It looks like Memphis may end up just fine without Rudy Gay. Taking on the Minnesota Timberwolves in the FedExForum in Memphis, TN, the new-look Grizzlies showed just how dominant they can be with their new pieces acquired in the Rudy Gay blockbuster trade. Recently acquired forwards Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye combined to score 34 points on a ridiculous 14-17 shooting and the Grizzlies went on to blow out the Timberpups 105-88, extending Minnesota’s road losing streak to 8 games.
The Wolves, who stood at 16-15 on January 8 of this year, are now an abysmal 18-30 including a horrific 6-18 on the road. Injuries have depleted Minnesota’s roster and young, high-upside players Derrick Williams and Alexey Shved have been unable to step up in order to keep this team afloat.
JJ Barea was a late scratch for Minnesota with a left foot sprain, and the Timberwolves had a very tough time spacing the floor and creating offense against the defensive-minded Grizzlies.
To add to the Pups’ injury woes, Andrei Kirilenko missed his third consecutive game due to a strained right quadriceps muscle. In his place, Mickael Gelabale got the start at small forward but had a very difficult time defending the long and athletic Prince, who hit all of his 8 field goal attempts in 23 minutes on the court. The other former Detroit Piston, Austin Daye, seems to enjoy his new playoff-destined squad and added 16 points and 4 rebounds off the bench.
Minnesota led the Grizz 21-20 after the first period, but problems with turnovers and transition defense allowed Memphis to hold a 47-37 lead at the half. Memphis, led by head coach Lionel Hollins, did a tremendous job of pressuring the Pups on the perimeter and were able to record 12 steals as a team. More often than not these steals led to fast-breaks for the quick and athletic Grizzlies, and Memphis went on to outscore the Pups on the fast break 20-4. It is awfully difficult to stop Mike Conley and Tony Allen once they are running in transition, and Memphis did a much better job than the Pups of spacing the floor and creating high-percentage scoring opportunities.
Things only got worse for Minnesota following the break, and the Pups lack of playmakers inhibited their ability to make a legitimate run to get back into the game. With Barea and AK-47 sidelined due to injury, the Wolves essentially lacked even a single player who could create their own shot. Ricky Rubio stepped up and provided 17 points on 6-11 shooting, but tallied only 4 assists as the Memphis defense did a very good job of pouring the help defense on Minnesota’s greatest threat. Shved, who is in the midst of a miserable shooting slump, scored 10 points on 50% shooting and even notched 9 assists, all the while committing 5 turnovers in 31 minutes played.
Apparently Rick Adelman does not think much of new fan-favorite Chris Johnson, who did not play until the fourth-quarter when the game was far of hand. Johnson, who has shot 72% for the Wolves and who owns an impressive 24.83 PER seems to be incapable of proving himself to the veteran head coach. While the sample size is small and the statistics may be skewed in Johnson’s favor, I do not understand the lack of minutes as he has played extremely well in every single opportunity he has been given. At least let him fail before keeping him on the bench for eternity.
Derrick Williams finished with a line of 9 points 0n 4-11 shooting (0-3 3PT), 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist and 1 turnover in 25 minutes on the floor. D-Will started at power forward opposite of the much bigger and stronger Zach Randolph, who dominated the former Arizona star on the low block on his way to 16 points and 8 rebounds. While Derrick is technically a power forward, the ways he has been primarily looking to score has been on midrange to three-point jump-shots, and I have noticed a few troubling trends with his shot that may be the leading cause for his poor shooting percentages of late. To begin, when bringing himself to shoot, he has too narrow of a base and a poor center of gravity which allows him to sway and fade on anything besides spotted-up jumpers. Lately, his shoulders have not consistently been square to the basket which has contributed to his lateral accuracy issues. Often times his misses result in misses on either side of the rim, instead of misses that are either too long or too short like K-Love’s. Another troubling trend has been D-Will’s incapacity for penetrating the lane and getting to the free throw lane. Even if nothing is there, the Wolves need more players to get past the opponent’s perimeter defense in order to create opportunities for other Wolves on the perimeter, and too often Derrick receives a pass and stands in place with the ball like a frightened deer in headlights.
Keys of the Game
- Defense - Memphis recorded 12 steals and Minnesota turned the ball over 19 times which led to easy transition buckets for the home team. The Grizzlies did a great job on the perimeter, namely shooting guard Tony Allen, and disrupted the Wolves system of dribble-exchange in the half-court. This effectively slowed down the Wolves ball movement on offense and led to many more drained shot clocks and contested shots. In the interior Memphis center Marc Gasol and power forward Randolph combined for 17 rebounds and 5 steals while holding Minnesota center Nikola Pekovic to just 8 points in 30 minutes.
- Ball Movement - Inside and out, the Grizzlies worked to find the open man and continuously found teammates open on backdoor cuts with Minnesota defenders sleeping. With arguably the best passing big man in the game in Gasol on the low block, Memphis dissected the Pups half-court defense and allowed the Grizzlies’ center to record 8 of the team’s 30 assists.
Three Stars of the Game
- Tayshaun Prince - In his best game as a Grizzly, Prince reminded everyone why it may not be the end of the world for Memphis with Rudy Gay on the wing. The truth is that Gay is receiving max contract dollars and is currently playing below league average in terms of efficiency, and I tip my cap to John Hollinger and the boys of the Memphis brass for ridding the team of a detrimental contract.
- Marc Gasol - Rubio’s close friend and fellow Spanish national teammate nearly had a triple-double of 9 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists while playing spectacular defense on a great player in Nikola Pekovic. Gasol uses his size, length, and smarts in unison and is worth every dollar that he is being paid.
- Mike Conley - Conley logged the most minutes of any Grizzly (36) and did not turn the ball over once while adding 16 points and 8 assists. One of the top perimeter defenders in the NBA, Conley and and Tony Allen completely disrupted the Timberwolves backcourt.