During that span, Morant thrived as a playmaker,
delivering 35 assists to 11 turnovers and amplifying the divergent
off-ball scoring chops of Brandon Clarke and Desmond Bane.
But Minnesota’s tactic had clearly flustered his individual
In those games, Morant averaged just 16.7 points on 45.9% TS and
shot 38.7% on 62 drives. After 20 free-throw attempts in Game 1, he
had just 17 total over the ensuing three outings. Halfway through
Game 5, Morant had 6 points and 7 dimes (although, an
uncharacteristic 2 of 7 showing at the line helped stymie him as
well). Another pass-heavy approach was percolating.
With the Timberwolves loading help in the paint and at the nail, Morant’s passing grew
in importance, and his scoring suffered. They sagged off Memphis’
cast of generally timid, unthreatening floor-spacers, and directed
focus to the star guard in front of them.
On most of his drives, a defender confronted Morant at the nail
as three, sometimes four, bodies awaited him near the rim. Stunts
from the strong side (usually a no-go for defenses) were
commonplace. His once-dynamic finishing was better classified as
The Grizzlies ranked just 28th in three-point rate (.346) and
17th in percentage (35.3%) in the regular season. So, Minnesota
dared them to convert beyond the arc and refused to offer Morant
runways for his trampoline-bounce to shine.
Pause those clips above. Process the positioning of Minnesota’s
help defenders and how much room Memphis’ shooters are granted. On
the final play, both Anthony Edwards and Jarred Vanderbilt tag the
roller, likely in case Morant wiggles around Karl-Anthony Towns’
hedge and explodes to the hoop. That’s a whole lot of attention on
To Memphis’ and Morant’s credit, Game 5 was full of
experimentation to open driving lanes for him. Whether he initiated
offense from different spots (top of the key vs. the wings), he
began possessions off the ball to operate as a
screener/second-creator or the floor-spacing was rearranged,
everyone involved worked to find him some breathing room.
In the second half, those efforts were rewarded and the dam
broke, particularly amid Memphis’ fourth-quarter, 13-point
comeback. Morant scored 24 points after intermission, including 16
over the final seven minutes, when the Grizzlies closed with
Morant, Bane, Clarke, Tyus Jones and Dillon Brooks once Jaren
Jackson Jr. fouled out.
That lineup didn’t record a single minute together in the
regular season and debuted for two minutes in Game 4. By
surrounding Morant with four ball-handling/play-finishing threats,
Memphis provided him with more space and complicated Minnesota’s
"contain Ja at all costs" approach.
When bigs like Jackson or Xavier Tillman occupy the dunker spot,
the Timberwolves are content helping off because neither is a
particularly adept scorer around the basket. When Clarke is there,
abandoning him to help on Morant is riskier, given Clarke’s premier
finishing and Morant’s interior passing genes.
Minnesota has also routinely aimed to avoid involving Towns in
ball-screens against Morant, which continued in the fourth quarter.
That strategy gave Morant increased space as a driver and cleaner
finishing angles over the top, while also forcing the Timberwolves’
defense into rotation more often.
Small-ball was not the Grizzlies’ only avenue to springing free
Morant and their collective offense. They really emphasized
emptying the wings to muddle Minnesota’s aggressive
stunt-and-recovers. Rotating to the nail/elbows is much tougher
when someone’s assignment is stationed in the corner.
They also utilized double ball-screens for Morant out of a Horns
alignment. Doing so removed a big man from the dunker spot
altogether, and empowered Ja to work off the ball rather than
needing to spearhead every action. Without help looming around
every ball-screen, the third-year guard slalomed into the paint and
gained traction to bring his squad a crucial Game 5 victory.
By night’s end, Memphis was plus-14 with the
Morant-Jones-Bane-Brooks-Clarke quintet on the court. Morant scored
16 of its 21 points, headlined by a 9 of 10 performance at the
free-throw line in the fourth.
Both in the half-court and transition, he repeatedly shimmied
downhill and scored or drew fouls. His driving acumen also
repopulated. Across his 45 minutes, he tallied 31 drives, shooting
50.0% (7 of 14) on them, taking 10 free throws and scoring 19
points. His pair of assists post-halftime were also emblematic of
renewed scoring comfort.
Aside from Game 2, Memphis and Minnesota have been tangled in
close battle after close battle. Morant’s struggled in certain
aspects throughout these contests and amended his approach to still
fashion positive contributions. On Tuesday, though, the team
amended its approach to unlock the effervescent
Now, the Grizzlies sit one win away from their first playoff
series victory since 2014-15, with their franchise star guiding
them and enjoying his finest stretch of postseason basketball this