In a tightly contested game in Memphis the Wolves went cold down the stretch and wound up losing 95-92 on the second night of a back to back. It was disappointing to the extent that the Grizzlies had lost an amazing 11 in a row heading into the game and were without Mike Conley, but fatigue was pretty clearly a factor as the Wolves had multiple opportunities late but failed to cash in.
It was another big night for Jimmy Butler, who willed them to a win against the Clippers last night with 20 fourth quarter points, and tried to do so again tonight, finishing with 30 points overall. But even he showed signs of fatigue toward the end, failing to convert his last several shots and turning it over on a crucial possession with the Wolves down one in the final minute.
The Wolves, who were once again horrific defensively in the first half, tightened things up in the second stanza, allowing only 39 points in the half. They were able to eliminate the fast break points the Grizzlies were feasting on in the first half.
Unfortunately, their own struggles offensively stopped them from taking advantage. Though the Grizzlies were not much better (6-21,) the Wolves 4-17 from three was a huge problem tonight. Their lack of three point shooting is causing problems as teams clog the paint and double team Karl-Anthony Towns without being punished for it on the perimeter.
The Grizzlies meanwhile got some excellent performances off the bench tonight in support of Marc Gasol and Tyreke Evans. James Ennis especially at both ends of the floor made a difference for the Grizz, scoring 13 points and playing some terrific defense. Andrew Harrison also impressed at times.
The Wolves meanwhile have a real lack of depth at the moment, especially without Nemanja Bjelica. Shabazz Muhammad was again a DNP-CD for the third time in four games, and has fallen out of the rotation for the time being. Gorgui Dieng played fairly well, but the Wolves got a disaster performance from Jamal Crawford, who shot 2-10 from the field. If he isn’t making the bad shots he takes, he isn’t helping. The lack of capable wings off the bench is utterly glaring at this point.
But ultimately my biggest takeaway from this and recent games is this: Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns have to more consistently play like stars or near stars. At some point, the excuses stop. Towns took six shots all night, and most of them were not great ones. Yes, he was getting doubled in the post on the dribble. Yes, the team has to find him. But that isn’t acceptable. And that’s to say nothing of his defense, which was disastrous again, especially early. In truth, he looks a mess right now. He’s too good for that.
Wiggins, for one of the most jumpy players in the game who has several highlight dunks on his resume, is shockingly unnoticeable far too often. He went 6-17 from the field tonight, many of them seemingly disinterested jumpers, and failed to get to the free throw line. And that’s not on the officials, it was on merit. No aggression whatsoever.
This team is in a win-one-lose-one rut right now, which is not going to cut it during this month when they have their softest stretch of the season schedule wise. They need some wins, and they need to get some of these guys off the floor a little bit, or there’s going to be nothing left later on.
Next up: In L.A. against the Clippers on Wednesday.