A first-round series marked by spectacular Grizzlies comebacks, poster dunks, foul problems, and a good dose of trash language concluded Friday night with Memphis defeating the Minnesota Timberwolves 114-106 with yet another stunning turnaround.
For the first time since 2015, the Grizzlies have moved to the conference semifinals and will play the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 on Sunday in Memphis (ABC, 3:30p ET).
“It was a war,” Memphis point guard Ja Morant said of the series. “We were well aware that each game would be a battle. We knew coming in that we would not win this series in a single game with this squad. We were aware that each game would be a scrap and that we needed to come in focused and energised from the outset. Obviously, the victories were not pleasant outside of Game 2, but we prevailed.”
Memphis overcome a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter for the third time in the series on Friday. As the Grizzlies chipped away at the deficit and grabbed the lead in the final minutes, a cloud descended over the long-suffering Timberwolves fans at Target Center, who had just experienced one of the most catastrophic collapses in NBA history in Game 4 less than a week before.
“I believe we are always confident regardless of the score,” Morant remarked. “We handle it as though it were zero-zero.”
The Grizzlies have developed a history of falling behind in the first three quarters of games, only to come back with timely shot-making and defensive stops, as well as outrebounding the Timberwolves on the offensive boards.
“I wish we’d gotten off to a better start,” Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks said. “We never want to put ourselves in that situation, but we always find a way to fight.” ‘There is no one method to win in the NBA playoffs,’ coach [Taylor Jenkins] said in the locker room. There are several methods to win, and we have only discovered one.”
Memphis guard Desmond Bane, the series’ most dangerous shooter, sank a 3-pointer with three minutes left to give the Tigers their first lead of the second half. Morant followed with one of his trademark acrobatic layups, and then Twin Cities resident Tyus Jones hit a clutch 3-pointer at the shot-clock buzzer with 1:09 remaining in the game, extending Memphis’ advantage to four, a lead they would never relinquish.
In the fourth quarter of the series, the Grizzlies outscored the Timberwolves by 62 points, the largest fourth-quarter margin in NBA history. Memphis is the only team in playoff history to win three games after trailing by double digits entering the fourth quarter, and they did it in a single first-round series.
“We’ve come back from double-digit deficits several times and won,” Morant said. “We understand that the game is not finished until the scoreboard reads zeroes at the conclusion of the fourth quarter.”
The series served as a platform for a number of emerging talents, including Morant and Minnesota centre Karl-Anthony Towns, as well as wing Anthony Edwards. Each had transcendent experiences and persevered through adversity.
Edwards had the most consistent body of work during his postseason debut. Towns was dominating in the Timberwolves’ two victories, but struggled with foul trouble in the Timberwolves’ defeats. Jackson, who was also in foul trouble for the most of the series, was unable to develop any type of offensive game until the second half of Game 6. He did, however, lead Memphis’ starters in defensive rating throughout the series, blocking 16 shots in six games.
However, it was Morant who garnered the most attention throughout the series. Morant was an All-Star in 2022 during his third season, averaging 27.4 points per game and leading the NBA in scoring in the paint. His late heroics in Game 5 sparked another Memphis rally, but he was contained for the most of Game 6, as he had been throughout the series. Though he ended with only 17 points, Morant was vital in the Grizzlies’ fourth-quarter comeback. He totaled 11 assists.
As was the case for the most of the series, the Grizzlies’ recipe for success in Game 6 includes Morant’s inventive playmaking, Bane’s blistering outside shooting, and reserve big Brandon Clarke’s effort near the rim.
For Bane, a second-year player, the series cemented his status as one of the league’s most promising young shooting guards. Bane, the Grizzlies’ last first-round choice in 2020, led the team in scoring with 23.6 points per game on a scorching true shooting percentage of 66.6 and 46.8 percent from outside the arc.
“If you ask me, the MVP of this series is this man right here,” Morant stated during the postgame press conference beside Bane. “He came up big time time and time again. He made numerous clutch shots for us, even keeping us in the game and providing us with a lead.”
Memphis and Golden State’s conference semi-finals series pits the NBA’s most seasoned club, which has won three championships with its current lineup, against one of the league’s youngest squads, which advanced to the league’s top tier ahead of schedule.
Morant seemed extremely fatigued after the game, as he sat on the platform between tributes regarding his teammates’ achievements. Morant said, “Go to sleep,” when asked how the Grizzlies will prepare for their matchup with the Warriors in little over 36 hours.
Morant elaborated on his ideas after some taunting from Bane.
“Sleep, get up, travel, and then lock in for the game.”