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Wolves 118, Grizzlies 103: Don’t Mess With Rudy

Anthony Edwards led the way with 28 points, but Rudy Gobert’s 17 points, six blocks, and strong rebounding and trash talk set the tone.

Memphis Grizzlies v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

The Minnesota Timberwolves’ tour against sub-.500 teams continued for the second night in a row on Thursday, as Anthony Edwards and Co. played host the Memphis Grizzlies in Minnesota’s first TNT game of the season, on the heels of a 124-117 road victory over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday.

This one looked markedly different than Wolves/Grizzlies matchups of recent years, as Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke all missed the contest with injuries, among others, including new acquisition for this season, Marcus Smart. But they did have 2023 All-Star Jaren Jackson Jr.

Even without the bulk of their team, Memphis brought the energy early. Head Coach Taylor Jenkins’ squad did a great job sharing the ball, cutting from the corners on drives, and knocking down the open looks they generated outside the paint. The Grizzlies made 12 of their first 18 shots, including 5/8 from 3. As I wrote in today’s game preview, containing Jackson Jr. was the most important item on Minnesota’s to-do list for this game; well, they didn’t do that in the first. Jackson Jr. scored 14 points on 6/9 from the floor in his first nine minutes of play, helping to get Memphis out to a 29-17 lead.

Minnesota got off to an incredibly sluggish offensive start, largely because of turnovers. The Wolves shot 13/21 in the frame, but gave it away six times, which became 10 Memphis points. But Rudy Gobert and Naz Reid had something to say.

Grizzlies forward Santi Aldama drove at Gobert with just under two minutes to play in the frame, with Memphis leading 29-20. Rudy “swatted it to St. Paul!” as play-by-play man and Wolves legend Kevin Harlan called it on TNT. He then had some words for Aldama, who didn’t take too kindly to it.

Gobert revealed after the game that in that moment, he was practicing his Spanish.

Immediately following that block, while “RU-DY, RU-DY, RU-DY” chants rang throughout the arena, Memphis missed three more shots on that possession. On the other end, Reid buried his second consecutive 3-pointer, and the crowd went as crazy as it has all season long. Naz wasn’t finished. After grabbing a Vince Williams Jr. miss, he scored it himself to make it an 8-0 Reid run.

Then, Aldama wanted to quiet the crowd, but Gobert impacted a miss, and while Rudy was amping up the crowd going down the floor, Reid buried a right corner 3 after a rocket pass from Anthony Edwards. 11-0 Naz run. Reid then rode the genuinely insane energy in the building for a 9:05 PM tip local time, played up on Williams Jr., forced a steal, and added a layup to cap off his 13-0 personal run.

By the end of the quarter, the score was all tied at 30-30, despite Edwards and Towns combining for four points on six shots, three turnovers and two fouls.

Minnesota continued their strong defensive effort into the second frame, forcing Memphis into a pair of turnovers and an airball in the first three possessions. But everything was mostly downhill from there in one of the team’s most forgettable quarters of the season. Edwards and and Towns were no-shows, scoring a combined two points on 1/6 shooting. Ant played the final 5:20 of the half, but took one shot and committed a foul; that was it. He didn’t play aggressively whatsoever, which was a disappointment after an inefficient first frame.

The pair scored seven points on 13 shots in the first half, yet the Wolves were down only five, 55-50, thanks to a huge 3-pointer from Mike Conley with under one minute to play in the quarter. Conley scored nine first-half points to support Reid, who led the Timberwolves with 13 points, all of which came in the first frame.

Minnesota wanted the energy to shift in the third quarter and they quickly accomplished that. Towns drove it right at Jackson Jr., who had two fouls at halftime, for an and-1 to get his night back on track. Then, Ant did the same a few trips later to earn a pair of free throws, sending Jackson Jr. to the bench with four fouls. After scoring five quick ones to start the half, JJJ had 28 points when he exited at the 9:39 mark — well on his way to breaking his career-high of 44. Only Aldama (10) had joined JJJ in double figures to that point.

From there, the Timberwolves attacked the rim at will, with no true rim protector manning the middle. Edwards turned the downhill aggression up to 10, earning five free throws and a trio of tough scores, as well as a lob dunk finish, while also recording three assists — two to Gobert — in the first five minutes of the quarter. Ant accounted for 18 of the team’s 21 points of the half, as Minnesota retook a 71-68 lead.

Despite Edwards’ best efforts, Memphis not only stayed in it, but grappled for and regained control of the game behind four huge triples from Luke Kennard, one of the top catch-and-shoot 3-point threats in the league. But Ant did what Ant does — make a highlight play to get the crowd back into it.

The 2023 All-Star threw it off the backboard to himself, giving Wolves fans a second insane dunk in a span of 27 hours.

“Nobody was open. I did the little snapback and pump fake. He bit on a pump fake and I was looking for somebody and nobody was open, so I was like I seen someone do it in the All-Star so I was like, I might as well try it,” Edwards said postgame.

Towns added four more crucial points over the final 53 seconds and Minnesota was able to stop the bleeding and keep it to within five, 86-81, after three.

Memphis got Jackson Jr. back in to start the fourth, but the big man took himself out of the game by elbowing Alexander-Walker for his fifth foul less than two minutes into the frame. Then, just as he has all season, Conley didn’t wait long before making his mark on the fourth quarter. He drew an offensive foul on the opening possession of the quarter and followed it up by dropping straight dimes resulting in buckets at the rim for Reid, who had been held scoreless since his 13-0 run in the opening frame. Reid then paid him back with an assisted triple, igniting an 8-0 solo run from the 36-year-old to give the Wolves a four-point lead, 93-89, and force a Jenkins timeout.

Alexander-Walker has taken his play to another level in fourth quarters since the first of the year, and continued to do so on Thursday. He drained a massive triple out of the timeout, before Reid followed suit to extend the lead to eight, Minnesota’s largest of the game. The Canadian stopper is known for his defense, but isn’t afraid to put the ball on the deck when defenses give him space, either. He did just that for another score to give him five big points in the frame to pair with strong defense.

But it was Edwards who returned to score 10 of the team’s final 13 points to shut the door on a Grizzlies team who finally let go of the rope after back-to-back triples from Ant and Jaden McDaniels, who scored in double-figures (11) for the third consecutive game. The Wolves got it to the finish line with a score of 118-103, improving their home record to 17-2, the best mark in the Western Conference.

After scoring just two points in the first half, Ant scored 26 points on 10/14 shooting (5/6 on free throws) to go along with four assists and three rebounds.

Rudy Gobert brought a wrecking ball presence to the floor for a fifth straight game (in which the Wolves are 5-0), scoring 17 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and blocking six shots, the most he has rejected in a Wolves uniform.

Conley was terrific was again, recording 10 assists for the third time on this five-game winning streak, while also adding 17 points — eight of which came in the fourth quarter, to go along with four dimes. Minnesota Mike added two steals and did not record a turnover.

Minnesota is now 30-11 at the halfway point of the season, on pace for a 60-win season.

Is 60 wins the goal?

“Honestly, I haven’t even thought about it, but 60 would be a good number. If we can get there, that’d be a feat in itself, but this team has been where we’re at right now just because we take it a game at a time and don’t look too far ahead,” Conley said in the locker room postgame. “But the big goal is you want to be playing at the end of June, whenever the Finals is, so hopefully we give ourselves a chance at doing that.”

This story will be updated throughout the night after coach and player media availability.

Key Takeaways

Memphis Grizzlies v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

A Double Shot of Energy

It is hard to find a pair of teammates with as universal approval rating as Edwards and Reid. The homegrown stars create energy and ignite the home crowd better and more frequently than any other players on the Wolves. But it’s not just the crowd that they help.

“To be honest, Naz gave me energy, man. That first quarter, because I had no energy coming out. After that, I kind of found it. I didn’t carry it over in the second quarter, but after halftime I was kind of like, ‘Yeah, man.’ Shoutout to Naz, He gave me energy tonight, for sure,” Edwards said about the fan favorite big man.

“Naz Reid. I don’t know what more I gotta say. Sixth Man of the Year for sure,” he added. “I never seen [a heater] like that tonight. Not at all. What did he have like 15 points in the first quarter? That was crazy. He got it in like three minutes. That’s wild.”

Reid dug the Wolves out of a 13-point hole in the first quarter, but it was Edwards who did most of the leg work in the third quarter to get the crowd back into the game and set the stage for Conley and Reid to blow it open in the fourth.

Ant scored 14 of his 28 points in the third, connecting on five of his seven shots (plus 4/5 free throws), headlined by the off-the-backboard oop.

“You could kind of see it coming. I didn’t think he would do it. I thought he would try to draw the foul. But I’ve seen him do it in practice once or twice,” Timberwolves Head Coach Chris Finch said about Edwards’ big highlight. “That was an unbelievable play. He’s not afraid of anything. He’s not afraid to try anything.”

Edwards followed that third with an encore of 12 points in five minutes in the fourth.

While NBA basketball is a game of runs, it’s even more so about who creates them, especially in a playoff environment. Edwards and Reid are as good as it gets in terms of creating tidal waves of energy that either flip the game or completely wash away the opponent. Rarely do we see them do it on the same night (because just one of them exploding usually does the trick), but when they deliver a tandem performance like they did tonight, all we can do is sit back and enjoy the show.

Minnesota Timberwolves v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Another Night, Another Mike Conley Masterclass

By now, it is pretty evident that these aren’t last year’s or the 2021-22 Timberwolves. While Edwards has taken a leap and Towns has come back stronger than perhaps any of us expected from a season mired by injury, but a full season of Mike Conley is the arguably biggest reason why.

The 36-year-old vet has an exceptional understanding of how and when to assert himself as vital complementary player around the team’s two offensive stars.

He gets everybody organized and spreads the love early in the game to help his teammates get a touch and play into a rhythm, before becoming more of a scorer as the game progresses and the stakes grow larger. His eight points — along with the nine more created off his four assists — in the early part of the fourth quarter were as valuable as any throughout the game.

Those moments bring out the best of Conley.

“I love it, man. I love the confidence Finchy has in me, and the players and the team, and I’m going to keep going as long as I can obviously,” Conley said postgame with a huge smile. “This is actually keeping me up and going, just being able to know that I’m going to be counted on, and when things get going sideways they look to me to make plays and figure stuff out on the court, so I’m just happy to be here and continue to hopefully do it.”

Edwards loves every magic moment that his teammate delivers.

“Honestly, I haven’t seen him show his emotions since Memphis. I feel like when he got here, he found his swagger back a little bit. It’s super exciting to see him get the crowd involved. Hit big shots, pump hisself up. Because he old, man,” Edwards said with a laugh. “It’s good to see, for sure.

If Ant has the most love for Conley, Finch is a close second.

“He wants to win, more than anything. Yeah, being a nice guy and being a killer on the court when it comes winning time, they’re not mutually exclusive. So from the get-go, when he came here, I think one thing he was most excited about was he saw the potential in the team, and he knew we were trying to win. And he’s done a lot of winning,” Finch said postgame.

“I think about this oftentimes – I wonder how many days Mike has spent atop the Western Conference in his career. It’s probably been quite a number. Utah for a long time, Memphis I’m sure was up there when he was there. And that’s not a coincidence. This guy has a huge winning quotient.”

Conley delivered once again on Thursday to the tune of 17 points on 7/11 shooting (3/6 on 3s) 10 assists, four rebounds, two steals and zero turnovers. Edwards hopes that he has plenty more left to give down the stretch of the season.

“I tell him all the time, ‘Hey, I’m glad you came here. We’ll win us a championship before you get out of here.’ It’s a good thing he came here.”

Reid agrees.

“You can definitely sense that. [Winning a title is] something I think we can possibly do. The sky is the limit for us. That’s something I want to do for him,” he said of Conley. “Just the way he’s been able to lead us in the right direction, I haven’t really had a leader like that since I’ve been playing in the league. I think he’s been tremendous.”

Up Next

The Wolves will host the Oklahoma City Thunder for a pivotal Saturday night matchup at Target Center. It is the fourth and final game of a brutal road trip for OKC, which included a Staples Center back-to-back against the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers (both losses), a game at altitude against the red hot Utah Jazz (12-2 in L14) on Thursday, and finally a banger in Downtown Minneapolis on Saturday. Fans can watch the 7 PM CT tip on Bally Sports North.

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