MEMPHIS – After Ja Morant’s winning layup fell through with one second remaining in the Timberwolves’ 111-109 Game 5 loss, a soft-spoken coach Chris Finch didn’t pin his team’s loss on its defense on that play.
He didn’t pin it on the Wolves’ inconsistent late half-court execution on offense, which led to yet another Memphis comeback win in this series despite a 13-point fourth-quarter Wolves lead.
“Honestly, that had nothing to do with it,” Finch said. “They had like, I don’t know, how many offensive rebounds in the fourth?”
The media in front of Finch told him that Brandon Clarke had seven offensive rebounds for the Grizzlies – in the fourth quarter.
“Clarke had seven alone?” Finch said. “That’s the game. They had 18 [offensive rebounds] for the game. They had 12 second-chance points in the fourth quarter. That was it. That’s the game.”
Once again, the Wolves were left to pick up the pieces from a game they led for most of the night, of a game they should have won and a game they have no one but themselves to blame for losing. They now trail the best-of-seven first-round Western Conference playoff series three games to two.
Sloppy play permeated the night. The Grizzlies and Wolves combined for 39 turnovers, with the Wolves committing 23. Memphis shot 67% from the free-throw line and 25% from three-point range.
Game 5 was going to be won not by the team who did the most to win it, but by the team that did the least to lose it. The Wolves had Memphis beat there.
“Their players were talking, ‘Oh, they about to fold, they about to fold,’ ” Memphis guard Desmond Bane told reporters. “I knew that wasn’t the case.”
The Wolves led by 13 with 9:38 to play after Karl-Anthony Towns hit a three-pointer and then shushed the crowd with a finger to his mouth.
They could never shut Memphis up completely. As he walked to the postgame podium, Towns, who had 28 points and 12 rebounds, let out two deep sighs.
“It’s disappointing. We’re so close, yet so far,” Towns said. “Just got to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off on this flight, talk about what we need to talk about, stay together, and get ready for [Game 6] Friday.”
Memphis went on a run to get within one before Morant put them ahead for the first time since the first quarter, 107-106 with 1:03 to play. Memphis led before Anthony Edwards (22 points) tied the game with a corner three with 3.7 second left.
On Memphis’ final possession Edwards gambled to try and steal the inbound pass to Morant, who then shot over Jarred Vanderbilt for the win.
“I had already had my mind made up that I was going to try to steal it. Dumb mistake,” Edwards said. “It’s over though. Can’t do nothing about it.”
Morant overcame a slow start to get 30 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists. It was his activity getting into the paint that shifted the Wolves’ defense and allowed Clarke to dominate the glass on his way to 21 points, 15 rebounds, nine of which came on the offensive end.
“You can’t box him out and try to rebound because he’s gonna jump, tap it,” Edwards said. “Just got to box him out. He was just a freak today, man. I don’t know. He was a freak today.”
Added Finch: “Our smalls [guards] got to get back in there and they got to hit. They got to sandwich him and put their body on him down there.”
The Wolves did themselves no favors with their late-game execution, especially when D’Angelo Russell tried to give the Wolves a lead with a contested mid-range shot and they turned the ball over on their previous possession, with Towns saying the ball actually went off the foot of Bane (25 points).
“Everything has to improve,” Towns said. “Everything has to get better from all of us. It’s going to be a team effort.”
It’s a sad silver lining for the Wolves that they at least have experience in bouncing back from crushing defeats of their own making, since they just did it to win Game 4 after squandering Game 3.
“Everybody know that we facing an elimination game on Friday, so I don’t think anybody is down,” Edwards said. “I think everybody is just disappointed we lost today. But I’m looking forward to Friday because all the pressure is on. … It’s time to show up. I’m thinking everybody is ready.”
They’re going to need to draw on that positivity again, whatever they may have left of it.
“It’s going to be a whole new game,” Edwards said. “We might get a lead and be able to keep it. You know? It’s funny for sure, but hopefully we can get a lead and keep it.”