The Minnesota Timberwolves are leading a playoff series. No, this is not fan fiction or some weird fever dream, this is real life for the 2022 Wolves. I spent the past week on vacation, arriving to my destination just before the play-in game. My worst (basketball-related) nightmare was that the Wolves would lose both play-in games while I was gone, and I would come back to the offseason. Well, not only did that not happen, but I returned home just in time to watch them stun Memphis 130–117 in game 1 of the playoffs on their home court. We need to talk about the win, and what’s coming next!
Jaden McDaniels is incredibly important to this team’s playoff future.
Just over 1 month ago, Jaden McDaniels left a road game against San Antonio with a high ankle sprain sustained in the final minutes of a Wolves win. Injuries are never good, but this one had to be particularly hard on the young wing as he had just recently been playing some of the best basketball of his career. Thankfully he was able to return to knock off the rust for a few games prior to the playoffs, but in game 1 he was one of the key factors that led to a win.
His stat line may not even do him justice, as impressive as it was: 15 points, 7 rebounds, 1 steal, and 3 blocks in 25 minutes. Mainly he was a complete irritant for Memphis on both ends. At 6'10" he oscillated between guarding the larger Jaren Jackson Jr. and the much quicker Ja Morant, doing a very respectable job on each young star player. Then when he was matched up with Desmond Bane he sort of swallowed him up, especially on a late swat at the rim of his fellow 2020 draft mate.
Off the ball defensively he just takes up so much space with his length and ability to defend the rim and rotate to shooters. When space gets tight in the playoffs and teams play more in the half court offensively, that length and versatility is like a gold mine for a team like the Wolves.
Offensively, McDaniels was right on time in game 1. He shot 5/6 from the field overall, including 3/3 from 2pt. range. On one possession that seemed to be going nowhere when the Grizzlies really loaded up on KAT, Jaden flashed to the free throw line to receive the pass, and just immediately turned and nailed the jumper. I’m betting Memphis did not game plan for that one. Oh, and he also nailed basically the dagger 3 to finish this one off!
While Jarred Vanderbilt has been an absolute rock for this team, Jaden was always going to need to play a large role for this team in the playoffs when the belts tighten and you need 5 guys on the court that can play both ends. McDaniels, with his versatility and size can be a huge plus on offense and defense, and if the jump shot is falling it’s hard to see any way to stop this Wolves offense.
It’s time to welcome our new king, Anthony Edwards.
Ant has been Minnesota basketball’s favorite son for a while now, but it seemed like he had not quite grasped the national spotlight despite his levitating athleticism, explosive scoring, and gregarious personality. That wasn’t his fault, that’s just the nature of playing in Minnesota. You have to earn the spotlight. I’d imagine he’s earned the attention of the greater United States (and beyond) basketball community.
Edwards was completely present for this game on offense and defense. He somehow took his coming out party in the play-in game and went up a level hitting difficult shots, dishing out assists, and defending his ass off in isolation. When the dust settled, he ended up with the 3rd highest scoring playoff debut in NBA history (behind Doncic and George Mikan) at 36 points and threw in 6 assists, a steal, and 2 blocks just for fun.
Remember weeks ago when Ant was going through a difficult scoring stretch in his return from the knee injury? His 3 ball wasn’t falling and he was snakebitten at the rim, so it seemed like his avenues to score were closed off. Then he watched Devin Booker torch the Wolves from the midrange and seemingly decided he was going to develop a midrange game as well. That’s the thing about Ant, there’s not a ceiling. There really isn’t. It seems like he decides he wants to be good at something and just works at it to get it done.
Edwards made 4 jumpers from the midrange, and hit a floater in which he got fouled and completed the And-1. The shot creation ability to get those points for himself is absolutely crucial in the pressure cooker that is the playoffs, and when he’s hitting there really isn’t much a defense can do.
So far, Ant has seemed to soak up the spotlight of the playoffs. The pressure doesn’t seem to be too much, at least not yet. Let’s hope game 1 was just the appetizer, and he has something else planned for the main course.
The Big KAT was back to his old self.
And by that I mean he was back to being KAT of like 1 week ago prior to his rough play-in game. He’s just the pinnacle of efficiency. 29 points, 60% shooting overall, 40% from 3, and perfect from the free throw line. The biggest reason that the Wolves offense is so dang effective this season is because they have a bunch of gunners like Ant, DLo, and Beasley who can have these monster games yet KAT will just quietly go about his business and anchor the offense with great efficiency.
KAT is such an X factor in this series. The Grizzlies’ biggest advantage they have had all year (aside from Ja Morant) is their size and physicality. They have the clear size advantage over the Wolves obviously, but when Towns can roast their biggest player, Steven Adams, like BBQ chicken the advantage suddenly dissipates. Once the Grizzlies took Adams off the floor, they need to count on JJJ to avoid foul trouble (he didn’t) and give Brandon Clarke a playoff role that might stretch his abilities just a bit too far.
The thing is, Memphis probably should have seen this coming. KAT has cooked Adams when he’s on the perimeter since his OKC days. Steven Adams is a fine big man when he gets to play drop coverage and stay around the rim. That’s just not really an option against the Wolves when KAT’s involved. So Adams came out on to the perimeter and Towns absolutely made him pay with drives after the catch and off the dribble.
More credit needs to be heaped onto Karl for his ability to control rebounds on both ends. The Wolves outrebounded Memphis, and had more offensive rebounds. When you can do that to the larger Grizzlies, you have a good chance to win. The big man also stayed out of foul trouble so he could log 42 minutes, and consistently anchored a defense that made life difficult for Memphis. Hoping this was the 1st of many great playoff games for Towns as he changes the narrative!
An ode to Malik Beasley.
Nearly 2 years ago, Malik Beasley signed a 4 year approximately $60 million contract with the Wolves after a good finish to his 1st partial season in Minnesota. It was seen as a bit of a head scratching move, but with the final season being a team option and no desire to let a talented player walk away the Wolves likely had to do it.
Since then, Beasley has seen some major highs and lows. His 20–21 season saw a blistering start, a suspension, then an injury that ended his year. During his time away, a certain shooting guard by the name of Anthony Edwards emerged as a star, essentially guaranteeing a spot on the bench for Malik heading into 21–22 season.
To make matters worse, he headed to the county jail for a couple of months during the offseason because of the aforementioned legal troubles, which likely lead to a more difficult beginning to his season as his jump shot alluded him.
Well, Malik has been BACK for awhile now, but this was one of his first high-stakes games to prove it, and he delivered.
Beasley played the 3rd most minutes of any Wolves player during the game 1 win, and that was mostly because it was difficult to keep him off the floor as a safety valve for KAT and Ant. He ended with 23 points, on 8/14 shooting. More impressive than his 4/10 from the 3pt. line was his 4/4 shooting from 2pt. range. He was not just a shooter as he attacked closeouts off the dribble and got himself to the rim. THAT Malik is someone that can completely open the floor for the star players.
Just as importantly as the stellar offensive play was his solid defensive play. Malik was always going to be an outlet on the offensive end, but if he is also going to play staunch perimeter defense and even grab a few rebounds, that’s valuable guy on any playoff team.
Game 2 Preview
So what adjustments will the Grizzlies make heading into Game 2? It doesn’t appear they’ll be able to win 4 of the next 6 games off of pure grit and physicality — they’ll need real strategic adjustments, as well as a few players just flat out playing better.
Defensively, I’d bet they load up on Edwards when he has the ball on the perimeter to make him pass earlier than he wants. Ant is most comfortable when he can diagnose the defense, check where his guys are, then go to his moves. If Memphis can speed him up and make him get rid of it, that might short circuit the offense and his rhythm just a bit. Now, that’s not a surefire way to stop the Wolves offense, but keeping Ant out of a groove has to be priority number 1.
Otherwise they will need to get more physical with KAT. He felt way too comfortable out there. Adams may not be able to hang with Karl on the perimeter, but he’ll need to be an irritant and at least attempt to get under Towns’ skin. It may not be immediately successful, but over the course of the series it may wear on him.
Ultimately, Jaren Jackson Jr. unlocks a lot of what Memphis wants to do defensively, so he has to be better by staying out of foul trouble. When he was on the court, the paint was nearly shut off for Minnesota. He’s basically a pterodactyl with legs swooping in to swat anything at the rim. When he was off the court (he only logged 24 minutes) offense was much easier for the Wolves.
It’s hard to say exactly what the Wolves should be looking to adjust after the solid win. That’s the blessing and curse of winning game 1 — the other coach gets to make the adjustments. Finch just needs to have his team ready for adjustments from Memphis. Maybe devising more ways to get Ant the ball on the move so he can’t be trapped or doubled. Or maybe they want to get DLo more involved immediately by attacking Adams in the pick and roll to begin the game. Finch has a real chance to keep the Grizzlies off balance and keep the pressure squarely on Memphis.
I so badly want to predict another Wolves win. They played such a good game and seem so locked in at the moment. It’s just really hard to envision going into Memphis and winning BOTH games on the road. That just doesn’t happen for 7 seeds against 2 seeds. But…
Wolves win game 2, 115–109.