MEMPHIS — Of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first twelve games of the season, tonight’s was their third against the Memphis Grizzlies. The first was a close loss in the season opener in Memphis and the first of the litany of bad third quarters. The second was a blowout win in Minnesota in which Mike Conley and Marc Gasol sat out. Tonight was a blowout the other way, as the Grizzlies put on an exhibition of high-quality defense, eventually cruising to a 93-71 stomp of the Wolves.
The new factor in tonight’s game? Veteran Tony Allen, the Grindfather himself, playing only his sixth game of the season on his way back from a groin injury. Allen’s defense on Andrew Wiggins was game-changing, as was Memphis’ team focus on Wiggins, throwing double-teams at him throughout the game and holding him to a mere seven points on 2/11 shooting from the field.
“I’ve got to credit Mike [Conley], James [Ennis III], those guys, helping, the switches, showing. Like I said, whenever we’re tied together on the defensive end, we’re a tough team to beat,” Allen said after the game. “A lot of teams try to get us in transition, because they don’t want to see our half court on defense.” The Wolves managed just two fast break points on the night, so they did not manage to get in transition.
Wiggins was stifled, and the rest of the Wolves did him no favors in carrying the load. The Grizzlies’ defense was excellent, and the Wolves were frequently happy to assist them in not scoring. Their 19 turnovers led to 27 Memphis points, and even their open shots refused to fall during Memphis’ big run in the third quarter. The looks were there, and while perhaps too many of them were threes, they were more open than most looks had been in the first half. They just didn’t drop.
For once, the defense was actually not the biggest problem. Two numbers pop out: rebounds and fouls. Memphis won the rebounding battle 46-34, and their 13 offensive boards led to 15 second-chance points, mostly easy layups. They also shot an eye-popping 33/38 from the free throw line, as many Wolves were guilty of foolish reach-in fouls and bad decisions from start to finish of the game.
Tonight’s third-quarter meltdown was directly related to that foul trouble. Karl-Anthony Towns had picked up his third foul with 4:33 left in the second quarter, and his fourth came on the very first possession of the third quarter. Tom Thibodeau was forced to immediately put Nemanja Bjelica in for him, and while the Wolves held up okay on defense, the offense eventually sputtered to a complete stop without Towns’ threat inside, and the defense could not hold up any longer.
Just like in the first game here in Memphis, Zach Randolph’s work off the bench was an immense factor in the game. Randolph’s bullying offense and strong work on the glass got to both Towns and Gorgui Dieng, and his 18 points were a steady key to Memphis’ offense. Between Randolph’s muscular play and JaMychal Green’s 14 second-half points (notably, starting immediately after Bjelica began guarding him), the Grizzlies did just fine despite shooting just 38.2% on the night and going just 2/18 from beyond the arc.
Ricky Rubio was predictably unhappy after the game. “We played soft,” He said. “We didn’t play with energy. They outplayed us... We knew they were coming from a back-to-back, and we didn’t play with energy. It seemed like we were the ones playing a back-to-back.” In their back-to-back, Memphis held the Mavericks to 64 points last night before holding the Wolves to 71 tonight.
This was a dud of a game from the Wolves against a veteran team that played exactly the kind of game they wanted to play. Even with an off night from one of Memphis’ stars in Gasol (6 points on 2/12 from the field), the stifling defense was way too much to deal with, and the effort eventually just ran out. This was an ugly loss, but many of the problems within were unique to this game, and therefore hopefully not signs of a greater malaise.
Notes and Quotes
- Zach LaVine led the Wolves with 22 points on 9/16 (4/8 from 3) shooting, and for a brief moment early in the third quarter it looked like he could keep the Wolves in the game after scoring the Wolves’ first eight points of the quarter. Then the shot just stopped falling, as he missed three straight threes right as Memphis went on their run.
- “You can still play well without shooting well. There’s a lot of other aspects to the game: there’s defense, there’s rebounding, and then there’s playmaking, because any time that you’re trapped or you’re double-teamed, moving the ball quickly out of the double team, you’re going to get a wide open shot on the weak side, if you make the play correctly. If you’re missing shots, you can’t allow that to take away from the other things that you can do to help the team win.” - Thibodeau, on Wiggins’ struggles
- Towns had the most notable foul trouble, but he was not the only Wolf in foul trouble. Kris Dunn posted a horrific stat line: 0 points, 0/4 (0/2 from 3), one rebound, one assist, and -15 in just under eighteen minutes before he fouled out of the game. He picked up his first two fouls in a little over two minutes, and while he remained in the game, Thibodeau had to bring Rubio back in to alter his defense. Rubio played more than 21 minutes in the first half, most on the team.
- Given Dunn’s continued struggles, one has to wonder what it would take for Tyus Jones to see more than three minutes of garbage time at the end of the game. Sure, Dunn is learning with every NBA minute he plays, and has his redeeming qualities, and is your theoretical point guard of the future, but he is not good for the team right now, and has not shown many signs of improvement yet.
- Shabazz Muhammad returned from his knee injury after missing three games, and played pretty well during his seventeen minutes, looking perfectly healthy. His rotation minutes should be right back to normal. Brandon Rush remains out with his toe injury.
- The Wolves, now 4-8 on the season, head back to the Twin Cities tonight for a meeting with Boston (7-6) on Monday evening.