Grizzlies 107, Wolves 99: A hot start… but not much else.

Brad Rempel: USA Today Sports

The Timberwolves first basket was a wide-open three pointer by Ricky Rubio. It came off of a long offensive rebound by Andrew Wiggins who kicked it out to Ricky. Their next basket was a three by Karl-Anthony Towns, also assisted by Wiggins, with the shot clock expiring. In the opening minutes they had other good looks from downtown that were attempted without hesitation, but missed — one by Rubio and another by Brandon Rush, who was filling in for Zach LaVine, who had been diagnosed with a torn ACL earlier in the day (more on this in a moment). On possessions that didn’t include an open look from downtown, the Wolves were pushing the ball in transition. Wiggins scored on an easy layup and Rush was fouled on a breakaway attempt.

The Wolves began the game playing with pace and purpose. They created good shots and fired them without thinking twice. They looked like the better team and a win seemed almost inevitable against the undermanned Grizzlies, who were resting Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, and Chandler Parsons.

Things changed in the second quarter.

After a couple of early Shabazz Muhammad baskets — a baseline driving floater, and then a cutting layup off a sweet feed from Tyus Jones — the offense stalled. They led the Grizzlies 37-20 with a little over 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter. From there, they would score just 11 points to close the half and the game was tied 48-48 at the break.

What went wrong?

A lot of different things.

Brandon Rush decided to drive to the basket and charged over a waiting Grizzlies defender. Nemanja Bjelica threw a terrible side-to-side pass to Cole Aldrich that was intercepted, and then compounded his mistake by lightly fouling JaMychal Green as he scored the breakaway layup. When the Grizzlies surprised the Wolves with a full-court trap, Jones jumped and whipped the ball up the floor into coverage. His pass was picked off and quickly converted into a Troy Daniels three-pointer.

Thibs called timeout at this point and subbed Ricky, KAT, and Gorgui Dieng back in. Initially, it seemed like they took back the momentum. They got a series of stops, and a KAT hook shot here with a Rubio jumper there and the lead was back up to 14 with six and a half minutes to go in the half. But then the Grizzlies turned it back on.

Troy Daniels buried a jumper off of a pin-down screen. Ricky Rubio airballed a jumper. Next time down, Daniels came off another pin-down, this time curling, and Rubio & KAT allowed him to slip the ball to the screener (Brandon Wright) for an open dunk. A few possessions later, Gorgui passed up a mid-range jumper — the thing he’s one of the best in the game at — for a driving hook shot that was swatted away and fed into Grizzlies transition offense. Troy Daniels converted an easy bucket against the scrambled Wolves defense. Ricky threw an uncharacteristically bad skip pass to the open space between Rush in the corner and Wiggins on the wing; out of bounds. When Brandon Rush mishandled a rebound, Z-Bo snatched it and scored — plus the foul.

Once the momentum turned decidedly in the Grizzlies favor, the Wolves struggled mightily to get it back on their side. After getting the game tied by half, Memphis built up a lead in the third quarter. They led by 11 points late in the third, before Shabazz and Bjelica did a few things to turn it around and cut the deficit to just 2 at the last quarter break, and they actually led by a point for a brief moment when Tyus buried a three in the opening minutes of the fourth.

But for all intents and purposes, the Grizz took this game over down the stretch. More than anyone else, JaMychal Green gave them fits, outworking the Wolves bigs on the glass en route to a career high 29 points on 8-11 shooting. After a series of fouls and quick possession changes in the final minute, the final score was Grizzlies 107, Wolves 99.

A few takeaways:

  • First, this loss — while disappointing — isn’t quite as bad as the “Memphis was without Gasol/Allen/Parsons” line seems to suggest. Coming into last night’s game, these Grizzlies had established a pattern of playing decent basketball without each of those players. Their “off” rating without Gasol was (-0.8), Allen (+0.8) and Parsons (+1.5). In other words, while each of those players is important (Gasol in particular) the Grizzlies remain a solid team in their absence. Mike Conley was the best player on the floor last night, Vince Carter and Zach Randolph are crafty vets who can beat anyone on a given night, and Green can obviously play well. The Wolves needed to play well to win that game — it wasn’t going to be handed to them.
  • Second, that was not a pretty game for Ricky Rubio. He shot 15 times, which owed to both smart Grizzlies defense that funneled the ball his direction, but also his own foul-baiting attempts that the refs were not buying. From almost the starting tip, Ricky seemed frustrated by the ball pressure put on by Memphis guards, constantly barking at the officials. He was (-14) in 38 minutes of action. Jones, who had a couple bad turnovers but otherwise played a pretty nice game, was (+1) with 10 points and 6 assists in 24 minutes; sometimes paired with Rubio as the off guard. Along with Muhammad, Jones has the best catch-and-shoot instincts on the team. He is ready to fire when left open.
  • Third, those of us on the “Brandon Rush makes the Wolves so much better” bandwagon might need to tap the breaks. Whether it was rust from so much time sitting on the bench or just regression to the mean, Rush laid an egg, last night. He shot 1-5 from the floor in 24 minutes of (-17) basketball. The Wolves missed Zach LaVine, last night. Thibs did not seem worried at all about Rush after the game, emphasizing that he’ll be fine, and that he’s a pro. He’s probably right, but that was not an encouraging first game in what will likely be his role for the foreseeable future.
  • Fourth, Wiggins had an excellent first quarter, but struggled to do much after that. Five of his 23 points came in the meaningless final minute. He took a lot of shots (22) to get his 23. It just wasn’t a very good game for him.
  • Fifth, the LaVine news… well, for starters, it’s obviously not good. Although he had been slumping a bit of late, Zach was turning in the best season of his career, becoming one of the league’s prolific perimeter shooters and improving (if slowly) on defense. ACL injuries are not as severe a setback as they once were, but this is a setback for LaVine, no question. It will be interesting to see if Thibs continues to play Brandon Rush in the starting shooting guard role for the rest of the season, or if he uses the opportunity to get his younger bench players (Kris Dunn, Jones, Muhammad) more minutes in different situations. My guess is that it will be a little bit of both, but mostly the latter. After the Wolves recent hot stretch (against a soft schedule) fans are talking playoffs, with the West eighth seed within reach. I don’t get the sense Thibs cares much at all about a playoff berth, compared to the simple and more-important task of improving as a team. In his recent interview with Britt Robson for MinnPost, Thibs talked about his understanding of where this team is in the developmental stages (“early”) and how he is most concerned about the future and doing things the right way to establish a winning foundation. With those types of themes emanating from many Thibs decisions as both personnel boss and coach, I expect that he’ll use the LaVine absence more to give opportunities to younger players under longer term contracts than to play Rush 35 minutes per game in hopes for a late-season push for a 1-8 matchup with the juggernaut Warriors. As close as the Wolves are to the 8 seed right now (3.5 games back) they are also positioned to get a very high draft pick in what figures to be a loaded class of prospects. They are currently tied with the Pelicans for the 5th worst record in the league. Adding yet another talented 19-year old might not be what the patience-tested Wolves Nation wants most, but it might be what’s best for their long-term future, which is all Thibs & Layden, LLC seems to care about.

Last night’s game was the first of a six-game homestand. Next up are Dion Waiters and the red-hot Miami Heat, tomorrow night at Target Center.

Until then.

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2 thoughts on “Grizzlies 107, Wolves 99: A hot start… but not much else.

  1. A few thoughts:

    I’m a big LaVine fan, but tried to console myself by saying that Rush would come in and as of right now we’d be about as effective at winning as without LaVine. That looks to be true, so I guess I’m on a Rush bandwagon of sorts. This game didn’t dissuade me. It was no coincidence that our hot start was while he was out there. In the second half, Rush didn’t come back in with the starters in the 4th with Thibs playing Rubio and Tyus together a long, awkward stretch. Yeah, he was somehow -17 but I don’t think that’s going to be a trend. Stubborn man—any way he can find to not play Rush he takes even though he’s played effectively. Yeah, his stats were not great and this was far from his best performance. We need to play the guy with LaVine out. Period.

    Didn’t miss Dunn, again.

    Yeah Rubio (and others) were frustrated because Memphis was fouling like crazy and not getting called for it. They ended up getting called for 25 fouls against them, while we got 27. Anyone who is watching can tell you that they were being much more physical and hacking and grabbing much more. Officiating was sadly a pretty big factor in this one.

    Ya know, it was a fairly typical Wiggins game, sadly. Look at the stats after and they are OK though not very efficient. His effort was inconsistent and often not very timely. More often than not, that’s Wiggins.

    Thibs gets outmaneuvered again. We were up big, and then Fizzdale called a press that turned the momentum around perfectly and changed the course of the game. Thibs did________.

    I hope the LaVine injury doesn’t encourage tanking/developmental hibernation mode. We need to win games as PART of development. I hope we draft a good player, but that’s not where it’s at for us anymore. We need to get these guys playing well and add some smallish pieces, not draft ‘n’ wait. That ship has sailed.

    I love Tyus time. We got lots of it. But I didn’t really like the Tyus Rubio thing. It looked awkward. And will not work against a lot of lineups at all. This might have a lot to do with Dunn also being out. Looking forward, I hope Thibs uses this as an excuse to play Tyus more with Dunn who can slide over to the 2. Shabazz can play more with starters and also be a SF type on the bench.

    Did Fizzdale go to a 3D move and then just walk straight to the ophthalmologist and say, ‘Put my lenses in these bad boys!’? Good creative coach, though.

    Green!? So Wolvesy to let a guy like that look like an all star.

  2. After the Cavs game, I said the Wolves should view the next set of games as a playoff primer. They would be playing teams that have given them difficulty all season. Veteran teams with strong post players and very good defensive teams. Well, they are 0-2 with the Heat coming in tonight. Just like a playoff series, this would seem like a must win.

    Losing Zack, doesn’t help, but it shouldn’t be a ready excuse to tank. The game against the Grizzlies was a tough loss because they played well out of the gates and with key players not playing, they should have won. Then came the wholesale changes off the bench and the Grizzlies exploited it with pressure and got their bearings.

    A couple things about the changes. I saw KAT and Wiggins both dog it during the game, which I think is a sign of wear and tear. Rubio was getting fouled, as was KAT, but they didn’t respond with their own physical counter punch, so since the refs are going to let them play physical, they have to match that intensity or lose the FT battle and get pushed around. Which is exactly what happened.

    If that means Thibs has to play his bench deeper and with some new wrinkles to his combinations, so his starters and especially his stars play with energy, that is what good coaches do. Remember, the game in San Antonio, POP used his entire bench to get his team going and keep his stars fresh for the second half. By the end of that game, we looked like the old team (tired and slow) and they looked like the young guys.

    Tonight they face a Miami team that is playing well, but this is not a great team. Whiteside will make it hard for us to drive to the basket. Goran will make us pay if we don’t force his hand and they could out muscle us again. However, if Thibs plays this game like a must win playoff game and keeps his starters fresh and doesn’t expose his weak bench more than he needs to for long stretches, he should be able to get a win. If not, we go to 0-3 and that means out of the playoffs.

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