The Zach Randolph-less but playoff-tested Memphis Grizzlies came out and punched the Wolves in the collective mouth, tonight. Without their best offensive weapon, Memphis locked in a defensive effort that held the Wolves starters to 3 points in the first 8 minutes of Wednesday’s game. The 18-3 early deficit was not only thanks to the Grizzly defense, but also careless dribbling by Michael Beasley, whose 5-turnover, 5-16 shooting night marked a solid regression from Monday’s seeming snap-out-of-it effort.
Despite the lethargic and carefree effort against the reigning Western Conference Semi-Finalist, the Wolves found themselves ahead 68-63 with 7 minutes to go in the 4th Quarter. I was pleasantly surprised to see this young-and-flashy crew surviving a dogfight of a game with the tone clearly-set by the dogged defensive effort of the veteran Grizzlies. The game bore resemblance to the recent loss to Milwaukee, where a half court, physical battle was not to the Wolves liking. Particularly with respect to young Rubio (12 points, 10 assists, 4 turnovers) tonight showed an ability to respond proactively to elite pressure defense.
But alas, the game fell apart down the stretch. Spearheaded by former Timberwolf draftee, O.J. Mayo, the Grizz ripped off a 13-0 4th Quarter run that was more reminiscent of last season than anything us excited fans have witnessed, thus far in the Adelman Era. Along with defensive struggles against the versatile Memphis swingmen, the Wolves (specifically, Ricky Rubio and Michael Beasley) missed 4 of 4 free throw attempts during this ugly and extended sequence. In fact, Minnesota shot a pitiful 13-24 from the charity stripe; a lousy 54 percent that, more than anything, cost them this otherwise-winnable contest.
Thanks to desperation three’s sunk by Rubio and Love, the game went further than expected. But the final was 90-86 in favor of the Grizz, leaving Minnesota 2-4 after this most-difficult stretch to open the shortened season.
A few more jottings to wrap this one up:
* Kevin Love, as always, filled the stat sheet with 27 points and 14 rebounds. This was not even close to his finest effort, however. He started the game almost as sluggishly as Beasley did, turning the ball over a total of 3 times with 0 assists. Love was a team-worst (-11) tonight.
* Anthony Tolliver–typically my go-to-guy for identifying the embrace of Rubio-led catch-and-shoot basketball–made the fatal mistake of passing up an open trey to put the ball on the floor. With one minute to go, down by 2, AT drove and jumped to pass to a Grizzly player who gladly accepted the charity layup to seal the deal on this night. AT is a smart and aggressive player who will certainly remember next time to catch the ball and shoot it.
* Wes Johnson reverted to his old self after an outlierish 6 for 6 against the Spurs. Tonight’s 0-5 in 16 minutes is more reflective of his NBA worth.
* Derrick Williams probably earned more playing time in this game than he received. In just 16 minutes he put together a 6-point, 2-rebound, 1-assist, 0-turnover stat sheet and the team was (+5) with D-Thrill on the court. As usual, he threw down an emphatic Rubioop with authority. The rookie is making strides.
* Although Darko rebounded better than usual (8 rebounds, 3 offensive, in 22 minutes) he struggled in parts of this game against the savvy Marc Gasol. The Spaniard big man is one of the few true centers the NBA has left, and Adelman–perhaps wisely–left Darko on the floor to counter this mammoth interior presence. In any case, Darko had a (-7) tonight and shot only 1-6.
The Timberwolves cannot relax, BUT– the schedule will now ease up a bit. We now dip into the extremely-weak bottom half of the Eastern Conference, with Cleveland coming to Target Center on Friday Night. After that is a short road trip against the atrocious Washington Wi-ZARDS and then the improving-but-beatable Toronto Raptors. If I had to bet, it would be that the Wolves will win 2 of 3. However, a clean sweep of these bottom feeders would show a strong resurgence after blowing this one against the depleted Grizzlies of Memphis.
Season Record: 2-4