A lot of things happened in last night’s game that led to the Grizzlies winning by 4 at Target Center: Memphis played its patented Grit & Grind defense, smothering many Timberwolves possessions and holding them to just 90 points. Zach Randolph, aka Z-Bo, commanded double teams on the low block, and put up an easy 26, 12 and 4. Courtney Lee made shots.
On the Wolves end, Kevin Love played a great game; particularly in the third quarter with Ricky Rubio. Dante Cunningham broke out of his Elbow Jumpers Only shell to crash the offensive boards and and had a big two-hand flush off the dribble, in traffic. The Wolves also struggled for long stretches of this game. Especially in the first half. Chase Budinger shot just 1-5 from the field and missed a pair of wide open threes down the stretch. Alexey Shved was ineffective and played just 6 minutes. Gorgui Dieng was disruptive on defense, but was out of control just about every time the ball was passed to him.
But the big takeaway from the game was Rick Adelman’s decision to play J.J. Barea instead of Ricky Rubio for the entire fourth quarter.
This game felt completely hopeless at halftime and into the first few minutes of the third quarter. Memphis led by 16 and looked like a team that played in last year’s conference finals. The Timberwolves looked like a team that hadn’t sniffed the playoffs in a decade.
Then things turned. It seemed to me that things turned right around the time when they scrapped the high-post entry offense and let Ricky Rubio begin offensive sets off of ball screens. He wasn’t racking up tons of assists (though he did have 8 of them in just 27 minutes), but he was forcing Memphis to move and help and the end result of multiple possessions in short sequence was an open Kevin Love behind the three-point line. Rubio also defended well. He drew a pair of offensive fouls in the third quarter; one while fighting around a moving screen and another when he cut off Nick Calathes dribble penetration and took a charge.
Ricky checked out with 0:55 left to go in the third quarter, having helped shrink the Grizzlies 13-point halftime lead down to just 3.
And he never checked back in.
And the Wolves lost.
And the Winning Time offense looked really bad.
To be fair to Adelman’s decision — which I did not agree with and believe helped cost the Wolves a potential win — Barea made some nice plays during the fourth quarter. Most significant were the pair of threes he buried off the dribble to regain the lead with 7:30 to play. Right after that, Love checked back in and Adelman should’ve included Ricky with him. He got a couple buckets from Barea and pulling him then would have been quitting while he was ahead.
But he left him out there to “ride the hot hand” or whatever, and the Wolves offense stalled. Instead of effective ball screen action with the ball zipping around to open shooters, it was J.J. and Love alternating attempts at hero ball. On the other end, Memphis spread out around Randolph in the post. They looked like they had a plan. We looked like we had J.J.
In the end the Wolves lost a home game to a team it needs to be better than in order to make the playoffs. With the loss, the Wolves drop back to .500 and 2.5 games behind the Grizzlies in the standings. The Grizz have won 10 of their last 11, and are naturally returning to form with Marc Gasol back in the lineup.
But the bigger concern right now is that Adelman does not trust Rubio. He often harps on the notion that they can’t always look for the “home run” pass. Is that a thinly veiled shot at Rubio’s clever playmaking? I’m not sure. The offense Adelman prefers — a successful one, for the most part — involves a lot of Kevin Love holding the ball, and requires patience to set up backdoor cuts and Nikola Pekovic deep-post seals. It does little to nothing to highlight Rubio’s strengths. But with Pekovic out and the offense reeling against the Grit & Grind, we got a little snippet of what happens when you just hand Ricky the ball and set a screen for him. He does the work. He scrambles the defense with his head on a swivel and the others can just worry about having their hands ready. Kevin Love, working his ass off under the boards against Randolph, doesn’t have to run off a pick to get open.
I’m a huge Adelman fan, but this ongoing obsession with patience on offense, in a league with a 24-second shot clock, coupled with the repeated decision to bench Rubio during crunchtime, is not so good. He needs to give Rubio the ball and let him create plays. If he’s not going to do that, he won’t be the team’s coach for much longer.