MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)The Memphis Grizzlies responded to losing their first game as a No. 2 seed by getting back to how they play.
The result? The largest margin of victory in franchise history in a playoff game and a near triple-double by Ja Morant.
The All-Star point guard scored 23 points, handed out 10 assists and grabbed nine rebounds as the Grizzlies looked much more like the team that posted the NBA’s second-best record, routing the Minnesota Timberwolves 124-96 on Tuesday night to even up their first-round Western Conference series at 1 apiece.
Morant went to the bench with 4:40 left to a huge ovation and teammates telling him how close he was to a triple-double.
”It was good to get that win,” Morant said. ”Obviously, you know, if you get a triple-double, it’s hard to do it in this league, so that’s special as well. But the win is the important thing, and we got that.”
Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said Morant showed great balance along with the bench outscoring Minnesota 60-43 and defense fueling the offense.
”This is our recipe …,” Jenkins said. ”This is the more the style that we got to play.”
Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. each added 16 with Jackson hitting 4 of 7 from 3-point range. Seven Grizzlies finished in double figures with Brandon Clarke, Xavier Tillman Sr. and Ziaire Williams each having 13. Tyus Jones added 10.
Game 3 is Thursday night in Minneapolis.
Anthony Edwards, who scored 36 points in his playoff debut in Game 1, led Minnesota with 20. All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns had 15 points and 11 rebounds. Naz Reid and Taurean Prince had 12 each off the bench, and D’Angelo Russell added 11.
”It shows just how physical and locked in you’ve got to be every single night regardless of the opponent,” Towns said. ”A small lapse, mental, and you see what the game comes out to be in the playoffs.”
The Timberwolves dominated the series openerafter scoring a franchise-record 41 points in the first quarter.
This time, officials stayed very busy calling 20 fouls in a very long first quarter. That kept the NBA’s top scoring teams in the regular season from getting into any rhythm as they combined to shoot 33 free throws.
Foul trouble forced Jenkins to turn to Tillman who didn’t play in Game 1, and he turned in the best playoff game of his young career.
The Grizzlies grabbed their biggest lead of this short series at 30-23 on a floater by Jones with 2:11 left, and they led 33-32 after the first quarter when Morant’s long buzzer-beater attempt hit off the rim and off.
”Then our offense just dried up. Our shot selection in the second quarter basically started the avalanche,” said Minnesota coach Chris Finch, who added that the Grizzlies also started controlling the glass. ”That’s really where the game was won.”
The Grizzlies shot 48% from the floor compared to 40% for Minnesota. Both teams made 11 3s, a big difference from the series opener when Minnesota knocked down 16 of 41 compared to 7 of 27 for Memphis.
Memphis started running in the second and opened the quarter with an 11-2 run and finished on an 11-5 run for a 60-49 lead at halftime with Morant not scoring a point. Patrick Beverley summed up Minnesota’s struggles when his layup before the buzzer rolled off the rim.
The Grizzlies pushed that lead to as much as 27 with a 25-9 run in the third, and Morant scored 12 in the quarter hitting 5 of 7 shots, including both 3-pointers. His layup gave Memphis a 87-60 lead with 4:15 to go in the third, and the Grizzlies led 96-77 going into the fourth.
Minnesota was the NBA’s best-shooting team outside the arc and outscored Memphis 48-21 in Game 1 as the Grizzlies shooting 26% outside the arc with only three knocking down a 3-pointer. This time, Memphis shot 11-of-34 with six Grizzlies knocking down at least one.
Timberwolves: They had 30 field goals, matching the season low against Toronto on Feb. 16. … After knocking down 16 3s in Game 1, they were 11 of 38 (28.9%). … Russell now is 5 of 22 in this series.
Grizzlies: Entering the game had lost four of their last five games including the series opener. .Jackson, who matched his career high with seven blocks in the opener, had one Tuesday night. But he knocked down four 3s … D’Anthony Melton came in 8 of 26 from 3-point range. He was 2 of 6. … Adams played 2:50 after picking up two early fouls. … They had 29 assists and now are 29-1 when they have at least 28 assists.
It didn’t take long in the game for things to get a bit chippy. Officials called a foul on Towns early, then on the same play got Patrick Beverley for a technical after a swipe at Morant’s head. Then Adams got called for a foul that was upgraded to a flagrant 1 after he smacked Jarred Vanderbilt across the face. And all that was in the first three minutes.
Game 3 is Thursday night in Minneapolis.
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