Let’s cut right to the chase: the Minnesota Timberwolves shellacked the Memphis Grizzlies during Tuesday night’s home opener to the tune of 116-80. After a slow, not-exactly-pretty first five minutes, which saw the lead undulate between the two teams, the Wolves pulled ahead 14-12 off of a Kris Dunn three-pointer and the team never trailed again. However, I would be remiss to not mention early in this recap that Mike Conley (rest) and Marc Gasol (rest) did not participate in the game as well as prized off-season acquisition Chandler Parsons, who is still recovering from a knee procedure he had done in March.
Kris Dunn, due to the sprained elbow Ricky Rubio suffered in Saturday night’s loss to the Sacramento Kings, made the first start of his career and, overall, I thought he did a nice job. Dunn compiled 10 points (2/3 from deep), six assists, three rebounds, and five steals in 29 minutes of play. He played within himself on offense, though he still forced passes that weren’t there from time to time, but, most impressively, he showcased the defensive talent that made him so attractive to Thibodeau and Co. prior to the draft. Dunn’s ability to disrupt passing lanes with his 6’9” wingspan and to stay in front of his man due to his lateral quickness was on full display and he did a pretty good job at fighting to get over screens in the pick-and-roll, as well.
In other positive news, Zach LaVine continued to his flamethrower shooting from beyond the arc, connecting on five of his nine attempts and tallying a team-high 31 points. At one point in the first quarter, LaVine was bumped unintentionally by JaMychal Green on his way down from completing an alley-oop from Karl-Anthony Towns causing him to land awkwardly and roll his ankle, which sent Wolves fans into cardiac arrest. LaVine exited the game but would return soon after and continue right where he left off.
Although the win served as a much-needed reprieve from the sands of two 17-point blown leads, the question of whether or not anything of substance can be gleaned from this game lingers. In short: It’s tough to say. On one hand, the Wolves did everything head coach Tom Thibodeau wants them to do. Play aggressive and focused on both sides of the ball for 48 minutes? Check. Close the three-point gap? Check (the Wolves were a blistering 12/20 from deep; the Grizzlies: a blistered 4/24). Make their free throws? Sorta check; 78.3% (18/23) isn’t great, but it’s closer to the near 80% mark they put up last season compared to the 70% (42/60) they shot in the previous two games.
Though, as previously mentioned, the Grizzlies were missing their three best players, only played Zach Randolph and Tony Allen 10 and 19 minutes, respectively, and started two rookies along with a sophomore. These decisions were made primarily because the Grizzlies are scheduled to play four games over a five-day period. In other words, the Grizzlies better resembled a preseason squad on the second night of a back-to-back than the playoff team they figure to be. Sure, it is encouraging that the Wolves performed the way they did – they won big in a game they should have won big, after all. But performing the way they did against a fully stocked team is another story and, frankly, would be much more indicative of where the team is headed.
That’s not to say that all of the positives seen tonight aren’t still encouraging. They are. They are just a little watered down and one has to wonder if they will be repeated consistently going forward against stiffer competition.
But, who is to say that this victory won’t serve as a catalyst for the team and bring about more confidence and consistency in the Wolves going forward? Right now, everything is up in the air. This is one of those situations where grand proclamations would be better off not being made (and, really, they should never be made after a single game anyway) and we’ll just have to wait and see what kind of impact it has on the team going forward.
- Andrew Wiggins was impressive again tonight, scoring 17 points (2/2 from three), three rebounds, and four assists, so now everyone can stop complaining about him not having any assists. His vision looked good – he could have had a few more assists if it weren’t for missed shots and game-stopping whistles – and he differed a few rebounds to KAT and Gorgui. His defense was pretty solid, too. Overall, I have been very encouraged by Wiggins’ early this season.
- Speaking of Gorgui, the $64 million man had himself another solid game putting up a line of 17/6/2. I thought Dieng was in better position to defend pick-and-rolls than he was during the first time these teams matched up, but, again, Conley and Gasol were out, so that helps.
- KAT’s “struggles” continued tonight, as he put up only 11 points on 10 shots in 30 minutes. However, he did register a season-high 10 rebounds to go along with four assists. Wolves color analyst Jim Petersen noted on several occasions throughout the broadcast that Towns refused to pass out of double-teams in the post and instead forced a shot or tried to draw a foul. It almost feels like KAT is pressuring himself to perform at the moment rather than letting the game come to him. I am not worried in the slightest about KAT and think he will make adjustments and breakout soon.
- I thought Tyus Jones played well in his first action of the season. He served as the team’s backup and was a calming force for the Wolves when the game was still relatively in reach. He controlled the team on offense and wasn’t a total minus on defense, which is evident in his +9 rating for the night (Brandon Rush, who hit a couple threes, was the only other bench player who played double digit minutes with a positive +/-.)
- Adreian Payne and John Lucas III were the only Wolves not to log minutes in this contest.
- The Wolves play the Denver Nuggets on Thursday at home. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 pm.