For those that have watched the Timberwolves face off against the Grizzlies in recent times, this game felt like just another iteration of the same story. Jonas Valanciunas remains massive and typically causes Karl-Anthony Towns to land in foul trouble, which is how KAT played about one minute in the second quarter. Ja Morant explodes past any defender the Wolves throw at him. The Wolves spend most of their time scrambling while Kyle Anderson saunters into the lane or Dillon Brooks nails a three with a hand in his face.
The difference now is that Anthony Edwards is becoming a superstar.
Edwards wasn’t enough tonight, as the Wolves were unable to get enough stops to win the game. The Grizzlies just find a way to grind down the Wolves. Emblematic of the challenge, the Grizzlies frequently picked up the Wolves full court, shaving a few seconds off the shot clock every possession as the Wolves took a bit longer to get into their sets after dealing with the pressure.
The Wolves had no way to stop Ja Morant, who finished with 37 points to match Ant’s dominance. Josh Okogie was tapped to guard Morant in the first half and when that went poorly, Jaden McDaniels took a crack in the second half. Neither was able to substantially slow down Morant and the Grizzlies' pick-and-roll offense built off attacks at the rim was the Wolves' downfall. If it wasn’t a layup at the rim, it was a wide-open three in the corner. The Grizzlies shot nearly 50 percent from beyond the arc and hit one backbreaking three after another in the fourth quarter, capped off by Desmond Bane’s clinching threes.
The Wolves defense remains terrible, but it was challenging to pinpoint exactly where the faults lay tonight. But, a good defense does not give up subsequent 70 point halves.
While the end score was not in the Wolves favor, it is hard not to stay hopeful after watching Anthony Edwards put together his best game of the season. Ant played more contained and within himself tonight, picking his spots on offense in the first half. Those spots just all happened to go in. The hoop was an ocean tonight and Ant was just pitching the ball in from beyond the arc.
With just one free throw attempt, Ant scored 42 points while shooting 8 of 9 from deep, while adding 7 assists, and 6 rebounds. He will have an insane triple-double night soon enough. This game is going to bump up his true shooting percentage by 10 percentage points by itself.
However, this performance made it all the stranger when the closing minutes turned back into the Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell two-man game, with Ant standing in the corner. It is hard to think this will remain the game plan for long. Ant is no longer a puzzle piece to fit into the groundwork, he is a meteor rising through the roster which will need to be reset around him. Whatever plan there was, it is unlikely to be the plan for very much longer.
The other main story of the night for the Wolves was Russell’s return to the starting lineup. The starters played well, but the bench group struggled with the new rotations. The Wolves went down to 9 players, as Jordan McLaughlin did not play tonight. Russell operated as the starting point guard and backup shooting guard next to Rubio.
But the Russell and Rubio minutes were an awkward fit yet again. The fast-paced, DLo centered offense of the second unit ground to a halt when Rubio was added to the mix. Dlo and McLaughlin seemed to work because the ball never stuck in McLaughlin’s hands. That is just not who Rubio is and there continues to be anti-synergy between him and Russell.
When Rubio was left alone with the bench unit, there were not enough offensive skills on the floor and the team stagnated. The bench crew only found some rhythm in the fourth quarter when Russell and Edwards were playing with Naz Reid, Juancho Hernangomez, and Jarred Vanderbilt. It is going to take some time to find the flow and pace with the bench group, but the Wolves don’t have much time left. Regardless, there are clearly some adjustments that need to be made to find the right balance between Rubio and Russell.
But the story of the night is Anthony Edwards, even in a loss. There is no telling what his future holds, but there is no limit.