Coming into tonight, the Memphis Grizzlies had lost 23 of their last 24 games (including a 61-point blowout to the Charlotte Hornets last week) and had not won on the road since December 31, 2017. Certainly a team willfully tanking would pose little to no threat against a Minnesota Timberwolves team that has won 19 out of 22 games against Western Conference foes at the Target Center this season.
Alas, that unfortunately was not the case as the Grizzlies decided to ditch their tanking regimen and make things interesting by playing the role of playoff spoiler tonight.
The Wolves’ starters came out incredibly flat, which set the tone for the rest of the evening. It was the type of sluggish start against a sorry team that is simply inexcusable this late in the season.
Minnesota had no answer for Marc Gasol early on, who was connecting from deep and getting great positioning inside the paint where he thrives on post-ups and pocket passing. He finished with 20/10/6 and was a general nuisance for Karl-Anthony Towns all night, who had another rough game following a dud against Philadelphia on Saturday.
The one spark for the Wolves in the first half came from Jeff Teague, who was aggressive in driving and finishing at the rim, which also opened up some breathing room around the perimeter for a few open looks from Jamal Crawford and KAT. He also had a clutch inbounds steal for a layup in the waning seconds of the first half to tie things up. He finished with 25 points on 7-13 shooting and 10-10 from the line.
Any hope of seeing Justin Patton make his debut in this one was quickly quashed by the Wolves’ ineptitude early in the second half. Then again, you’d be hard-pressed to see meaningful minutes from any Wolves reserve in this one aside from Jamal Crawford. While Teague, Wiggins and Taj Gibson all played more than 42 minutes, Tyus Jones was left with less than six and Gorgui just 13.
The Wolves in general just looked lost on defense against a team that hardly even has any offense to begin with. Even when it looked like they were starting to get things off the ground, the Grizzlies went on an 8-0 run late in the third to stick around. Then early in the fourth they retook the lead following a corner three from Wayne Selden. I’m not sure why this kept happening, but Memphis was able to find wide-open corner threes time and time again tonight. There was some sort of miscommunication happening on defense for the Wolves on the perimeter all night, and they certainly paid for it.
The remainder of the fourth quarter was messy for both teams, filled with unnecessary fouls, loose balls and missed bunnies. This was difficult to watch from start to finish, like watching one team out will another for a loss.
Toward the end of the game, Taj Gibson is the only reason the Wolves remained competitive in this one. He did everything right and then some, from hunting down crucial offensive rebounds to making the right reads and rotations on defense. He finished with 18 points and eight rebounds.
The execution down the stretch, or lack thereof, was atrocious. The cherry on top was the Wolves final possession of the game: Down by six with 14 seconds left in the game, they carelessly turned it over for no reason other than Jeff Teague was unsure if he should pass it to the uninterested Andrew Wiggins or the indifferent Jamal Crawford.
Overall this is a very bad loss, one that should not happen this late in the season for a team fighting for life against an already dead opponent. This was not a playoff-caliber team tonight by any means.
- Marc Gasol is definitely one of those players who gets in KAT’s head. He’s the type of player who will be persistently physical with opponents whose skin he knows he can get under, and it worked tonight. This is one of the areas of KAT’s game that he really needs to improve on that we don’t often talk about. Last game it was Embiid, now Gasol. If he really wants to be great when it matters, he has to work on his mental toughness.
- Andrew Wiggins had a few strong takes to the rim early in this contest, but I wish he would have done more going against the Ghost of Chandler Parsons’ Knees.
- The only other team in the Western Conference playoff hunt that played tonight was the Denver Nuggets, who lost to Philadelphia.
- Yes the Wolves have an easy stretch of games through the rest of the season, but maybe that’s not as good of a thing as we think it might be. This team has a tendency to lose games they have no business losing and sneak away with wins when it’s completely unexpected. I think there might be a case to be made for them finishing the season with some competitive fire rather than with the mentality that they’re coasting into the postseason.