For just the second time in 18 years, the Minnesota Timberwolves and their fans arrived at Target Center Thursday night ready for post-Easter basketball, which has been about as rare around these parts as seeing the actual Easter Bunny. In front of a sellout crowd of more than 19,356 passionate and playoff-hungry fans, the Wolves looked to parlay the home court advantage that they snatched from Memphis and turn it into a 2-1 series lead.
Let’s cut right to the chase here — blowing multiple 20+ point leads in a game is damn near impossible, and by doing so on Thursday night against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Timberwolves erased a lot of “the good” that took place during most of the first 36 minutes (specifically the first and third quarter).
As mentioned at the top, Timberwolves fans did their part early on, packing the Target Center early and bringing a level of noise and intensity that showed they were more than up for the challenge. The home team definitely responded, using the arena’s energy to blitz the Grizzlies with an 11-0 start, ultimately finishing the first 12 minutes with a 39-21 lead. To add insult to injury, the Wolves scored the first eight points of the second quarter as well, giving them a 47-21 lead just 2 minutes into the second quarter.
As quickly and forcefully as Minnesota stormed out in Game 3, it all disappeared in the blink of the eye. After that 8-0 burst to start the second quarter, the Wolves went on to score just four points — yes FOUR points — over the final 10:28 of the first half, fueled mostly by careless turnovers, low percentage shots, and a lack of focus on the defensive end.
Patrick Beverley was credited with the final two buckets of the first half for Minnesota, with the second one coming at the 5:45 mark of the second. For those of you scoring at home, that meant Minnesota went scoreless the rest of the way over those first 24 minutes, which allowed Desmond Bane and the Grizzlies to scratch and claw their way back before halftime.
For anyone who attended Game 3 in person on Thursday night, it was extremely evident that the vibes and overall mood of the arena coming out for the second half was very reminiscent of those “old Wolves” days. After all, fans had just witnessed their favorite team practically blow a 26-point lead in less than ten real game minutes, so it was understandable that there was a sense of dread flowing throughout Target Center that we were all about to experience another “Minnesota Sports Moment.”
Much like they did in the first quarter, the Wolves stormed out of the locker room in the second half and firmly grabbed hold of the rope, scoring the first 7 points of the third quarter to balloon their lead back to 14. A strong third frame from both Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels ultimately fueled the Wolves to their second 20+ point lead of the game, and despite a mini run by Memphis to close the quarter, the Wolves rocked a seemingly commanding 16-point lead entering the fourth and final frame.
In what became a simple tale of even quarters vs. odd quarters, the Wolves took one glance at all the hard work they had put in over the first 36 minutes of the game and simply decided to torch it all to the ground. Eerily similar to the second quarter, the Wolves ultimate demise was once again fueled by careless turnovers, low percentage shots, and a lack of focus on the defensive end. Simply put, much like what happened towards the end of the first half, the Wolves simply stopped scoring, tallying just 9 points — yes NINE points — over a span of 11:47, with a last second three by Anthony Edwards bumping their fourth quarter points total into double-digits. By then, it was (far) too little, too late.
Grizzlies 104, Wolves 95.
This is usually the spot in my game recaps where I dig deep into my bag of optimistic tricks to try and shed some positive light on what I — what we — just witnessed. After all, I’ve spent six years covering the Minnesota Timberwolves, so I’ve become pretty seasoned at scribbling down thoughts after sudden, crushing heartbreak.
To be honest though, I find myself pretty speechless after what took place Thursday night. I have been pretty out front and loud about how much of a successful and positive season this has been for the Minnesota Timberwolves, and I stand by that wholeheartedly. You don’t get to graduate to contender status in the NBA during your freshman year — you have to experience the NBA’s version of playoff bumps and bruises that allow you to develop the thick skin and calm composure necessary to win at the highest level.
But to call what happened at Target Center Thursday night “bumps and bruises” would be a disservice to both bumps AND bruises. Whether it was Chris Finch going full “Zen Master” and not burning timeouts when his team was clearly against the ropes, or Karl-Anthony Towns taking a career-low four shot attempts, or Jaden McDaniels with a career-high four turnovers, or even Anthony Edwards failing to put his stamp on the game — everywhere you looked on Thursday you found someone on the Timberwolves payroll who played a part in what will go down as one of the most disappointing and frustrating losses in franchise history (well, except Jarred Vanderbilt. That dude was exceptional).
Credit where credit’s due by the way — the Memphis Grizzlies took some true haymakers to the chin during those odd numbered quarters, and using the lessons they learned from their own playoff bumps and bruises last year, became defiant rather than defeated. There were countless moments throughout the game where Ja Morant’s squad could have not only let go of the rope, but lit that damn thing completely on fire and regrouped for Game 4. Instead, they trusted in themselves, trusted in each other, and delivered the sort of body blow that could ultimately leave Minnesota down for the count.
Toughness, togetherness, and resilience — those are the types of lessons Memphis learned last season when they stole Game 1 against the Utah Jazz but ultimately were eliminated four games later. The Timberwolves, who have often been described as being “one year behind” the Grizzlies in terms of building a possible contender, now find themselves in nearly the exact same spot as their opponent was just 12 months ago.
The Grizzlies showed Thursday night that they learned from their previous playoff mistakes and are now better because of it. Will the Timberwolves be able to do the same thing moving forward? I guess we’re about to find out.