This is not a game to look back on with very much pride, a win or not. The Memphis Grizzlies have the barest of bare bones taking the floor right now due to a ridiculous number of injuries to all their stars. This team had no Mike Conley, no Marc Gasol, no Zach Randolph. It felt too much like some of the pathetic rosters the Timberwolves put out in January 2015, at the worst points of last season's injury crisis. Lance Stephenson and Matt Barnes are better than anyone on those rosters, but this is not very much of an NBA team right now.
That aside, the Wolves did win the game, and for large swaths of the game they looked like blowing the absolute doors off of the Grindhouse in Memphis. The Wolves put up 42 points in the first quarter, their highest such mark of the season, and the 17 point lead they established at that point managed to be just enough to survive run after run from Memphis, especially later in the second half.
The Wolves held double digit leads in each of the first three quarters, and even pushed the lead to 20 at 7:25 in the third quarter. But every time, sloppy plays by the Wolves and hard work by the Grizzlies' substitutes pulled them closer and closer. That lead dropped to 12 at the end of the third, and while it remained at 13 with five minutes to go, the Grizzlies used a 12-4 run made up entirely of (usually easy) layups by Memphis to pull it within 4. The Wolves closed it, but the result continues to feel unsatisfying.
Very simply, the Wolves were outworked tonight. They got destroyed on the boards for yet another game (51-33), with Barnes, Stephenson and Jamychal Green all getting into double-digits on the boards, and all having at least as many as the Wolves' best rebounder (surprise: it was Karl-Anthony Towns with yet another double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds). The Grizzlies were faster to every loose ball. The most damning comparison on the boards: the Grizzlies had 27 (yes, twenty-seven) offensive rebounds, the second most in any single NBA game this season. The Wolves had 33 total rebounds.
This seems like a recipe for a loss, and while it almost was, the Wolves were paced by great shooting that kept them ahead. They were 10-21 from behind the arc, their third game with more than ten threes this season. The difference between those ten threes and the Grizzlies' four was by far the most the Wolves have outshot a team by from beyond the arc this season. One can make the case pretty easily that the Wolves won this game at the three-point line, something that hasn't been said much.
The leader of that bombardment was Zach LaVine, who continues to shine starting next to Ricky Rubio. LaVine had one of those games where it felt like every shot he took was going in, even the more unwise attempts. LaVine was 11-19 (6-10 from three) for a game-high 28 points. There were some terrible heat check long twos in there, but there were also smart, open looks and corner threes. The progress in his game as a scorer continues to be a key to the Wolves being in these games at the end.
Rubio had another solid game, adding another double-double to his tally with 15 points and 11 assists. Rubio, as he often is, was very efficient in his scoring, needing only six shots (3-6, 2-3 from three) and eight free throw attempts to get his points. He was not at his most dominant, and had a couple of turnovers and some passes that weren't as accurate as we expect them to be, but his calm coordination of the offense is what makes scoring outbursts like this first quarter happen.
There were lots of individual positives, but this did not feel like one of those great team wins, as one might expect a win over the current fifth seed in the Western Conference to feel. The injury-ravaged Grizzlies are not a good team. They have a couple of good players, but the Wolves should have won this going away. That they had to make free throws at the end of the game and worry about late turnovers and another collapse is disappointing, and will not have the strong personalities in the locker room happy. A win is a win, but this was not the best win ever.