The Minnesota Timberwolves made a statement by taking Game 1 of
their first-round matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday
afternoon. The statement was loud and it was clear — their seed was
not indicative of their talent.
Tuesday night's Game 2 was a must-win for the Grizzlies, as
higher seeds that have gone down 0-2 have only come back twice from
such a hole.
The NBA Playoffs are all about the adjustments from game to game
and which team can win the chess match. Whether by accident, chance
or plan, the Grizzlies put the Timberwolves in check but is the
adjustment enough for a checkmate? I worked with our Mat Issa of
BasketballNews.com to look at the moves by Memphis head coach
Taylor Jenkins in Game 2.
In Game 1, Steven Adams was simply not useful, mate. After a
turnaround year in Memphis, the New Zealand big man found himself
hurting his team more than helping. It was a similar story for the
Grizzlies, as last year Jonas Valanciunas had a career year during
the regular season — only to become a defensive liability vs. the
Utah Jazz in the 2021 first round.
It should have been predicted. This season, Adams had 2 of his 6
lowest minute totals in a game, 2 of his 5 worst plus-minus games
and 2 of his 3 lowest rebounding totals in a game — all against
Minnesota. In fact, in 25 career matchups against the Wolves, Adams
has been a net positive player only 11 times, with his last coming
in January 2020.
In this postseason's series opener, Adams played 24 minutes,
taking 0 shots and grabbing only 3 rebounds while picking up 4
fouls. Much of Memphis' success in the regular season revolved
around Adams' ability to grab offensive rebounds — a key reason as
to why the Grizzlies led the league in second-chance points. But in
Game 1, Memphis lost both the rebound and the second-chance
Defensively, Adams had no place on the floor. The Timberwolves
adjusted to how Memphis was playing Karl-Anthony Towns in the
pick-and-roll, and it was all she wrote. KAT would pop and then
simply beat Adams off the dribble time after time. Steven became
On this possession, Anthony Edwards puts Adams in a PNR with
Towns, a common theme in the game. While Ja Morant was in good help
position to stop the drive, Adams plays drop coverage, giving Ant
all the space he needed to knock down the shot.
Adams finds himself defending yet another PNR with Edwards and
Towns, where now the Timberwolves have adjusted, sending KAT on a
pop. Again, Morant is in help position to stop the drive while
Adams is in drop coverage, but this time Edwards kicks it to KAT.
Rather than settling for the three, Towns beats Adams off the
dribble, as he is too slow to slide in front.
Although this ends up being a blocked shot, this is a microcosm
of the issue for Memphis. Out on the perimeter, Adams gets beat off
the dribble by Towns, again, and puts pressure on Jaren Jackson Jr.
— who is in foul trouble— to clean up the mess. Memphis needs JJJ
on the floor way more than it needs Adams, so situations like this
need to be avoided if possible.
Just 2 minutes and 50 seconds into Game 2, Adams came out of the
game for the Grizzlies with a couple of fouls; the big man finished
the contest with 2:50 of playing time. Who knows if Jenkins planned
to make this adjustment or not, but the insertion of Xavier Tillman
Sr. and extended minutes of Brandon Clarke have likely altered the
course of this series.
The flashes were there with Clarke in Game 1. His switchability
on defense has always been a key to his game, so despite being
outsized by Towns, Clarke is able to switch on the ball-screens
rather than play drop coverage. It seemed obvious that an increase
in minutes for Brandon was due in Game 2.
What are the chances that Tillman gets a
look in the MEM/MIN series?
In a world where it is commonplace to shrink rotations in the
playoffs, Jenkins went to his 11th man in Tillman. As a reminder, X
is no stranger to high stakes moments; let's remember he did this
in overtime agaisnt the Warriors, on the road, in last year's
In almost 21 minutes of play — roughly the total of Adams'
playing time in Game 1 — Tillman scored 13 points and grabbed 7
rebounds in Game 2. He also went an impressively efficient 6 of 7
from the field, which was a bonus because Tillman had one job: to
Compared to Jackson and Clarke, Tillman's impact against KAT is
his strength. While not as agile as JJJ and Clarke, Tillman has the
strength to take the body blows from Towns. On this possession,
Tillman is both quick enough to stay with Towns and strong enough
to withstand the shoulder check and recover to contest the
Towns made 11 shots in Game 1; he only attempted 7 field goals
in Game 2. Some of that was his own foul trouble, but with the
subtraction of Adams, the easy opportunities were not there for
Minnesota's All-Star center.
In addition to Tillman, Clake's versatility was on full display
in Game 2 with a number of perimeter opportunities on defense.
In Game 1, Edwards took advantage of the PNR, taking 12 shots
inside the arc on his way to a 36-point night.
In Game 2, when someone like Clarke or Kyle Anderson switched
onto Edwards, the ability to get downhill was neutralized. Of his
16 total shots, Edwards took 10 of them from beyond the arc. If the
presence of Clarke causes Edwards to settle for jumpers, that is a
win for Memphis.
The adjustment for Minnesota is more so an adjustment for
Edwards in Game 3. Mat Issa believes that Edwards has the ability
to dribble by almost any player Memphis may throw at him, so he
needs to play with an agression rather than settling for long
On this particular play, Edwards drives right by De'Anthony
Melton — arguably the Grizzlies' best perimeter defender — with
ease. Mat's next point is that, while Ant has to drive, his
playmaking has to take the next step. Edwards has not shown the
ability to consistently make the right play, so if Memphis decides
to pack the paint on him (like Minnesota has done vs. Morant), you
might see more of this clip.
While Edwards gets by Melton, Morant has vacated Patrick
Beverley and Anderson leaves Taurean Prince — both capable corner
shooters. As the defense collapses on him, Edwards gets caught in
the air and makes a bad pass.
This is a quick clip, but Edwards drives baseline and is met by
a helping Clarke and Morant. Rushed by the triple team, Edwards
throws the ball into the backcourt.
If Memphis continues to roll with switching guys like Clarke,
Anderson and Tillman onto Edwards off the PNR, Ant is going to have
to make the adjustment and slow the game down, finding his open
teammates against the overhelping Memphis defense.
Game 3 is Thursday night in Minnesota. Will Memphis play Adams?
Will the Timberwolves adjust?
Both teams will have to make their adjustments, as the chess
match inches its way closer to its conclusion.
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