Playoff Player Ratings: Game Three | Memphis Grizzlies
Wolves embarrass themselves.
Call it a collapse. Call it a choke. Call it an embarrassment. Call it the worst loss of the season from any team or the worst loss in Minnesota’s franchise history. You could describe it as immature or inexperienced or cocky. Call it a series-defining loss or a career-defining loss for certain players. Every phrase imaginable suits this game perfectly. Call it all of those things and there’s no reason anybody could argue with you.
The game ends 104-95. When that first quarter was unfurling with the brightest of hues and the most merry of laughs, there is no way that final score could have been pointing in any direction other than Minnesota’s. There’s just no way.
That first period was the peak, perhaps the best basketball the Wolves have played all season, maybe all decade. They ran in transition for consistent profit, they shredded the Grizzlies’ defense in the halfcourt, they covered their own defensive assignments and swooped around like drug-addled hawks to cover their mate’s defensive assignments. It was everything the players, the coaching staff and the fans could have ever hoped for as a response to game two. It was the highest peak.
But then came the valley. The 12-point second quarter was, somehow, not the worst period of the evening. All of the competence and competitiveness from the opening stanza dissipated like wisps of smoke drifting from a raging bonfire. The Grizzlies only scored 23 points of their own — Minnesota’s defense experienced intervals of slippage throughout the night, but it was an all-around hard-fought night on that end — but they stagnated horribly on offense, resorting to numerous isolation forays against a Grizzlies defense that tightens into an impassable boulder when they get a chance to set themselves consistently.
There were more peaks, though. This peak should have been the last thing worth remembering. The Wolves didn’t let the weight of their meager 7-point halftime lead weigh them down. They started to move the ball again, they ran off misses and makes, they found and reattached the defensive clamps and, in the end, they pumped the lead above 20 points again. There was a late run by the Grizzlies that cut their deficit to 18 at the break, but that should have been enough. With a rampant home crowd behind them and a 2-1 series lead in front of them, that lead had to be enough.
It wasn’t. There was another valley. The deepest and darkest valley. An abominable abyss that the Wolves now have to climb out of with their bare hands. Another 12-point quarter. On the rare occasion that Minnesota did get a shot that didn’t have Grizzly’s draped all over it like a bad smell, they whiffed in wide-open space. No movement, no want-to, no desire, no mental fortitude, no chance. Memphis mowed them down, put it in reverse, and repeated the process a couple dozen more times. It’s hard to come back from this.
*Player Ratings only apply to players who play 10 or more minutes*
D’Angelo Russell: 6/10
A bit of a downhill skier. When things were going right, he was there, nailing jumpers in the first and third quarter, sliding passes through unlikely gaps in the first and third quarter, manning the offensive controls and quarterbacking the defense in the first and third quarters. It seemed like he would be the one basking in the plaudits if the Wolves did win the unlosable.
There were uphill slopes to climb as well, however, and that’s when he faded. He dribbled aimlessly far too often in the second and fourth quarter, there was a transition pull-up triple in the fourth quarter that was emblematic of his second and fourth quarter and just about shook every hair from my fucking head, the defense slipped and the floor generalship waned. He was probably the best of a bad big three bunch, which is a pretty low bar.
Finished with 22 points (52.4% TS), 5 rebounds and 8 assists with a +3.7 net rating.
Patrick Beverley: 5/10
Again, when things were going right you could feel his presence. It smacked you in the face so fucking hard that it felt like you’d never stop feeling it. His presence, when humming, is a fucking giant traipsing through the lands. He started the night picking on Ja Morant like a relentless bully — taking him off the dribble consistently, suffocating him with a big Bev-shaped pillow defensively. He threw a fucking alley-oop off the backboard to himself, he fucking dunked!
But when things went bad, he was wading through that mud as obviously as anybody. Those ball-dominant possessions became a burden for the team’s offense, Morant started to burn him off the dribble, and he missed two wide-open triples that clanged off the rim like a war hammer to the throat of Minnesota’s chances. Another downhill skier.
Finished with 14 points (46.1% TS), 2 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks with a +2.9 net rating.
Anthony Edwards: 5/10
Guess what? He was good when the team was good and he was bad when the team was bad. What a fucking surprise. Throw a blanket over the whole team and spray paint that slogan onto it. When he was good, he was knocking down spot-shots from deep, punishing the Grizzlies in transition with his speed and guile, and menacingly bedeviling anybody in his way on defense. When he was bad, he was invisible, just a big Casper looking fucker. Those game one vibes are spinning around the gurgler.
Finished with 19 points (60.7% TS), 7 rebounds and 2 assists with a -10.3 net rating.
Jarred Vanderbilt: 8/10
Flipped the script. He went from unplayable and completely schemed out of the first two games to Minnesota’s most impactful and consistently energetic player in game three. He couldn’t stop the game from sliding into a big bowl of shit stew, but he has never been equipped to be the guy who holds up a team. He’s a hustle guy, a bonified fucking hustler, a rebounding menace, a defensive workhorse. Despite the embarrassment of the result, nobody can say he didn’t exhibit all of those traits in this one.
Finished with 10 points (43.4% TS), 13 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals with a +9.6 net rating.
Karl-Anthony Towns: 3/10
It’s worth underlining how good he was defensively. When he was on the court he was protecting the rim as well as he ever has, he was redirecting Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks and Desmond Bane away from the middle in pick-and-roll coverage, and he was diving on the floor when the ball was there to be dived on. It’s worth underlining that.
It’s also easy to look over it. It’s the trees and the forest is right there behind it, menacing and malicious. A grove of un-fucking-thinkable mistakes in the biggest moments. He fouls too much, that’s nothing new. He can’t break away from double-teams in the slightest, we’ve seen that before. He is relegated to a bit-part role at best, that’s becoming a new and worrying normal. Blowing two 25-point leads is only possible when a team gets a performance like this from their best player. Unfortunately, he is barreling toward a really uncomfortable conversation.
Finished with 8 points (82% TS) and 5 rebounds with a -7.9 net rating.
Malik Beasley: 4/10
Hit some triples early to really jack the crowd up to 11 in the first quarter and continued to make more plays off the bounce and on the defensive end, then he went the way of the game as a whole, invisible and fucking abhorrent.
Finished with 11 points (44.2% TS) and 3 assists with a -42.7 net rating.
Jaden McDaniels: 5/10
Had his big spidery fingers in both pies. When he knocked down a pair of spot-up triples it felt like his gangly potential was bubbling to the surface. Like a fucking witch’s brew of buckets and defensive stops. When he threw a pair of putrid passes and watched helplessly as Brandon Clarke binged on fourth-quarter offensive boards, he felt like a player who still has a ways to go.
Finished with 8 points (57.1% TS) and 2 rebounds with a +12.4 net rating.
Naz Reid: 2/10
It was pretty cool to see him devour that putback hoop-and-harm in the fourth quarter when the Wolves were desperate for any and every kind of scoring. The rest of his night was in line with his series as a whole — lazy and untrained rebounding, slow-footed defense reminiscent of a tranquilized rhino, and a confidence issue that can’t seem to be shaken.
Finished with 3 points (27.6% TS) and 3 rebounds with a -37.7 net rating.
Play Of The Night
Horns Ghost Flare For D’Angelo Russell
If only it was this easy all night. If only the Wolves could have found something like this when everything was crumbling around them. If only this set was a nice little captured moment in the win that should have been. Instead, this is but a distant memory. A snapshot of what the Wolves can do, but didn’t.
It’s a play they’ve worked and reworked throughout the season, and they have done so because it’s really hard to guard and it has a bunch of options branching off it. This, an easy layup for D’Angelo Russell, is the third option on the set. The first is getting Malik Beasley an open look as he exits the ‘Horns’ set, peels into a ghost screen and frees himself from a Naz Reid flare screen. The second option is a pick-and-roll with Russell and Reid. The third, the one you see, is the result of a bunch of action moving away from the ball and freeing a big zone for Russell to work with. It just doesn’t feel as gorgeous as it is with the result lingering over it.