Well, it begins.
On Wednesday, the Minnesota Timberwolves dropped their season opener against the Memphis Grizzlies, 105-101. Minutes before the opening tip it was announced Kevin Martin would not play, alas, the outcome may have been different had the Wolves made a few more shots or taken better care of the basketball - they turned it over 23 times.
Until yesterday, the Grizzlies had never won a season opener since relocating from Vancouver to Memphis (0-13). Their core of Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Tony Allen and Mike Conley entered last night's game having won 21 playoff contests over the previous four seasons. The Wolves returned three-of-five starters from last year's team. Ricky Rubio, Corey Brewer and Nikola Pekovic were aside newcomer Thaddeus Young and rookie Andrew Wiggins.
It was announced minutes prior to the opening tip Kevin Martin would not play due to a strained groin. The Wolves begin the season with three-games over a span of four-days, thus Martin could very well be back for Thursday's game against the Detroit Pistons. His status as of now is uncertain.
With just over five-minutes remaining in the opening quarter, the Wolves trailed the Grizzlies after a slow start, 11-21, but rallied to regain the lead shortly thereafter. The first frame ended with the score 27-25. Zach Randolph tallied 12 points going against Thaddeus Young.
Young, who gives up size going against the one they call "Z-Bo," defended about as best he could but good offense beats OK defense in basketball like it does in every other sport. Alternatively, Young battled on the offensive end in his own right - he scored nine-points on four-of-seven shooting in the opening frame. Both players were impressive.
There was a scare during the second-quarter when Gorgui Dieng was taken to the locker room clutching his hand after an incidental collision. From what I saw, it looked like he jammed a finger. Dieng returned to the game in the third-quarter after scoring seven-points and collecting four-rebounds in the first-half.
Man. Can Anthony Bennett play center?— Phil Ervin (@PhilErvin) October 30, 2014
Do you think Anthony Bennett can play center?
Ronnie Turiaf was inactive against the Grizzlies, making for a curious situation after Dieng headed to the locker room for x-rays. Head Coach Flip Saunders has talked so often about putting Nikola Pekovic on a minute limit, so to speak, and the Wolves aren't a team with many big bodies on the roster. Had Dieng suffered a serious injury Ervin's question becomes more relevant, wouldn't you think?
Moreover, Bennett finished the game with nine-points and three-rebounds. There was also this emphatic dunk play that happened. I'll leave this here.
#BigDaddyCanada RT @cjzero: Anthony Bennett leaps from the dotted line and hammers a fast break dunk https://t.co/OJBowTLojY— Patrick Fenelon (@Patrick_Fenelon) October 30, 2014
The highly anticipated debut of Andrew Wiggins was underwhelming. Two words: Tony Allen. Wiggins didn't play poorly, but it's tough to get anything going against a renowned perimeter defender in Allen. It was early-foul trouble that rendered him with less than 20-minutes of playing time in a spot-start against the Grizzlies. Wiggins scored six-points on two-of-five shooting while also grabbing three-rebounds to go with fouls.
Wiggins made the only three-point attempt he took. His ability to connect from beyond the three point line is going to be key, because the Wolves, from what we saw last night, certainly don't have many players who can do that. There are not many on the roster who, historically, have been efficient threats in that area.
Ricky Rubio played well but poorly at the same time. He scored 12 points on 5 of 12 shooting. His seven-assists were negated by six-turnovers. Rubio continues to be aggressive driving to the basket. He was the victim of a questionable call late in the fourth quarter, one that resulted in a Wolves turnover and a four-point swing in favor of the home club, but overall, Rubio was solid.
Remember: The Wolves are still learning to play together. Yes, they lost to the Grizzlies, but they'll have the chance to redeem themselves Thursday against the Detroit Pistons.
Flip postgame on MIN bench (46pts on 51% FG) "Our bench was great, I was tempted to let them finish the game as well as they were playing."— Alan Horton (@WolvesRadio) October 30, 2014
- Together, Mo Williams and Shabazz Muhammad scored 31 points on 11 of 19 shooting from the field. Williams also contributed four-assists. This tandem was three-of-five from behind the three point line. More importantly, Williams and Muhammad hit some key shots during the final frame that kept the Wolves in the game.
- Nikola Pekovic did not have a good night. He looked rusty, scoring just five-points on two-of-nine shooting. Pek also grabbed eight-rebounds. It was not an encouraging performance.
- Thaddeus Young scored 26 points on 10 of 18 shooting. He also had four-rebounds. This was an encouraging performance.
If players can continue to produce this efficiently on a nightly basis, I don't think it would be egregious to assume we'll see a lot of close games. Problem is, with this group, it's tough to predict who we'll see play how many minutes on any given night. If Flip Saunders cannot achieve consistency in terms of roles and rotations, I image it would be tough for players to develop chemistry. We'll see how Saunders goes about distributing minutes between the mix of veterans and developing players as the season progresses.