Young Grizzlies Grow Up in First Series Win


Oh, faithful Grizz fan, take heart: if you’ve developed gray hair over the past two weeks, you are not alone.

It was no secret that the Minnesota Timberwolves would be a tough matchup for the young Memphis Grizzlies. They were an extremely talented young team themselves, and were built in a way that negated many of Memphis’s strengths.

Everyone knew it was likely to be a tough battle.

But the way it played out made for some of the most stressful, miserable, euphoric wins in Grizzlies history. Two improbable comebacks—in a single game—that were then one-upped by the Awakening of Ja Morant (thanks Karl-Anthony Towns and Patrick Beverley) in Game 5 wound up being pivotal wins for Memphis in this series.

All of this led many Grizzlies fans to fall into the pits of despair right before skyrocketing to the mountaintops of victory. These games went from looking as bleak as it could get before turning into game fans will be talking about for years to come. Truly, Six Flags is nothing compared to the rollercoaster that was this Grizz-Wolves series.

But, for all of the screaming at the television and hair pulling that ever Grizz fan went through these past two weeks, we all should really be thankful.

See, this Grizzlies team that has been somewhat of an anomaly since the franchise rebuild began in 2019 just pulled off yet another anomalistic achievement—it took its lumps and developed some ugly playoff scars, while still finding a way to win.


Most young teams without playoff experience simply get out-gamed in the playoffs. Even if the young teams have been the better team all year, the experienced teams still find ways to win games in ways those young squads just don’t understand. Even though they were not the better team, the Grizzlies saw that last year against Utah, keeping most of those games close before the battle-tested Jazz would pull away at the end.

But this Grizzlies team was able to learn those winning lessons and gain that experience in real time as it gritted through tough, ugly wins. They played below their standard and adapted to Minnesota’s adjustments before simply finding a way to win.

It wasn’t pretty by any means, but it was valuable. Not a lot of teams get to do that.

The most exciting part of the series moving forward, though: the Grizzlies found their fire again.

It was very unexpected, but the Timberwolves seemed to be the more confident team throughout the series. They brought the intensity, swagger, and trash talking. Those are three things the Grizzlies were rarely outperformed in during the regular season.

But then, KAT decided to shush the crowd, and Pat Bev decided to tell Ja he was too little. Mr. Karl-Anthony Towns and Mr. Patrick Beverley, on behalf of Memphians everywhere, I’d just like to say, “Thank you.”

Because from that moment on, Ja remembered he was Ja, and everyone else from Chris Finch to Skip Bayless was reminded, as well.

Morant’s third-quarter dunk (RIP Malik Beasley) and 18-point fourth quarter was the stuff of legends, and is something Grizzlies fans everywhere will remember when they talk about Memphis’ first bonafide superstar and the special teams he led in the 901.

When the documentary rolls around, you can bet that game will make the tape.

The Timberwolves woke up the sleeping bear, and they’ll be heading to Cancun wishing they hadn’t. But while Morant had the star moment in this series, we learned some things about the rest of the team that were somewhat unexpected.


As Draymond Green put it, “Some guys that you think are guys are not guys in the playoffs.” Lots of guys can have a great regular season, but the playoffs are a different beast that makes some players shrink and other players shine. Desmond Bane has proven himself to be one of the latter.

Grizz fans knew Desmond Bane was built for these moments, but I doubt many fans knew he was THIS built for it. After averaging 18.2 points on a 46/44/90 split in the regular season, he jumped up to averaging 23.6 points on a 50/48/90 split in this past series. Those are some serious star numbers, and he often times looked like the only Grizzly ready for the moment alongside one other player.

That other player: Brandon Clarke. If you’re thankful Memphis won that series, you need to thank Brandon Clarke. In a pivotal Game 5 win, his play on both ends that led to his 21-point, 15-rebound performance absolutely changed the game. He was reliable all game, and when they needed to get over the proverbial “hump” to take the lead late, it was Clarke who got the tip-out to set up Morant’s three.

It wasn’t just this game or that moment, though. Brandon played well all series, averaging 16.5 points and 9.7 rebounds while shooting 68% from the field. Clarke showed up in every big moment this series, and he consistently showed the intensity that has marked Memphis’ season, even when the rest of the team seemed to be lacking it.

Watch this clip of Morant’s poster dunk. After you watch it enough times to get your jaw off the floor, pay attention to Brandon Clarke coming into the frame.

The Grizz were still down 11 here, and even though that ended up being the spark the Grizzlies needed to start their eventual fourth-quarter run, in the moment it still felt like the Wolves had most of the momentum.

But Clarke wasn’t having that. He gave Beasley the same staredown and yell he would give someone if they were up 30.

Brandon Clarke is built for these moments, folks, and it’s a whole lot of fun getting to see it in real time.

X’s & O’s

The last encouraging development in this series—one that bodes especially well as the Grizz head into a series with the team that essentially changed the game of small-ball—is that Taylor Jenkins was able to make adjustments and find ways to win that were not geared towards the Grizzlies’ natural strengths.

Steven Adams had been a rock down low for Memphis all year, but he simply isn’t built in a way that matched up well against Minnesota. Adams being ineffective hurt the Grizz in a multitude of ways, and it showed through some of their struggles.

In addition to that, some of the things Memphis was surely counting on—De’Anthony Melton’s bench play, Dillon Brooks’ shooting, and Jaren Jackson’s ability to play more than 23 minutes per game—simply were unreliable in this series.

Through all of these struggles, Jenkins was able to adjust and find lineups that played just well enough to get the wins they needed. He even had to go ultra-small when Jackson fouled out in Game 5, using Brooks against Towns on defense. That lineup closed out the game on a 23-10 run to secure a last-second, two-point victory.

Hopefully these issues won’t persist into the next round, and the Grizzlies will be able to play the style of basketball that led them to the second-best record in the league this season. But just the fact that they were able to find ways to win that aren’t in their comfort zone is very encouraging for both this playoff run and the team’s future.


The Grizzlies will undoubtedly have to play better this series if they want to advance to the Western Conference Finals. They lacked much of the swagger and confidence they had boasted throughout the regular season, and they did not play to the standard they typically hold themselves to.

But, oh faithful Grizz fan, take a moment to be proud of this young Memphis team. In a series defined by chaos, heart attacks and general inexperience, the second-youngest team in the league found a way to win. They had to deal with a bad matchup, zealous officiating and, for the first time, the pressure of expectations.

Still, they found a way.

So, as us Grizzlies fans find ourselves in the more familiar territory of being perceived underdogs against the Golden State Warriors and their shiny new “Death Lineup,” enjoy this team’s hard-earned success, and be proud of these Memphis Grizzlies. Take a day to recharge and refresh before this team looks to put its first-round lessons to use against proven NBA champions.

This Grizzlies team has proven itself to be up to the challenge all season. It’s time to throw the full force of our fandom behind them as they look to do it again.

The entire Timberwolves series was about surviving and weathering the storm. Now, as Trip put it earlier in the season, it’s time to be the storm.

Other Grizzlies Playoffs Reads:

For more inspiration as the Grizzlies continue their playoff run, check out these playoff pieces written before Round 1:

Morant, Grizzlies Not Interested in Waiting Their Turn

Memphis Means More Than Just Another Small Market

About Nathan Qualls

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