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MINNEAPOLIS — A first-round series highlighted by dramatic Grizzlies comebacks, poster dunks, foul trouble, and a healthy serving of trash talk came to a close in Game 6 on Friday night, as Memphis eliminated the Minnesota Timberwolves 114-106 with yet another impressive rally.
The Grizzlies advanced to the conference semifinals for the first time since 2015 and will host the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 on Sunday in Memphis (ABC, 3:30p ET).
“The series was a battle,” Memphis point guard Ja Morant said. “We knew that every game would be a dogfight. Coming in we knew, with this team, we wouldn’t win this series in one game. We knew that every game would be a dogfight, that we had to come in locked in and bring our energy from the start. Obviously, the wins were pretty ugly outside of Game 2, but we got it done.”
For the third time in the series, Memphis on Friday overcame a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. As the Grizzlies ate away at the deficit and took the lead in the closing minutes, a pall fell over the long-suffering Timberwolves crowd at Target Center ho just witnessed one of the most historic collapses in NBA history in Game 4 less than a week ago.
“I feel like we’re always confident no matter what the score is,” Morant said. “We treat it pretty much as zero-zero.”
The Grizzlies made a habit in the series of falling behind in the opening three quarters, only to use some timely shot-making and defensive stops, as well as overwhelming the Timberwolves on the offensive glass to roar back.
“I wish we had better starts” Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks said. “We don’t want to put ourselves in that predicament, but we always find a way to fight. Like coach [Taylor Jenkins] said in the locker room, ‘There’s not one way to win in the NBA playoffs.’ There are a lot of ways to win and we just figured out one way.”
Memphis guard Desmond Bane, the most lethal sharpshooter in the series, hit a 3-pointer with three minutes remaining to give Memphis its first lead of the second half. Morant unleashed one his patented acrobatic layups soon after, then Twin Cities native Tyus Jones drained a crucial 3-pointer at the shot-clock buzzer with 1:09 left in the game, which pushed the Grizzlies’ lead to four, one Memphis would never relinquish.
The Grizzlies outscored the Timberwolves by 62 points in the fourth quarter in the series, the best fourth-quarter differential in any series in NBA history. Memphis is the first team to log three wins overcoming double-digit deficits entering the fourth quarter in a single postseason, and they accomplished the feat in a single first-round series.
“We’ve been down double-digits plenty of times and came back and won,” Morant said. “We know the game is not over until there are zeros on the scoreboard at the end of the fourth quarter.”
The series was a showcase for a number of young stars, including Morant and big man Jaren Jackson Jr., Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns and wing Anthony Edwards. Each enjoyed transcendent moments and endured difficult struggles.
Edwards put together the most consistent body of work in his debut playoff series. Towns was dominant in the Timberwolves’ two wins, but was beset by foul trouble in losses. Jackson, who also spent much of the series in foul trouble, couldn’t establish any kind of offensive game until the second half of Game 6. He did lead Memphis’ starters in defensive rating over the course of the series, in which he 16 blocked shots in six games.
But it was Morant who commanded the most attention in the series. An All-Star in 2022 during his third campaign, Morant averaged 27.4 points per game during the regular season and led the NBA in points in the paint. His late heroics in Game 5 fueled another Memphis comeback, but he was held in check for much of Game 6, as he was in the series. Though he finished with only 17 points, Morant was once instrumental as the Grizzlies’ floor general as they staged their fourth-quarter comeback. He finished with 11 assists.
As was the case for much of the series, the Grizzlies’ formula for success in Game 6 included creative playmaking by Morant, torrid outside shooting from Bane and activity around the basket from reserve center Brandon Clarke.
For Bane, a second-year player, the series further established him as one of the NBA’s brightest young shooting guards. The final pick in the first round of the 2020 draft, Bane led the Grizzlies in the series with 23.6 points per game on a sizzling true shooting percentage of 66.6 and 46.8% from beyond the arc.
“If you ask me, the MVP of this series is this guy right here,” Morant said while sitting alongside Bane at the postgame news conference. “Time and time again, he came up big-time. He hit some big-time shots for us, even kept us in the game, and gave us a lead.”
The conference semifinals series between Memphis and Golden State is a clash between the NBA’s most seasoned squad, which has won three titles with its current core, and one of the NBA’s youngest teams, which arrived into the league’s upper echelon ahead of schedule.
After the game, Morant was visibly exhausted, as he placed his head down on the podium between testimonials about his teammates’ contributions. Asked how the Grizzlies would prepare for the showdown with the Warriors in just over 36 hours, Morant responded, “Go to sleep.”
After some teasing from Bane, Morant expanded on his plans.
“Go to sleep, wake up in the morning, travel, and then lock in for the game.”