The NBA first-round playoff series between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Minnesota Timberwolves has everything to end up being an all-time classic.
We’ve seen the young superstars Ja Morant Y Anthony Edwards take their games to new heights, literally in Morant’s case, Karl-Anthony Towns shooting from deep and some massive comebacks that have changed the momentum of the series through five exciting games.
What awaits us for Game 6 on Friday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN Sports) in Minneapolis?
Will the Grizzlies continue to experiment with different defensive matchups against Towns? can Jaren Jackson Jr.. stay away from foul trouble? What will Edwards provide in the latest chapter of his impressive playoff debut? Than trash talk on the pitch will be swapped between Tee Morant and Karl Towns Sr.?
Our NBA experts break down the stories they have in their sights as the Grizzlies look to eliminate the Timberwolves and advance to the Western Conference semifinals.
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Can KAT lead Minnesota’s comeback in the series?
No factor in Grizzlies-Wolves has been more important than the production of Karl-Anthony Towns. In Minnesota’s pair of wins, Towns has averaged 31 points and 17.5 shot attempts. In three losses, that drops to 17 PPG and almost precisely half as many attempts (8.7).
Certainly, Memphis’ defense hasn’t been the only factor at play here. Towns’ own foul problem (five in each of the Wolves’ losses, limiting him to no more than 35 minutes compared to the 42-plus he has played in two wins) has been key. The same goes for Minnesota guards and shooting guards, particularly D’Angelo Russellwho do not find Towns in favorable situations.
Still, the Grizzlies’ adjustment during their fourth-quarter comeback in Game 5 was fascinating. After Jackson fouled out and sent Towns down the line for three shots with 6:58 left, putting the Timberwolves up by 11, Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins decided to play small. He put four perimeter players on the floor around Brandon Clark and hit the 6 foot 7 inch forward Dillon Brooks the task of defending the 6-foot-11 Towns, who had already scored 25 points.
In 11 half-court matchups against Brooks, Towns attempted just two shots per Second Spectrum tracking, hitting one (a 3-pointer). The Grizzlies outscored Minnesota 23-10 in the final seven minutes, rallying to win and take a 3-2 series lead.
It’s obvious the Timberwolves can do more to take advantage of the size difference. What little success they had came by playing through Towns in the elbow. A sharp cut from Russell to Towns’ side, effectively turning Towns into a screener, put Memphis in rotation because Brooks didn’t want to trade. The movement of the ball resulted in an open 3 from Towns.
The Grizzlies foiled a similar play the next time they Desmond Bane took the ball from Towns to fumble, but a pass between Towns and Jordan McLaughlin he set up Edwards’ game-tying corner 3-pointer just before Morant’s game-winning layup.
We’ll see tonight if putting Brooks on Towns was simply a desperate move on Jenkins’ part or a strategy he’ll resort to again. If so, expect Minnesota’s offense to be better prepared.
The Memphis figure puts his team up 3-2 in the series.
can Jaren Jackson Jr.. stay on the pitch?
To achieve playoff success, teams generally need their best talent to perform, because talent wins big series. While Morant’s electric offense sets the pace for the Grizzlies, Jackson Jr. is building the résumé to be one of those strong No. 2s. Memphis thinks so because they signed their big man to a four-year, $105 million extension in October. .
Right now, though, he’s one of the postseason’s most prominent underachievers.
As an All-Defensive Team candidate, Jackson has provided solid help defense, and the Grizzlies are giving up a meager 101.6 points per possession when he’s on the floor. Fourteen blocks is nothing. The problem is that he can’t stay on the floor: In the five games against Minnesota, he’s averaging 22.6 minutes per game as a result of his constant foul trouble.
That might be excusable if he was contributing offensively, but Jackson has been invisible on that side in the series. He has racked up 26 personal fouls but only 18 shots from the field. One of Jackson’s assets as a power forward for the Grizzlies is the space he provides in the middle court, which is crucial for a team that needs the lane clear for them to play. Ja Morant do your thing.
But Minnesota has chosen to leave Jackson alone beyond the arc, and why not? Jackson is shooting just 31.8% from 3 while Morant is attacking the paint with impunity.
Jackson doesn’t excel at some of the other big man roles in midcourt. He’s not great at drapes, moving, or facilitating on the high post. Although he’s a decent enough blocking threat, the Memphis offense doesn’t prioritize the back game, not when Morant serves as the offense’s catalyst.
Somehow, the Grizzlies and Jackson have to find a way to turn him into a useful offensive player, because they need more from him than offensive rebounds and occasional 3-pointers.
He’s certainly a more than useful defensive player, he’s the Grizzlies’ linchpin, but not if he leaves the game early with foul trouble.
The Grizzlies need Jackson, both to close out this series and, if necessary, against the Golden State Warriors in the second round. It is up to him to fulfill that.
Which version of Ant Man will appear?
The young star of the TWolves breaks away and gets into the paint to launch the dunk with ease.
It’s easy to forget that Anthony Edwards He is 20 years old and about to play just the sixth playoff game of his career. His sheer scoring ability is fascinating, but his inexperience has been on display as much as his talent, and Game 5 was a microcosm of that.
From one side, Edward hits a 3-pointer to tie the game 109-109 with only seconds left. At the other end of the floor, however, he overplayed his hand on defense against one of the best and most explosive offensive players in the game. That led to Morant’s game-winning layup that gave the Grizzlies a 3-2 series lead.
If you look at the Timberwolves’ two wins, there are obvious distinctions in Edwards’ game. In both Wolves wins, he is shooting at least 50%, has at least six free throw attempts and a total of five blocks and three steals.
In his losses, he has been less efficient and is letting the Grizzlies’ defense off the hook by settling for jump shots.
In Minnesota’s wins, Edwards has been the best player on the floor at both ends of the floor. For the Wolves to have any chance of stealing Game 6 and the series, they need Ant Man to show us his superpowers.
— Jorge Sedano
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