We’re going to say whatever has to be said in the moment to get us going. Ja [Morant] and I have been playing with each other for a while now. So, we pretty much know how this goes.”

A few of the Grizzlies, including Jenkins, had tried halfheartedly to put a spin on the first game, touting that the teams played even, 100-100, after Minnesota’s early 30-17 lead. No one was buying that, though. They knew they stunk and didn’t let themselves off the hook until Game 2’s work was done.

2. Pick your preferred Ja (Game 2’s was better)

Morant put up 32 points in the opener and got to the foul line 20 times. But Memphis’ attack had no flow and missed some opportunities for 3-point pressure on Minnesota’s defense. The Grizzlies point guard was a little tentative with the ball, slow in some of his decisions and a little sticky with his dribble. Things bogged down.

This time, Morant scored 23 points and took only four free throws. But he had nine rebounds and 10 assists, and the Grizzlies’ offense purred by comparison. They matched the Wolves with 11 threes while still scoring 60 in the paint.

Ja Morant scored 23 points in Memphis' Game 2 victory.

Jackson got into early foul trouble again but pulled up from a second straight nose dive. His 0-of-5 from the arc turned into 4-of-7 this time. He and Morant kept an eye on each other, standard operating procedure for the team’s two best players.

3. Wolves manage a series split

If the bold move of packing up and heading home, forfeiting Game 2 without even stepping on the court, wouldn’t have launched a league investigation and possible franchise revocation, the Wolves might have tried it. Heck, they did the next best thing, never meeting Memphis’ anticipated and then real aggressiveness.

While Morant, Jackson and several role players upped their game, Minnesota’s leaders eased their way into and through this one. Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards, after combining to score 65 points in Game 1, totaled 35 this time. That pretty much accounts for the swing in outcomes by itself.

The Timberwolves need Karl-Anthony Towns to be more aggressive going forward in their series.

Edwards saw double teams intent on getting the ball out of his hands. Towns always sees multiple defenders. The job at that point is to find open teammates. But none of that worked at all – the two Minnesota stars had only one assist each, as their teammates shot a combined 19-of-53 (35.8%). Edwards and Towns got up 18 fewer shots than in Game 1.

“He’s got to learn that every game is going to be different,” coach Chris Finch said. “You can’t come out play the same game every time. That’s part of the learning curve here.”

As for D’Angelo Russell, what might have been a big night having Towns’ and Edwards’ backs was another personal struggle. After shooting 2-of-11 in the opener, he went 3-of-11 Tuesday.

Said Finch: “We were on our heels all night long on both sides of the ball. I didn’t really like that.”

4. Bench guys truly thrive at home

Brandon Clarke is a given off the Grizzlies bench. But five other guys who barely caused a ripple in Game 1 were big contributors this time.

Burly Xavier Tillman Sr. drew a DNP in the opener but had 13 points and seven rebounds, four on the offensive glass. Tyus Jones, Morant’s backup, hit half of his eight shots and scored 10 with three assists. Rookie Ziaire Williams, 20, scored 13, got to the line for six free throws and stuck around for 19 minutes.

De’Anthony Melton and Tyus Jones provided a spark off the bench for Memphis in Game 2.

Guard De’Anthony Melton had seven points and was a plus-13 in less than five minutes, turning Tillman’s pass out of an offensive rebound into a 3-pointer for Memphis’ first double-digit lead, 44-34 in the second quarter. And Kyle Anderson started the second half at center in place of struggling Steven Adams, scoring just one bucket but posting a plus-24 in his 18 minutes.

Jenkins lauded all of them, while carving out some praise for Adams, who took what might turn into a series-long shelving in stride.

5. Mercifully, the refs found their groove too

The first quarter was so choppy, so pockmarked by foul calls and play stoppages, that a quick dive into the NBA playoffs record book was necessary. And sure enough, there it was: On March 21, 1953, the Boston Celtics (64) and the Syracuse Nationals (64) combined to shoot 128 free throws in a four-overtime game. That’s the most ever in a playoff game.

Well, after one quarter, the Wolves (18) and the Grizzlies (15) had combined for 33. The math was daunting – three more quarters played like that and they would have stood around hoisting 132 free throws in all, shattering the record without those extra 15 minutes. It would have been historic, and it would have been unwatchable.

Play in the post, turnovers and shot selection will be key in Game 3 of the series.

Fortunately, referees Zach Zarba, James Williams and Mitchell Ervin settled into a rhythm themselves. As the score ballooned, the whistles dwindled. After calling 20 fouls in the first 12 minutes, the crew called only 30 more in the next 36.

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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