MINNEAPOLIS — When news of Zach LaVine’s torn ACL broke late Saturday afternoon, the impending matchup against the Grizzlies lost most of its appeal.
Who cares about one game when the most fantastic beast in transition, a true nightmare for opposing teams in the pace and space era, suffered a serious setback in his career? To be honest, my mind was somewhere else for most of the night. LaVine’s ACL tear overshadowed another unpleasant performance at Target Center.
I’m sure plenty of fans shared this feeling of uncertainty moving forward. Where will the team go from here? Why Zach? Couldn’t the basketball Gods have taken all of our ACLs instead? We obviously have no time for ACL tears to the best dunker on planet earth. He also happens to be the most promising shooting guard in franchise history.
It’s hard to blame the Wolves for reeling on a night that asked everyone to swallow the bitter reality that LaVine won’t see the hardwood for the rest of the season. Focusing on the game was basically impossible when all I could think about was Alex Len passing away at the rim.
The dynamic young shooting guard in Minneapolis, who was in the running for the Most Improved Player award, which should go to Giannis Antetokounmpo, is out for the season after the team announced an MRI taken at Mayo Clinic revealed a torn ACL in his left knee.
LaVine was injured during last night’s 116-108 loss to the Pistons after taking a hit from Andre Drummond while landing awkwardly on his knee after attacking the rim. In other words, the Baby Big Three has been shaken up for the moment after the devastating news confirmed the organization’s worst fears.
“It was a tough day,” Thibodeau commented after the game. “Yeah, it was a tough day but we still have to be ready to play and we all felt the disappointment in it but no one’s going to feel sorry for us, so we gotta be ready to roll. Tomorrow we’re going to take a day to gather and then Miami’s the hot team in the league right now and we’ve got to be ready.”
Karl-Anthony Towns was emotional before taking the court on Saturday night. He didn’t have much to say afterwards either. I did overhear him tell Tyus Jones that he was going to drive over to LaVine’s house to check up on him.
Would be lying if I said I didn't cry when I got the news. Wishing a speedy recovery to not just my teammate, but my brother @ZachLaVine— Karl-Anthony Towns (@KarlTowns) February 4, 2017
“Zach’s someone that can’t be replaced, on and off the court,” Andrew Wiggins said. “But you’ve got to play through it. You’ve got to play through it. Obviously you think about it, but Zach’s a strong guy. He’s tough. He’s going to do everything he can to get back.”
Tom Thibodeau commented on life without LaVine during his pre-game media availability:
Getting back to the game
“We didn’t play well in the second quarter for sure,” Thibodeau said. “We thought they would make a run and the fouling, that hurt us. [Mike] Conley and [Zach] Randolph, they’ve been in a lot of games ... [Vince] Carter. You know they were going to make a run. Our fouling, I thought, hurt us. At the end, obviously we were taking fouls to stop the clock, but overall I thought that hurt us.”
JaMychal Green scored a career-high 29 points in a dominating performance (8-11 shooting and 12-12 from the free throw line). Memphis altered the momentum in the second quarter, beating the the Wolves 33-17 after getting owned in the opening quarter (31-15).
“He was phenomenal today,” Grizzlies first-year head coach David Fizdale said about Green, who is exactly the type of gritty forward the Wolves need to find.
“Down Marc, Chandler, and Tony—a lot of skill and toughness—and we played him at center. That’s how big he was for us today, and it wasn’t just his scoring it was him battling against Karl-Anthony Towns, chipping away rebounds, switching on pick-and- rolls. He really gave us the whole package today and I was really proud of his effort.”
Green can defend a variety of players on the perimeter and in the paint. He outworked the Wolves, killed the positive energy swirling around Target Center with his relentless motor, and ended up being the player of the game. Green swung the momentum with his sheer effort and determination. $980,431 for that kind of production? (hat tip to Memphis)
Mike Conley tallied 20 points and eight assists. Memphis lived at the free throw line, making 33 free throws on 39 attempts (both season highs) and also hit ten triples, including three straight from James Ennis III in the third (JEIII had 13/6).
Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 27 points and 16 rebounds. He scored 14 points in the fourth quarter as he tried to keep the Wolves alive as long as possible.
Andrew Wiggins scored 23 points and dished out five assists. He passed Al Jefferson (4183 points) for 10th place on the Timberwolves all-time scoring list. Ricky Rubio also finished with 14 points and six assists but...
Rubio/Wiggins went 14-37 from the field and Memphis also lived at the line (33/39). Too difficult to overcome that tonight. Green was POTG.— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) February 5, 2017
Tyus Jones played 24 minutes off the bench with both LaVine and Kris Dunn (hand) sitting out. He had 10 points, six assists, three rebounds, two steals, and one block. Jones went 2-5 from deep. His four fouls and three turnovers hurt but overall he had a positive impact. With LaVine out for the foreseeable future, Jones will almost certainly see a boost in playing time.
“They were small and so we had to adjust,” Thibodeau said. “I thought Tyus came in and gave us good minutes. Tyus and Ricky together. They were small and they were beating us to the ball.”
Brandon Rush started in place of LaVine next to Wiggins on the wing, but he did not have a good showing in his first start since playing 40 minutes in a win over the Thunder three weeks ago. Rush shot 1-5 in 24 minutes and went -17. Shabazz Muhammad finished with 11 points off the bench and he will be counted on heavily to fill the scoring void in LaVine’s absence. Muhammad is averaging 14.3 points on 51.7% shooting over his last eight games.
Checking in with Bazz:
On the win:
It was truly a win built on our character tonight. Guys really had to find it within themselves. Find away through this one because this is the end of the road trip, been gone for 10 days, a lot of tough games. Back-to- back, guys in and out of the lineup. We had all kinds of excuses to make up to lose the game, but guys didn’t use that. We said we’re playing for something. We’re playing for something important in our minds and if we want to win we have to change our mentality and that’s what we did when we were down 18.
On the team’s mentality:
When you have a consistent approach and a culture built in like we have here, you get wins like this where you have guys in and out of lineups. It’s just the next man up. Everybody has trust in one another. We believe in each guy that when they come in the game, they’re going to play big for us and they’re going to play as hard as they can for us. Tonight it was JaMychal Green. JaMychal Green had a big night. James (Ennis) had a big night. Everybody. Troy Daniels, Tony Douglas. Everybody who came into the game, who normally might not get as many minutes, showed up.