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Wolves 116, Grizzlies 80: Takin' Care of Business

With the Grizzlies star players sitting out, the Wolves cruised to an easy victory in their home opener.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — With the bitter taste of opening night defeat still lingering in the back of their mouths and minds, along with the third quarter abomination in Sacramento that saw them stumble out to an 0-2 record, the Wolves were in desperate need of getting their first win of the season.

The home opener at Target Center on Wednesday night also brought the opportunity to avenge that first loss of the year to the Grizzlies, who outscored them 52-39 in the second half to prevail 102-98 last week at FedExForum.

When the starters were officially listed before the game, two obvious names were missing from the Grizzlies lineup: Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. Memphis head coach David Fizdale opted to rest his star players on the front end of the back-to-back and during a four-game in five-night stretch, which meant the Wolves needed to take care of business against a short-handed squad on their home court.

“You worry about everything. You see it all the time,” Thibodeau said during his postgame presser. “Guys are out and all of a sudden, a team has an edge to them. You let down a little bit. The way this team has shot the three, you’re always concerned. They can make up ground quickly. So I was concerned, and the way Vince has been playing and Randolph, you’re worried about when they come in the game they can take over.”

Last March, I wrote about just enjoying the show after watching the Wolves and Nets square off. Tonight reminded me of that feeling in a way. The details were obviously different; plenty has changed since then. But there wasn’t much to truly take away from the Wolves blowout win over a Grizzlies team missing the cornerstones of their franchise: Conley, Gasol, and this summer’s splashy acquisition, Chandler Parsons.

So, I simply enjoyed the show for what it was and left the serious takeaways for another day (Thursday against Denver to be exact). The Wolves took care of business exactly like they should against a severely undermanned team.

In the past, perhaps they would have dropped this same exact game; and maybe we all would have been left drowning in an ocean of “classic Wolves” comments. But not tonight. Not under Thibs. His relentless nature smacks you right in the face. He’s so focused on the details, so obsessed with hammering home his system, that he didn’t go with the full bench unit until the Wolves were up 38 points.

The bench consisted of the usual suspects—Shabazz Muhammad, Brandon Rush, Nemanja Bjelica, and Cole Aldrich—except for one. Tyus Jones, the second-year point guard from Duke, and Apple Valley’s Very Own, played an excellent nine minute stretch in the second quarter as the new backup point guard with Ricky Rubio sidelined with a sprained right elbow. Jones dished out six assists and went +10 in 19 minutes off the bench. The offense ran smoothly under his supervision and he held his own defensively, which has always been the biggest knock on him.

Anybody in attendance could tell how badly Thibodeau wanted to send a statement in the third quarter. This is the Wolves house and the third quarter will not be the appropriate time nor place to make huge runs that turn the game upside down like the first two contests.

Zach LaVine was probably the player of the game, though one could make a case for the new $64 million man as well. Gorgui Dieng finished with 17 points (8-9) to go with six rebounds, three blocks, and two steals.

LaVine was dynamic as ever offensively. He curled around screens all night, showed his supreme catch-and-shoot ability, flashed in transition after stops, finished almost everything at the rim, and ultimately scored 31 points on 11-18 shooting in his third career 30+ point game. The 31 points by LaVine are the most by a Wolves player this season (small sample size alert!) and Bounce Bro B will probably beat himself a few times in the next 79 games.

LaVine continued his strong three-point shooting, finishing 5-9 from deep. Through three games, the third-year shooting guard is now hitting 50.0% (11-22) from three-point range, including 3+ 3PM in all three games.

“I thought he got off to a great start,” Thibodeau commented on LaVine’s performance. “He’s taking good shots, good balanced shots. Getting out into the open floor. I think that’s where we’re at our best. If we have good spacing and the ball moves and we get pressure on the rim, we’re going to get some good looks. Once we got into rhythm, I thought he was terrific.”

Thibs also said that LaVine could be a terrific defensive player down the line, which was music to my ears.

Rookie point guard Kris Dunn received his first start with Rubio out and will continue logging starts in his place until Rubio returns from injury. While Dunn was rough in the first few minutes, he certainly found his way and turned in an incredibly promising performance, finishing with 10 points (3-7, 2-2, two threes), six assists, four rebounds, and five steals.

He became the eighth Wolves rookie to record five or more steals in a game and finished at +26.

“I mean, it was exciting,” Dunn admitted in the locker room. “My family came up to the home opener, so it was just good to play in front of them. To see me on this stage. It was a dream of mine. They finally got to see me play, so that was the best feeling.”

Dunn also wasn’t overly thrilled with his game.

“I did ok. I had some careless turnovers,” he said. “I think I did well on defense, but I missed a couple of assignments. I think I did good trying to run the team.”

Quotes and Notes

Thibs on the team’s three-point shooting:

“I think we’re a work in progress. I think we have some guys that are more than capable. Guys are working hard at it. If they’re the right ones. Inside out, ball hitting the paint, kick out, defense collapses. Those are rhythm threes, you’re walking into them. Spring up the floor, getting pressure on the rim, that weak side three is a very good three. The offensive rebound and kick out, those are great threes to take and we’re capable of making those. We’ve got to sustain our spacing on the break. If we run long and run wide and get the deep corner, that opens up the floor and sets up drive and kick and a lot of good things can happen.”

Dunn on the team’s success in transition:

“We’re trying to play fast. We’re young, we’re athletic. We’re trying to get out into transition a lot. We got a lot of stops and a lot of plays in transition.”

Dieng on if the contract extension had any impact on his play:

“Like I said, I can separate that stuff. When I’m on the court, I’m just playing. I’m not thinking about anything else, I’m just playing. I can separate that stuff. I’m glad everything went well, we got the first win tonight. We just keep building and try to get more wins.”

LaVine on if the team congratulated Thibodeau on his first win with Minnesota:

“No, we haven’t. I feel like we’re more upset about not having that the last two games. Regardless, it’s good to have that win and good to have it in front of the home crowd. Good to have that support behind us.”

  • Tonight’s 116-80 win matched the Wolves’ fourth-largest margin of victory all-time and was the largest home opener victory in franchise history
  • This was the third time in franchise history the Wolves started four players under the age of 22 (Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Anthony Wiggins)
  • Minnesota scored 35 third-quarter points
  • They entered the night with 28 combined points in the third through two games
  • Towns grabbed 10 rebounds, matching his total entering the night
  • It was KAT’s first double-double of the season (11 points) after tallying 51 as a rookie
  • 29 assists by 10 different players, led by Dunn and Jones (6 assists each)
  • Wiggins had 4 assists and created great shots for his teammates (!!!)
  • AW also hit two threes on his way to 17 quiet points
  • Wolves outrebounded the Grizzlies 49-32
  • Memphis finished 36.5% from the field (help that DRTG!)
  • LaVine twisted his left ankle after landing on JaMychal Green, who left him no room to land (foul?) after catching the successful alley-oop from Towns on the break, and this will be something to keep an eye on moving forward. He was able to finish the game but afterwards joked that he would prefer to shoot threes right now because he probably couldn’t even dunk.

GIF of the Night

And the winner is...our very own, Suspicious Sal.

Congrats, Sal. I award you 1,000 Hoopus points to distribute however you want.

Next up: Denver on Thursday