Playoff Player Ratings: Game One | Memphis Grizzlies
Wolves take the first game of the playoffs.
This felt different. So very different. The Minnesota Timberwolves aren’t used to this different and we as fans have, at best, fleeting memories of this kind of different. It’s officially the playoffs, and every light shines a little brighter, every ripple of the twine means a little more, every pass and deflection and whistle brings with it consequences of a different nature. Somehow, someway and with more juice than this season was ever supposed to have, the Wolves thrived in its first huge helping of different.
The game ends 130-117. Was it not everything we’d hoped? Was it not the kind of game that made every twist and turn this grueling season has thrown at us worth it? It sure felt that way. The Memphis Grizzlies have a deep squad packed with a motley of talents and they were never going to roll over for the seventh seed underdogs, but Minnesota won’t stop doing what they do best — it feels like the first war horn coming over the hills.
The start was always going to be important, and the Wolves made it feel so to the tune of a 41-point first quarter and an eight-point lead at the end of the period. It was a bunch of the reputation-replenishing Karl-Anthony Towns, the eternally-ascending Anthony Edwards, and the dogmatic and disciplined defensive scheme Chris Finch has been deploying all season.
The Grizzlies don’t just fold up, however, not through any adversity all season have they folded up. So they fought, they fastened the locks on their defensive doors and they started to find some joy of their own when exploiting Minnesota’s shaky transition defense. It was Ja Morant and Tyus Jones playing table-setter and it was Brandon Clarke and Ziaire Williams loping the lanes to finish. All of a sudden the bloody nose Minnesota doled out in the first quarter was all cleaned up and the fight was back on level pegging. A three-point halftime lead for the good guys and more than a few shortened fingernails.
On we go to the third period, the one where Minnesota reaffirmed the fact that they won’t get buried under the pressure on the court or the baying of the crowd off it. They win the term by two points because they find a real synergism on the defensive side of the ball — particularly in redirecting Morant into uncomfortable areas in the pick-and-roll — and continue to be one of the league’s most dynamic and versatile offenses. That was a sign. That was the prelude to a final period that made every Grizzlies fan that smidge tenser.
And so it was. So it was Minnesota flying around like a pack of defensive hellhounds. So it was the Wolves crashing the glass like a team who wouldn’t dream of finishing the regular season as the worst defensive rebounding squad in the league. So it was big buckets and big moments and big efforts. So it was a win. The biggest win since the last win. This feels different and the New Wolves Order seems to have adjusted ever so well to different.
*Player Ratings only apply to players who play 10 or more minutes*
D’Angelo Russell: 3/10
He is who he is but that doesn’t make him any less fucking confusing. He’s the guy who can hoist his team upon his shoulders and will them to play-in tournament glory and then bellyflop in the very next outing. That’s who he is — a big fucking contradiction.
He’s the player with a silky shooting stroke and a wicked floater game who can spend an evening putting big fucking dents in the rim on those very shots. He’s the one who can rarely turn the ball over and then inexplicably lose the ball and give up a crucial fast break (and clear path foul). The one who makes your hair fade into the brightest hues of gray. Of course, he’s story isn’t complete without mentioning the ice-cold blood that courses through his veins. He knocks down a straightaway triple to give his team a six-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, in case you forgot about that ice.
Finished with 12 points (37.9% TS), 3 rebounds and 9 assists with a +13.3 net rating.
Patrick Beverley: 10/10
How many moments will he have in this series? It truly feels like it’s going to be the motherload of moments. He lives for moments. Eats and sleeps the fucking things. The way he consistently beats the sickly defense of Ja Morant off the dribble is important and his consistently consistent screen navigation and rearview contesting defensively will always be more important than he gets credit for.
But they aren’t the moments. The moments are the chasing, diving, lunging, fucking launching ball recovery in the dying minutes. The flyby triple to plunge the dagger into the fragile hearts of the Grizzlies. There is something to be said for his lack of processing speed as a pure point guard when Russell was struggling or off the floor, but he makes up for all of his shortcomings by just mastering the moments.
Finished with 10 points (62.5% TS), 6 rebounds and 6 assists with a +26.7 net rating.
Anthony Edwards: 10/10
Granite balls. Enormous and heavy and unbreakable. Big fucking brass ones. Waltzes into the biggest game of his young career with the swagger and the confidence of a player who has been gracing All-Star games and All-NBA teams for a decade. Stares one of the league’s most talismanic and awe-inspiring stars dead in the eyes and says let me show you how it’s done. He just arrives … again.
He reminds the trembling boots on the other side of the floor that he can get to the rim when he wants to — Dickhead Brooks can’t stop him, Desmond Bane is no chance and De’Anthony Melton shouldn’t even fucking bother. He can scorch any team playing for that drive with shots from deep, too. And, like an unexpected tsunami, he has the in-between game firing on all of their wonderful cylinders.
When he isn’t fucking them up as a three-level scorer, and it seemed like he always was, he is using his gravitational pull to find shooters and cutters. When the ball is in the hands of Memphis he is denying catches, fighting through screens for Morant, Bane and Brooks, blocking shots at the rim, and stalking passing lanes whenever he gets a chance. The future is right now and we’re basking in all of its sunshine and glory.
Finished with 36 points (67.9% TS), 2 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 blocks with a +10.9 net rating.
Jarred Vanderbilt: 6/10
He is the most scheme-able player on Minnesota’s roster. That’s just a fact. He does so many things that nobody on the roster (or the league) can do consistently, but he can’t stretch the floor and his smart and agile cutting isn’t enough to scare teams away from leaving him unattended. Taylor Jenkins and his Memphis Grizzlies are trying to swerve an offensive buzzsaw, and exposing Vando’s flaws seems like the best route.
It lumps pressure on Karl-Anthony Towns and, unfortunately, it detracts from the fact that Vanderbilt is a bundle of bombastic energy on defense, capable of playing every role in Minnesota’s ‘high wall’ concept. That defensive versatility is going to come in handy throughout the series, but this might not be the last time we see him fail to cross the 20-minute threshold.
Finished with 2 points (33.3% TS) and 6 rebounds with a -30.0 net rating.
Karl-Anthony Towns: 9/10
Just a few instances of his voltage straying bring him off the 10/10 podium. A couple of looping lunacy passes and a few drives without a plan. But those were the needles among the big bits of beautiful hay. He was the Karl-Anthony Towns that presents the hardest questions for Memphis to answer and everything the Wolves do revolve around him posing them.
Between the burred edges, he was able to break the Memphis double-team press with his quicker decisions as a passer and scorer, he was making shots around the rim like we’re used to, he was rebounding with vicious aplomb and, most impressively, he was dunking Jaren Jackson Jr. so far into the fucking inner core of the earth that archeologists will be digging up his crumpled bones when the next Ice Age thaws out. That’s how you bounce back.
Finished with 29 points (71.8% TS), 13 rebounds and 3 assists with a +16.0 net rating.
Malik Beasley: 10/10
X-Factor. Maybe the Grizzlies could have survived the Ant onslaught or the Towns return to form. Maybe the way they contain Russell and render Vanderbilt obsolete is enough to help them overcome Minnesota’s biggest names. But how could they do that when Malik Beasley was there — the version of Malik Beasley that adds genuine fucking X-Factor.
It’s not just the usual juice, either. You know you’re going to get his quartet of treys at a 40 percent clip, but how does Memphis plan for him to hit all four of his shots inside the arc? Those breakaway fast break finishes and the attacking of closeouts aren’t supposed to happen. How could they know he would remain disciplined, determined and dogged defensively all night long? That’s not supposed to fucking happen.
If the Wolves are going to grab the odds and crumble them between their fingers then they will need X-Factors. Beasley stepped up big in this one.
Finished with 23 points (73% TS), 5 rebounds and 2 assists with a +4.8 net rating.
Jaden McDaniels: 10/10
Holy fuck. Those words lolled unceremoniously out of my mouth a thousand times as this game unfurled and a good portion of them were in McDaniels’ general direction. A big fucking redback weaving his webs all night long. That gangly-armed grim reaper constantly tapping on the shoulder of unsuspecting Grizzlies. Anthony Edwards will reap all the glory that he sowed, but the Wolves have another sophomore with abilities beyond belief.
There is no getting around the putback points, the self-created mid-range jumper and the enormous triple that patted the dirt on top of Memphis’ shallow grave, that’s all as important and fun as it sounds, but his demonic defense is where he makes a living and make one he did. He chased through every screen like a hungry lion, he rotated as a low-man every single time, he switched and he got back in transition and he protected the rim. This was a snapshot of what he can become and boy does it look good.
Finished with 15 points (96.6% TS), 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 blocks with a +33.3 net rating.
Taurean Prince: 6/10
With McDaniels playing the role of bench forward supremo, Prince wasn’t necessarily as important or as heavily featured as he usually is. He only played 11 minutes and, despite knocking down a triple and a cutting basket, never really felt like he was going to be a role player who changed the tune of the game.
Finished with 5 points (38.8% TS) and 2 rebounds with a +15.1 net rating.
Play Of The Night
BLOB Flare Slip For Anthony Edwards
The thing about the playoffs is that it’s a grind. Teams aren’t trying new set play wrinkles within that grind and teams aren’t giving up easy set play buckets within that grind. That’s why innovation and adjustment within the mundane is crucial. That’s why a play like this — one that looks like a run-of-the-mill baseline out of bounds (BLOB) play — can turn into a momentum-building dunk for Anthony Edwards.
It’s all about reading the defense and knowing how they’ve been defending before this moment. The Grizzlies have been ‘cheating’ off-ball screens all night long and trying to beat Edwards to the spot instead of fruitlessly chasing his turbocharged legs through those picks, so Edwards uses their keenness against them and slips/back cuts them into defensive miscommunication.
The key cog in this machine is Jaden McDaniels’ movement. Instead of staying spotted-up in the weakside slot and allowing Kyle Anderson to load up on an Edwards cut, he floats into the corner and takes Anderson’s eyes off Ant for just long enough to free up the lane. It’s not Chris Finch’s most exciting wrinkle, but it ends in an Anthony Edwards backscratcher and the Wolves coaching brass would be pretty happy if they got that result every time down the floor.