MINNEAPOLIS – Memphis improved to 5-0 when scoring 100 or more points in Sunday's win over the Wolves. Meanwhile, the Wolves remain winless at home (0-5) through the first ten games of the season.
Jeff Green scored a season-high 21 points, and Mike Conley matched his season-high with 20 points to go with seven assists. Marc Gasol added 14 points and seven rebounds for the Grizzlies, who shot a season-high 56.3 percent from the field. Memphis entered the night shooting a league-low 40.1 percent.
"We've got to work on our defense," Sam Mitchell said. "We gave up 50+% from the two and the three. We rebounded enough, we had turnovers, bad turnovers at the wrong time of the game, but overall we didn't turn the ball over a lot. We've just got to play better defense."
The game was still close throughout, even with the defensive breakdowns. With three minutes remaining the door was open for the Wolves, down 94-93 after Zach LaVine's free throws, but Gasol hit an uncontested 12-foot jumper and Green delivered a dagger 23-foot three-pointer on the next possession to put Memphis up, 101-93.
LaVine turned on the microwave late, doing his best to keep it close at the end playing off ball next to Andre Miller – 11 of his 25 points, in only 17 minutes of play due to foul trouble, came in the last 1:35 of the game – but Memphis went 13-14 from the line in that same span, ultimately handing the Wolves their fourth straight loss on Sunday, 114-106.
There wasn't a whole lot to take away from the matinee performance at Target Center. Towns is way ahead of the curve and absolutely held his own against one of the best centers in the league (14 points and nine rebounds to Gasol's 16/7/4 line), Wiggins is markedly more dynamic and efficient playing alongside a natural point guard, the bench remains wildly inconsistent and unpredictable in terms of who to expect solid performances from, the Wolves don't play the modern pace and space style, and Rubio is the bow that ties everything together.
None of that is new.
The team remains winless without Ricky Rubio after starting 4-2 with him in the fold. When he plays they always have a chance to win. Winning without him, on the other hand, feels about as likely to happen as a Game Of Thrones episode without bloodshed.
"He's our point guard, we're not going to turn the ball over as much, we're going to get into our sets," Mitchell said when asked about playing in the absence of Rubio.
"He's a good defender on the ball, just everything. We've got a guy there now... Zach is playing well, but inexperienced. It just tells a lot of things. You saw the difference, he missed the last three, four games, we saw some games before that. He is our starting point guard. If you take the starting point guard off of any team, you're going to see a difference."
The offense ran completely different with Andre Miller running the point, compared to LaVine – he handed out a season-high eight assists off the bench, made numerous beautiful passes, got the offense going earlier in the shot clock, and added eight points and three steals in 33 minutes – but The Professor also finished with the worst +/- on the team (-17). His defense certainly lived up to it's poor reputation. Again, the downgrade from Rubio to Miller to LaVine was visible at each level.
Minnesota is now off to its worst start at home since 1994 when they lost their first 10 home games, a direct product of Rubio's absence.
Praise from Joerger
Grizzles head coach Dave Joerger was extremely complementary of the Wolves after the game.
"Obviously (Zach) LaVine scored a bunch in the last minute," Joerger said. "Man, he can really score. He's a really, really talented player. They've got a great future, but I think it's already here. (Andrew) Wiggins is a tremendous player, he's really, really hard to handle. For me to be able to put Tony Allen on him, then switch and put Matt Barnes on him when I take him out, then certainly Jeff Green can give him a different look. I don't know how many teams are able to do that. We like being able to do that. Man, he is really, really good. Karl-Anthony (Towns) got it going a little bit more in the second half, he was terrific. I didn't see Tyus Jones, but I love Tyus Jones, of course, because he's from Minnesota."
Joerger on Towns before the game: "He's a stud, man. You forget he's that young. He's 15 (points) and 10 (rebounds), is going to be a perennial all-star, and he's very talented.
Jeff Green on defending the Wolves:
"I know they have some quick guards in Wiggins and Zach who like getting out in transition, they're leapers. With veteran guys like Tay (Prince), Dre (Miller) and KG (Garnett), they're holding everyone accountable, so we just had to make sure they didn't get out in transition and get easy buckets."
Kevin Garnett became the fifth player in NBA history to surpass 50,000 minutes (Abdul-Jabar, K. Malone, Kidd, E. Hayes). Garnett now sits fourth all-time in minutes played, passing Elvin Hayes (50,000) this afternoon. He played a season-high 23:54, finishing with 8 points, five rebounds, and four assists.
KG on reaching 50,000 minutes...
"To be honest, any achievement at this point is always a good one. Like you said, durability is something I take a lot of pride in. I don't like missing games, but being at this stage of my career and being able to be out here starting... I don't know what I look like, I know on the stat sheet, I know I don't put a lot up, but energetically-wise, I'm giving what I have. I like to think that I can still guard and that says a lot."
Happy 20th birthday to Karl-Anthony. Those teen-Wolf years sure were great while they lasted.
"I love being on that court with those kind of players," Towns said about facing the Grizzlies front line. "The high-level, elite talent on the court makes it more fun to play."
The BIG KAT is going to be a S-U-P-E-R-S-T-A-R. In three years, what skills will he not possess? Losses like these become easier to swallow when considering Towns' incredible ability at his age.
Karl-Anthony Towns with the over the shoulder pass to Andre Miller. Happy Birthday, kid pic.twitter.com/V8fwFsuAJ3— The Cauldron (@TheCauldron) November 15, 2015
The losing also becomes easier to understand, and rationalize, when Rubio sits out. His effect on the end result is well documented. For the record, his +/- net (on/off) per 100 possessions currently sits at +19.1 through 185 minutes this season. His career on/off is +8.3.
Nights like tonight, all I can think is... O Brother, Where Art Thou Rubio?