Timberwolves 114, Grizzlies 108: A win is a win is a win


The Memphis Grizzlies are in dire straits. They’ve already been granted three injury hardship exceptions and when Mario Chalmers — a feelgood story this year for Memphis — went down with a season-ending Achilles rupture, they had little choice but to waive him in order to get enough healthy bodies on the roster to play a game. Yet in spite of injuries to Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and just about every other able body on the roster, the Grizzlies are sitting in fifth place in the Western Conference. Such is the weirdness of expectations and experience.

On paper, a Wolves team starting Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng and Karl-Anthony Towns (a lineup with an 11.8 net rating over the last five games and 109 minutes they’ve played) should demolish the motley crew Memphis could field: Ryan Hollins, JaMychal Green, Matt Barnes, Tony Allen and a guy named Briante Weber. And at first, they were, jumping out to a 42-25 lead by the end of the first quarter. But the Grizzlies kept hanging around, outscoring Minnesota in the second and fourth quarters, even though the Wolves kept them at arm’s length.

Look at the box score and it looks decent for Minnesota: Six players in double figures including 28 from LaVine on 11-for-19 shooting (6-for-10 on 3-pointers), a +20 for Dieng, a +10 for Tyus Jones, double-doubles for Rubio and Towns and 10 3-pointers for the team overall — a veritable bounty when you’re talking about the Wolves. But this was definitely a case of Memphis playing worse than Minnesota. The Grizzlies shot 44% overall and just 20% from the arc, and although Lance Stephenson had himself a game — especially in the first half where he scored 17 points — he was the only player with a positive plus-minus at +11. Second best was the aforementioned Weber at 0.

It makes it so tempting to call this a “bad win,” the flipside of a loss you might call a “moral victory.” In either of these cases, it’s a matter of perspective. Most forward-thinking people likely subscribe to “process over results”; when we have time and space to consider things, we know that simply judging on outcomes means ignoring granular stuff that can be controlled or worked on in favor of attributing success or failure to big picture things like luck. Chase the outcome and you’re likely to never understand how you got there.

But looking at things that way can also lead to things like calling games “bad wins,” or totally ignoring your own ethos and wondering out loud why the hell Sam Mitchell didn’t put LaVine in at shooting guard sooner when maybe his recent success is due at least in part to the process that got him to this point. The second is only natural: in the face of the unknowability of the entire process, sometimes we can only focus on the results.

The much-hated “moral victory,” though, is a product of the same process-based thinking as the “bad win.” Moral victories are derided for being Panglossian — pie-eyed optimism papering over fundamental problems with a team, a way to make you feel better about something that’s still basically a pile of crap. The bad win is a way to make you feel bad about something that should feel good, and so it also carries a whiff of condescension. “Oh, your team won? They really SHOULDN’T have, you know.”

It all gets hopelessly tangled up: pessimism, optimism, faith, science, process, results. I’m reminded of a road trip I took with my college roommate and his younger brother after my freshman year. After three days with two other male teenagers, I could no longer tell when we were being sarcastic and when we weren’t.

“You want to stop at that diner for dinner?”

“Yeah, great idea.”



“Do you actually think it’s a great idea, or are you giving me shit?”

“I’m totally not giving you shit.”


So, no: the Wolves didn’t DESERVE to win based on how they played. And some nights they’ll DESERVE to win and won’t. Sometimes it’s possible to get so wrapped up in process that we can forget the results. Sometimes a win is a win is a win.

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3 Responsesso far.

  1. pyrrol says:

    I’m just happy for a win. I wouldn’t call this a bad one, but there are signs of worry in this game.

    Going in, I felt sorry for Memphis. I like their roster and have enjoyed watching them lately and I know how bad the injury bug like they’ve caught can be. I lost my empathy for them during this game. They played very rough, even dirty, and rarely did the refs do their job and keep this under control. We got more banged up in this one game than we have in the last month. And it’s not a coincidence.

    Dieng really was big in this game. We still got killed on the boards (by Ryan Hollins!?) and he deserves part of the blame for that, but he played hard, came up big when we needed him, fought through a bruised hip and showed his hard work is paying off.

    Can’t help but think that a non player reason this game was so close, despite the 10 day all stars as our opponents, is coaching. We could have gotten beat if not for Rubio making something out of nothing, LaVine’s red hot do-it-yourself offense, and Dieng coming up big. Our game plan wasn’t very good and was masked by LaVine and Rubio’s good shooting. Perhaps Sam is encouraging them to take more threes finally, but he’s not putting three friendly offense out there or designing good action to help. It sort of looks like LaVine and Rubio have taken it upon themselves to shoot more threes no matter what. Either way, we need the kind of attempts we saw in this game every game.

    The height of baseless speculation is assuming LaVine is doing well at shooting guard with Rubio now, because of how doggone long we forced him to play point guard and without Rubio.

    • bpechek says:

      Playing devil’s advocate here (I don’t quite believe that’s synonymous with playing Sam Mitchel’s advocate), but they started the preseason starting Zach at shooting guard and he did terribly. Mitchel moved him to point guard to fix the problem, which now seems to be fixed.

      It seems likely that Zach would have gotten going eventually anyway, and the problem may have had more to do with the fact that Rubio wasn’t playing durring the preseason. But regardless, there was a problem, Sam Mitchel enacted a plan to fix that problem, and the problem is now fixed. So I wouldn’t call it flat out baseless speculation that the problem is fixed because of the plan used to fix it.

      • pyrrol says:

        The season is almost over. Zach was only recently put in a role for him to show is talents and succeed in. I mean, logically, why would playing point guard and with the bench a whole bunch really help a guy in his role as a starting shooting guard? Like more than just playing shooting guard? It’s not really logical. It is possible, but it needs more backing up as a claim than ‘oh eventually when played as the starting 2 Zach did well’ because I’m pretty sure that would be true or truer if he got all those minutes at the actual position he plays best. It’s a dangerous precedent to assume playing guys out of position improves their development in any way.

        I recall Zach having trouble at the opening of the season. I was optimistic about Sam because he decided to have Zach at the 2 right away. But he backed off that so fast. There were many other solutions, including giving it more time. My favorite would have been to move Zach to the bench for a while as the shooting guard while playing Andre Miller as the back up point guard with the idea of working Zach up to being the starting two guard. Or others that keep guys in position. And this is only one of a hundred issues that raise red flags when we consider coaching this season, so even if Sam was right on with how he used Zach all season (I don’t think so) he was not the level of coach this franchise needs going forward in many other ways.

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