MEMPHIS — A 50-minute first quarter that combined for 33 free throws — tied for the most in an NBA game in the past 25 years — was the only thing that slowed the Memphis Grizzlies down on Tuesday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Grizzlies dominated the second quarter, then ran away in the second half of a 124-96 victory in Game 2 to even the first round series at 1-1. The victory was the largest playoff victory in franchise history.
Boos and “refs you suck” chants came down inside FedExForum as every starter on each team besides Desmond Bane had accumulated a personal, technical or flagrant foul in the first quarter. The Grizzlies got the worst of the whistle with 11 personal fouls.
The whistles allowed the Grizzlies to showcase their depth. Xavier Tillman Sr., Ziaire Williams and Tyus Jones each came off the bench and took advantage. Minnesota’s bench wasn’t as productive, and the Grizzlies did their part in slowing down Minnesota’s big three.
Naz Reid was Minnesota’s leading scorer at halftime while Anthony Edwards, Karl Anthony-Towns and D’Angelo Russell combined for 24 points. Edwards finished with 20 points, Towns scored 15 and Russell was held to 11. Each scored below their season averages.
“I think, No. 1, it’s just executing our game plan,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said. “I thought the communication was great. I mean, you’re not going to stop them. They’re still going to get to their spots on the floor. Can you just make it as tough as possible?”
Ja Morant came one rebound shy of a triple double with 23 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. each scored 16 points.
The Grizzlies said that they wanted to shoot more 3-pointers, and they did. They tied the Timberwolves with 11 made 3-pointers after losing the 3-point battle 16 to 7 in Game 1.
Four of those 3-pointers came from Jackson, with two each from Bane and De’Anthony Melton. The Grizzlies defense held the Timberwolves to 39.5% shooting.
Here are some observations from Game 2:
X-Factor forces Taylor Jenkins’ hand
Taylor Jenkins had to go even deeper in his bench. Jackson Jr., Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke each had two fouls by the end of the first quarter. Tillman, who had 20 DNPs in the regular season and did not play in the first playoff game, stepped up in a major way. Tillman came in and scored a quick seven points that ignited the Grizzlies’ frontcourt.
Not only was it his scoring. Tillman had a stretch of plays where he boxed out Towns with ease, forced a turnover on a switch against Russell, contested a tough Taurean Prince jumper, and then got an offensive rebound that led to a De’Anthony Melton 3-pointer. Tillman was rewarded for his strong play when he entered the game late in the second quarter in a place where Adams would have been the expected substitute. The Memphis crowd roared as the public address announcer said Tillman was checking in.
Tillman scored 13 points and added seven rebounds in 21 minutes.
“So proud of him staying ready, coming out, making a tremendous impact defensively and offensively,” Jenkins said.
Ja Morant adjusts to defense
Morant went 18 quarters and more than four games without a made 3-pointer against the Timberwolves before he drilled two in less than a minute. Morant knocked down his second 3-pointer and pumped up the FedExForum crowd as the Grizzlies went up 20 points. He dazzled with his passing as the Timberwolves clogged the lane on his drives and forced him to throw over their length.
Morant went to the tunnel after taking a knee from Towns but later returned. One of the biggest takeaways from Morant leading up to the game was how he talked about watching film, adjusting to coverages and getting his teammates in better positions. He executed each of those areas.
“I feel like I did very good,” Morant said. “Obviously there were times where I still passed it late, but for the for the most part I felt like I did a great job and my teammates knocked down big-time shots.”
Third quarter blitz
The Grizzlies had already built a 60-49 lead at halftime, but the Timberwolves make more 3-pointers than any team in the NBA. That deficit could be trimmed fast. Memphis came out in the third quarter and picked up where it left off in the first half. The Grizzlies went on a 17-4 run that extended the lead to 24 points.
Jenkins started the third quarter with Kyle Anderson in place of Adams. The adjustment started in the third quarter with Tillman. Adams did not play in the second half and finished with three minutes total.
Follow Damichael Cole on Twitter @damichaelc.