Sometimes you lose because the other team is bigger or more talented. Sometimes you lose because your opponent is raining threes, as if some spectral force were at work. And sometimes you lose simply because your opponent plays more energetically than you did; there are scores of games like this every year. Particularly in this sprint/marathon of a season, there will be games in which neither team shoots the ball particularly well or executes their offense with any particular aplomb. In those games, the team that most effectively wills its dead legs to move probably wins.
Tuesday night’s game was like that–and if you had any doubt of this just check out the two teams’ combined 9-40 three-point shooting. With Marc Gasol sitting in a chair, wearing an ankle boot to match his large man’s suit, and with Zach Randolph still convalescing (albeit on the court), the Grizzlies did not present the Wolves with their typical matchup nightmare. And the Wolves certainly had their vibrant moments–their Love-fueled 20-6 third-quarter run, for instance. But for crucial stretches of the game, the Grizzlies simply played with more energy and verve, particularly on defense and in transition. They ran the floor; they swarmed defensively. In other words, the Grizzlies were the better team.
|Wesley Johnson, SG 22 MIN | 3-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 6 PTS | +6It’s getting to be a tired story: Wes Johnson is flat-footed and inconsistent on offense, (those two jumpers off the bounce notwithstanding). He lacks energy and engagement on D. Case in point: Wes falls asleep while guarding Rudy Gay. Seeing this, Gay cuts to the hoop. Johnson attempts to recover–not quite enough to affect the shot, just enough to get righteously dunked on.|
|Derrick Williams, F 41 MIN | 4-15 FG | 5-6 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 14 PTS | -6It was nice to see Williams taking the ball to the hoop with some conviction in the first half, particularly when he ladled in that gorgeous, floating finger-roll. But tonight, as he often does, Williams had trouble generating the lift necessary to finish strong at the rim. And he also forced a lot of contested jumpers.|
|Kevin Love, PF 38 MIN | 10-22 FG | 4-4 FT | 11 REB | 2 AST | 28 PTS | -3Ok, well its not 60 points and 40 rebounds or whatever, but 28 points and 11 boards (four offensive) is still a pretty solid game. Love is generally frustrated by playing against the long, physical Grizzlies but in this game he played with some passion and held his own. He was the only reason the Wolves scored enough points to make the game even remotely close.|
|Luke Ridnour, PG 38 MIN | 4-13 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 5 AST | 9 PTS | -10Ridnour distributed the ball well for most of the game. But in the fourth quarter, when the Grizzlies bore down defensively, he was unable both to create opportunities by penetrating the paint and to hit his own shot.|
|Martell Webster, SF 34 MIN | 4-10 FG | 1-2 FT | 10 REB | 0 AST | 9 PTS | -2Webster hit some shots early on but for most of the game his offense was as stilted and forced as always.|
|Anthony Tolliver, PF 13 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | -6Tolliver played with his customary energy, but wasn’t nearly as effective as in the past few games. He got into foul trouble early which tempered his aggressiveness, both defensively and on the offensive glass. And his long game was just as indecisive as everybody else’s.|
|Wayne Ellington, G 27 MIN | 6-10 FG | 1-1 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 15 PTS | -13Besides Love, Ellington was the only Wolf to shoot the ball well tonight. In true tragicomic style, he hits the leaning, desperate three to cut Memphis’ late lead to five…and then misses the balanced, wide-open look that would have cut it to two.|
|Malcolm Lee, G 13 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 PTS | -1Lee has now given us a nice taste of what he’s all about. We got a look at the on-the-ball defensive chops that made him attractive to the Wolves on draft night. But he’s still not able to generate any offensive action when running the show.|
Three Things We Saw
- The Wolves’ many injuries–to Pekovic, to Barea, to Beasley–hurt them in many ways. They clearly missed the scoring that those players represent and they also seemed to be suffering some fatigue in the fourth quarter. Also: the extended floor time for lineups featuring Malcolm Lee paired with Wayne Ellington along with Tolliver and Derrick Williams. Suffice to say this is not a group that will generate much offense.
- One measure of the Grizzlies energy advantage is their 22-9 advantage in fast break points. But this was not just a result of Memphis’ superior open-court athleticism. Their defense was able to swarm the Wolves in the paint, forcing them to take far too many contested jumpers. And contested jumpers are easy to turn into transition baskets.
- Another measure of this same phenomenon was the disparity in free throw shooting. The Griz took 28 free throws compared to the Wolves’ 13. This tells you a few things. First, that Memphis was more energetic in attacking the basket than was Minnesota. Second, that the Grizzlies defense did a better job of shutting down driving lanes than did the Wolves.