The Memphis Grizzlies have taken a 3-2 lead over the Minnesota Timberwolves in their best-of-seven series thanks to a Ja Morant layup in the closing seconds of regulation on Tuesday night. The recently named Most Improved Player of the year was able to secure the game-winning basket right before the buzzer sounded at FedEx Forum to send the crowd into a frenzy and put Memphis one win away from a berth in the Western Conference semifinals.
Morant was spectacular for the Grizzlies finishing 30 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists and three steals. Desmond Bane was just as effective for Memphis finishing the win with 25 points of his own. The Grizzlies will now look to advance on to the next round with a win in Game 6.
Here are three major takeaways from Game 4.
1. Live by Ant, die by Ant
The best and worst thing about Anthony Edwards is his unbridled confidence. The moment has absolutely no effect on him. Maybe that will change when he gets older. Maybe it won’t. But the roller coaster of the Edwards experience could be felt in the last two plays of Game 5.
The shot Edwards made to tie the game in the final seconds? The degree of difficulty is through the roof. He has to time his cut to the corner perfectly off of the back screen on Ja Morant, and then he has to drill the shot in motion with the outstretched arm of Brandon Clarke over him. There are only a handful of players in basketball who have not only the skill, but the presence of mind and confidence to even attempt a shot like that.
But those very traits came back to bite Edwards on the game’s final play. He saw the tiniest of windows to steal Dillon Brooks’ inbounds pass and went for it. He missed. It gave Ja Morant the space he needed to make his game-winning layup.
Edwards shouldn’t have gone for the steal. That much is clear. Eventually, he is going to learn how to regulate his big-play impulses. But at this point in his career, asking him not to try when he thought he saw an opportunity would mean asking him to turn off the part of himself that makes him so special. Edwards goes into every game believing he’s the best player on the floor. He thinks he can make any play. He often makes plays we’d consider impossible. That he does so gives him the confidence to make the sort of shots he needed to make just to give the Timberwolves a chance in this game.
This isn’t a fatal flaw. It’s part of the Edwards experience. Those rough edges are going to get sanded off with time. Experiences like this are going to help do that. It’s a bitter loss for Minnesota and a defining moment of Edwards’ career to this point, but it’s a stepping stone, not a brick wall.
2. Fouling the series away
The two best Grizzlies both have a foul problem… just not the same one. Ja Morant entered Game 5 having missed 10 free throws in the series. He proceeded to miss six more on Tuesday. He made the ones he needed to when it counted. He shot 9-of-10 from the line in the fourth quarter, but a 13-point deficit against Minnesota probably looks a bit more like a 23-point deficit against Golden State. The Warriors aren’t going to offer Morant a chance at fourth-quarter redemption.
At this rate, they aren’t even going to see Jaren Jackson Jr. on the floor at all in the final frame. We’ve now played five games in this series, and Jackson has struggled to stay on the floor in all of them.
3. Cleaning the Glass
Part of what made so many people skeptical of the Grizzlies in the postseason was their reliance on offensive rebounding to generate offense. The Grizzlies ranked just 22nd in half-court points per play, but finished fourth on offense because of transition and their league-best 33.8 offensive rebounding rate. The thinking was that when the pace slows down in the postseason and the Grizzlies were forced to downsize as most teams are, their offense would take a significant dip. The downsizing portion of the prophecy came true in Game 2, when Steven Adams and his 4.6 offensive rebounds per game were taken out of the lineup.
But the Grizzlies never slowed down on offense. Brandon Clarke has proven to be the best of both worlds, mobile enough to handle Minnesota defensively without sacrificing the strength Adams brought to the offensive glass. The Timberwolves had just six offensive rebounds as a team in Game 5. Clarke, alone, had nine. That was the difference here. Clarke’s second-chance points won this game for Memphis.
It is often said that the regular season is about strengths and the playoffs are about weaknesses. The Grizzlies, by the standard of a No. 2 seed, have plenty of weaknesses. Adams’ limitations were a glaring one, and they were supposed to hamper Memphis in the playoffs. But the Grizzlies had a backup in Clarke all along who could maintain their strengths and limit those weaknesses, and that makes them a much more dangerous playoff team than anyone imagined.
Courtesy: CBS Sports