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Wolves 99, Grizzlies 97: Escaping the Cold

The Wolves pull out a last-second victory against the Grizzlies

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

The only play of this game that mattered was the very last one. Karl-Anthony Towns grabbed an offensive rebound off an Andrew Wiggins miss and flung the ball up in the closing second of overtime. If that is all anyone saw of this game, they would be better off.

On a cold, freezing night at the end of January, playing with a depleted roster, is about the last time when anyone wants to take on the Memphis Grizzlies. Particularly when the game is a veritable who’s who of the NBA castoffs, with Luol Deng, Jerryd Bayless, Isaiah Canaan, Joakim Noah, and Bruno Caboclo all making significant appearances. This is the type of the game the Wolves have always lost.

The game started depressingly familiar, as Karl-Anthony Towns picked up his second foul in about three minutes, sending him to the bench for most for the first half. But the bench came through in the first half, on the back of strong play from Gorgui Dieng and Dario Saric, two players who really needed a boost. Initially, it looked like the Wolves were going to be able to keep the Grizzlies at bay, as the Wolves built up a 17 point lead.

This looks like a Grizzlies team on its last legs, struggling to resemble an NBA team on offense. Of course, Mike Conley is still amazing as he glide across the court, drilling threes and putting up soft bank shots. Marc Gasol was anchoring the paint on defense and serving as the fulcrum of the offense on the other, swirling with sharp elbows and dropped floaters. But the rest of the team was not there, giving the ball away at every instance and failing to connect at the rim. Jaren Jackson Jr., the Grizzlies’ heralded rookie, was largely hampered by foul trouble for the game and he only managed to get through 22 minutes before fouling out. He certainly is a massive human being though.

Of course, this could not last, as the Grizzlies strode back into this game in the second quarter, tying it up by halftime. It certainly helped that Towns had zero points in the first half, playing a total of about five minutes due to foul trouble.

This was a tremendously ugly game. The Grizzlies shot 41 percent from the field and 21 percent from beyond the arc, which is even more impressive considering that Mike Conley was 11-20 from the field and 3-5 from deep. The Wolves fared little better, shooting 39 percent from the field and 23 percent from deep.

In a night where Josh Okogie joined Towns in constant foul trouble, the Wolves turned to oversized lineups, at times running out the trio of Dario Saric, Luol Deng, and Anthony Tolliver at the 2-4 spots. It’s anyone’s guess who would be the “shooting guard” of that group.

Jerryd Bayless was again the starting point guard and he handled the responsibilities with aplomb. He likely should not have been the one taking the last second shot before the game went into overtime, but he was the team’s leading scorer. He finished with 19 points, 12 assists, and 7 rebounds. Who else would we want taking the last shot anyway? Andrew Wiggins?

Speaking of our favorite max contract player, tonight was another deep valley on the Wiggins roller coaster. Wiggins played a ton of minutes, 41, and got a bunch of shots off, 19, but that is about as good as it gets. He had a few strong defensive plays in the outset of the game and pulled in a few tough rebounds, but overall this was the same dispiriting play we have seen. Full of passivity and long-twos. There are no excuses left at this point. It’s far past time for another team to try to rebuild Wiggins island.

The Wolves medley of role players vastly outperformed their Grizzlies counterparts tonight. Gorgui Dieng was killing it in the first half, particularly in the first quarter as he stepped in for Towns. Saric and Tolliver were putting up threes as quickly as possible. Even Luol Deng got in the action, continuing to show that there is still a good amount of air in his tires.

However, even though tonight was a win, I think the eye-test is matching what the upcoming schedule is telling us. This Wolves team is not very good. Outside of Conley and Gasol, this Memphis team is in a rough place and they are ready for a full teardown. The fact that the Wolves barely escaped with a victory tonight rings hollow, particularly with how badly the foundation of the Wolves future played. With no timetable for Tyus Jones and Robert Covington, there is going to come a point fairly soon where we see the Wolves start going through the motions to simply finish up this season. It’s time to start a new playoff drought after all.

Tonight was likely the last time that the Wolves will have faced the Grit and Grind Grizzlies, who have pulverized them like a slow moving bulldozer for nearly a decade. Rather a fitting end for the tragicomedy that is a team that lived in the NBA dead-zone, never good enough to win a championship but never bad enough to start all over again. One of the last visages after a decade of success is a pointless and random loss in overtime on a bone-chilling January night. A loss from an act of chance and desperation in the waning moments of a Tuesday night.