Wolves Win Big Against Short-Handed Grizzlies; Does That Mean Anything?

Via Getty Images

Via Getty Images

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.

Other notes:

  • 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.
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5 Responsesso far.

  1. pyrrol says:

    I’m not really following Fizdale’s strategy here. Memphis isn’t exactly the Spurs–they don’t need to rest players for a deep playoff run, because they are geriatric, and frankly they don’t have the Spurs’ padding, so resting Gasol and Conely and barely playing Zach leaves a D-league team out there. This was only their 4th game. I get that they have a lot of games in a short period coming up, but just totally giving up on the possibility of winning games isn’t really good for early season momentum or morale. Would it be so hard to play Gasol and Conely limited minutes so they didn’t have to watch their team get pounded by 36 points?

    But it was just what the doctor ordered for us! We needed a shot of confidence, a laugher. It was also nice for Dunn to get his first start in a situation he could handle. This allowed him to get comfortable and build some confidence before some tougher matchups in the future.

    I expected Rubio to come limping on the court during the intro with his arm in a sling like a bad law firm commercial. But he looked fine and was waving with both arms. I’m not doctor, but maybe he won’t be out too long.

    LaVine was great. He scores with great ease. In transition, with drives to the rim and gets baskets with his beautiful jump shot. It seems like he is hardly breaking a sweat, like he could do it all night every night. He’s so good at getting shots. He can elevate enough to shoot over people and really is good at shooting off a little diversionary dribble. His 3 point shots are mostly good ones, and would be hard for most players to manufacture.

    Dunn looked alright, but against a D league team, basically, so hard to read into it. He shot nice and limited (playing within himself). I wouldn’t expect this good shooting to continue. He’ll be wildly inconsistent and never a huge threat, but some nights he’ll shoot like this, which is nice. He had 5 steals according to the box. I don’t recall that many, but that is a boatload! His defense could use some work despite the gaudy numbers, but it’s his most certain calling card. He seemed calm.

    Tyus didn’t get overpowered by the D leaguers. He plays a more pure, mature point on offense than Dunn and had 6 assists in 18 mins. Didn’t get totally eaten alive on D…

    Gorgui looked happy and had an extra spring in his step. He was everywhere on the court. He keeps making teams pay with that huge windup mid range shot of his. But he was very active in all aspects of the game.

    Bjelica looked a little better and rebounded well. I’d say the same of KAT. KAT is pressing–I think that’s his main problem. There was a lot of hype about him in the offseason nationally, and he just looks too avid and out of sync. As said above, let the game come to him. But he rebounded, had some tough baskets, showed a more physical side and passed.

    Hill is pretty good player for that far on the bench. Aldrich isn’t playing that hot on D yet, and Hill is a nice change of gear if we need it.

    Wiggins’ work on his 3 shot looks like it is going to pay off. He’s a scary player with a decent 3 point shot!

    We did what we needed to do to get better and took care of business given the situation. Given such a bad opponent, it was hard to take anything much away from it, though. Even as far as sets and coaching, the game was so open due to turnovers, fast breaks and horrible defense, and just being constantly over matched that we hardly had a need for sets and didn’t run a lot of stuff. We just dominated them on a 1 on 1 level and with how we spread lethal scoring threats all over the floor. That in particular is a way in which we need to grow—we need to be able to play into a more sophisticated offense that can be forced on good teams in crunch time so we don’t melt down and can win blow by blow games. It’s a work in progress so far to say the least, and was not evident in the tonight because we didn’t need it. We got our confidence up, but we’ll grow more against teams that actually play their players.

  2. Tom says:

    The team did what good teams do, beat an undermanned team like a drum. Past wolves teams would play to the competition and make the game close or lose the gimme. I love when this team passes the ball and doesn’t play one on one. KAT will learn that being patient and pass out of double teams will get him easier shots as guys like Zack will make them pay.

    However, when they get healthy, the Griz will be a top four team in the west. The next time we play them, should be a real test if Parsons, Gasol and Conley start.

  3. gjk says:

    I don’t think this Grizzlies team is good with their full group because they lack depth, and tonight’s game showed that. I don’t think Ennis or Harrison would even get minutes on most playoff teams, nor would Davis, and Baldwin would be iffy. All 3 of their games before this required above-average 3-point shooting from Conley (career 37.5%, 64% this season), Ennis (37%, 43%), and Gasol (23%, 42%). They eked out 2 wins with those boosts at home against 2 fringe playoff contenders and lost on the road to the Knicks. Parsons will help, but this isn’t a team that seems formidable any more.

  4. jmndodge says:

    Compare the win against our two losses. No meltdown in the 3rd quarter was the key difference. Lest we think we are stronger without Rubio – remember the 17/18 point leads against our first two opponents. Losses were not and can not be blamed on 2nd unit alone, but it seemed to me, that Thibs changed the 3rd quarter rotation – playing the starters before we were letting a lead slip away. Dunn played exceptional ball for a rookie making his first start. His most effective game – but then he played major minutes with KAT/Dieng/Wiggins/LaVine on the floor – and no question this kid can play defense. The 2nd unit benefited from Jones on the floor – not without mistakes – a couple of bad passes come to mind – and missing a beautiful open corner 3 (one he will normally hit) – but the 2nd unit played in sync with Jones running offense. While this obviously wasn’t the best Memphis lineup and we likely will not face “this” Memphis team again – a 30+ point victory makes a statement that a 3pt win would not have made. Take away the meltdowns in the 3rd quarter of games one and two and this team is 3-0, and you can read into that. I don’t worry about Towns – I don’t expect LaVine to give us 5 3’s and 30+ points most games – but Dieng, Wiggins, Towns are consistent producers. Between the talent of Dunn/LaVine/Bazz/Rush and solid backup from Aldrich/Bjelica/Hill and Jones (no they will not all play every game), once Rubio returns this team is capable of contending with most lineups. The strong big old guys in the paint will give some trouble, but the young legs – tenacous D – and fast breaks will keep us in the games.

  5. finchy74 says:

    Still can’t quite wrap my head around resting both Gasol and Conley for the same game and only 4 games into the season, but whatever. The game will hopefully be a nice confidence boost for players like Dunn and Tyus.

    As far as the premise of the article goes, I don’t think there’s much meaning to take away from this game and if there is, I’m not really looking for it. It’s a young team on their third coach in three years and their third system in three years. I do not expect any meaningful games until we’re at least 25% of the way through the season.

    For now my only takeaway is that it was a fun night and the Wolves did exactly what a good team is supposed to do to a short handed team: Thump the hell out of them.

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