The Grizzlies, in a throwback to the supposedly bygone days of Grit and Grind basketball, brutalized the Wolves 93-71 Saturday night, controlling the game from the opening tip. Although the game was neck and neck through the first half, Memphis dictated the flow of the game; the Grizzlies wore the Wolves down on both sides of the ball while keeping the pace slower than that of the advancing glaciers during the Pleistocene (the pace of play for the game was 86.0; for reference, Memphis’s average pace of play coming into the game was a molasses-like 93.1, which was 28th in the league). Memphis took a 24-23 lead with 9:08 remaining in the second quarter and never looked back, outscoring the Wolves 69-48 over the final 39 minutes.
The Grizzlies played well overall. Zach Randolph was particularly great, tabulating 18 points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench. Randolph had his way with Gorgui Dieng, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Adreian Payne, contributing to their combined 12 fouls while drilling baseline jumper after baseline jumper (and a three for good measure). JaMychal Green was also effective and efficient putting up 19 points and eight rebounds on nine shots.
The Wolves simply could not get any momentum going tonight as a team; they just couldn’t find a rhythm offensively. Individually, Zach LaVine (9/16 from the field, 4/8 from 3) and Towns (6/10 from the field, 3/3 from 3) had solid shooting performances, posting 22 points and 17 points respectively, but the rest of the team struggled mightily. Andrew Wiggins failed to score in the double digits for the first time this season, scoring only seven points while shooting 2/11 from the field and the bench contributed only 14 points total.
Although the Wolves played quite poorly, it should be noted that the Grizzlies are a tough matchup for Minnesota. Their roster has a good mix of wily veterans and physical youngsters that present problems for the Wolves. The Wolves are typically able to use their athleticism and shooting to get opposing teams on their heels and exploit their weaknesses. However, the Grizzlies are able to counter the Wolves’ athleticism with physicality on both sides of the ball and “craftiness” (read: they can get in your head) from all five positions, which, when combined, take an exhausting toll over the course of 48 minutes.
This isn’t the first time the Wolves have struggled against teams of this ilk during the young 2016-17 season. What can the Wolves do to turn the tide in their favor against teams like the Memphis Grizzles?
The recipe for a beating these kinds of teams begins with strong point guard play, something the Wolves did not have against the Grizzlies. Ricky Rubio and Kris Dunn struggled mightily, combining for 2 points on 0/9 shooting and a plus/minus of -25. Rubio tallied seven assists and four rebounds, but along with Dunn, struggled to contain Mike Conley and Andrew Harrison, who combined for 26 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds, and a plus/minus of +32. The Wolves simply cannot hope to win games against teams such as the Grizzlies when the disparity between the two team’s point guards is that vast.
The next ingredient is strong rebounding and to say that the Wolves got pulverized on the boards against Memphis may be an understatement. Memphis grabbed 13 offensive rebounds and outrebound the Wolves 46-34 overall. Put in terms of percentages, the Grizzlies had a defensive rebounding percentage of 86.8% and an offensive rebounding percentage of 31.0% compared to 69.0% and 13.2% for the Wolves. Again, the Wolves stand a snowball’s chance in Hell of coming out victorious when they are getting beat that badly on the boards.
The final ingredient (that I will discuss in this article; there are more, obviously) is free throws. Memphis got to the line 38 times tonight and hit on 33 of their attempts (86.8%). The Wolves, who game into the game averaging just under 27 attempts per game, hit on only 14 of their 22 free throws (63.6%). Minnesota’s struggles from the free throw line continue to baffle. There really isn’t an excuse for why they are failing to hit their free throws at a high rate, especially because, as a team, they connected on nearly 80% of their trips to the line last season. That leads one to believe that the free throw ship will be righted at some point this season, but right now the team is in rough waters and there is no indication that the storm will be ending soon.
So, long story short, the third meeting between the Wolves and Grizzles didn’t go so well for the Wolves. Minnesota has a chance to wipe their hands clean of this one against the Boston Celtics at home on Monday. Opening tip is at 7 p.m.