The Wolves hosted the Memphis Grizzlies last night in what a notable amount of buzz considered a, “must win,” for the home team. The Grizz have been one of the hottest teams in the Western Conference, Memphis entered as winners of four-consecutive while also emerging victorious in 9 of their last 10 games. They’ve been surging since the return of Marc Gasol, and it makes sense — he’s one of the most versatile centers in the league.
A few beat-writers focused on the Grizzlies head coach, Dave Joerger, returning home to Minnesota. Joerger is from Staples, also known as Cabin Country to Suburban Folk, and it would be his first time coaching in the Target Center. But during morning shootaround I caught up with the other Minnesota native playing with Memphis — Jon Leuer.
Leuer told me he was excited to be back in Minnesota, this was the place he grew up watching the Wolves and dreaming about playing in the NBA. He returned to his home in Long Lake the evening before for a dinner with his family, cooked by Mom of course. Leuer said he had about 20 tickets for family and friends and was hoping to get some playing time. In preseason of his rookie year, Leuer went toe-to-toe with Kevin Love (as much as a rookie can, anyway) by scoring 18 in a loss to the Wolves at Target Center back in January of 2011.
Admittedly, it was my first time covering a Wolves game as a member of the media and things were somewhat nerve-wracking.
It was a rugged, grizzly, start for both clubs — the difference? This is the way Memphis plays. Adelman said during the postgame that the ball-movement was awful and I am going to go ahead and confirm that. The Wolves offensive motion was putrid and the only reason things were close was because of Kevin Martin. Martin was five for eight from the field and scored 10 of the Wolves 22 first quarter points and the Grizz were ontop after the opening quarter — 30-22.
By the end of the second Gasol and Zach Randolph, aka Z-Bo, had combined for 18 points (nine apiece) but it was Courtney Lee – who isn’t a decaying skeleton, afterall – that lead the way for Memphis with 12. The absence of Nikola Pekovic was apparent and the Wolves weren’t getting production, scoring wise, in his absence. Ronny Turiaf was held scoreless and Gorgui Dieng turned the ball over three-different times and things were ugly, real ugly. The Grizzlies led 50-37 at the halfway point. The brutal, physical, and however else you wish to describe the type of basketball Memphis plays was taking it’s toll.
I didn’t give you any of the Wolves first-half numbers on purpose because they weren’t very good, at all.
It must have been a Rick Adelman speech, or something, that motivated the Wolves to play tougher; though I sincerly doubt it. Maybe it was just Love’s superhuman talent that rallied the troops, you decide. Nah, don’t worry about it — the answer to any problem during the first-half caused by the Grizzlies was indeed K-Love. The tweet from Wolves PR below really just says it all.
.@kevinlove with his league leading 39th double-double, 13 points/10 rebounds. 7 of his 13 points have come in the 3Q
— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR) February 1, 2014
Nearing the end of the 3rd quarter momentum was in the home team’s favor in a proverbial must-win conference game a few games prior to the halfway mark of the season. After, yet another, Love three-pointer the game now a one-possession affair. Yet, as a defeatists fate would have it, Grizzly reserve Nick Colathis drained a cold-blooded three that extended the memphis lead to five. Dante Cunningham and J.J. Barea would both make critical baskets at the end of the quarter and the Wolves – surprisingly enough – had the lead going into the final frame — 67-66.
Kyle Ratke, Timberwolves’ Web Editoral Assistant and Friend of the Program (Also a huge help in ensuring I didn’t get lost during my rookie night as a media member) summed up how I feel about recapping the way things ended, this tweet describes how he felt during the final battle at Target Center. Yes, that was a Mortal Kombat reference.
I’m just going to watch this game. Tweeting seems too hard.
— Kyle Ratke (@Kyle_Ratke) February 1, 2014
Love and the Wolves really just ran out of gas at the end of the game, the controversy during the final eight-minutes was something fans are familiar with — Adelman went with Barea, and not Ricky Rubio, as the PG that would close the game. Barea hit two-huge three’s between the 8:00 and 7:00 minute mark that kept things close. A voice echoed from the bleachers, “PUT IN RUBIO.” When, earlier, a voice similar in sound and from seemingly the same area could be heard saying, “BAREA YOU SUCK!”.
Give the Puerto-Rican some credit, he was playing well. Barea assisted on a Love turn-around jumper that put the Wolves up three with a little over 5:00 to play. After a Randolph jumper and Mike Miller layup (Yes, Mike Miller was trying to score on the Target Center floor. Many fans remember his distribution phase that convienently came in his time with the Timberwolves) the Grizzlies went up by one, 80-81, but Barea found Cunningham – who hit a jumper – for two and the Wolves regained the lead.
Z-Bo hit another jumper, this time from 17 feet, and the Grizzlies never looked back. Insert debate.
- Kevin Love — Dude, you are a beast. The numbers Love posted in the first half don’t display how well he played, defensively, against the Grizzlies tandem of Gasol and Randolph. That third quarter, man — quiet a performance to witness live.
- Zach Randolph — Played 40 minutes and scored 26 points. The guy didn’t hardly even participate during shootaround and drank a hot chocolate beforehand, it’s true — I saw him at the Starbucks. He made Pekovic laugh, beasted down-low, and was the Grizzlies closer down the stretch.
- J.J. Barea — People are going to hate me, and I don’t care. He shot four of seven from the field and scored 10 second half points, didn’t turn the ball over once, and kept the Wolves in the game by hitting big-time shots and making passes when he needed to. The Wolves are 0-5 when Barea finishes the game at PG and last night was another one of those times, but other things contributed to the loss also.
You guys seem to want to talk about it, so here it goes. This quote is from Adelman’s post-game press conference regarding why he played Barea over Rubio during the final minutes of a close game, again.
I thought he (J.J.) was the best option for us to win. I asked people around me and they felt the same way.
Sure, that’s fine and even if this was justifiable and accepted by fans — Adelman needs to start playing Rubio at PG because that’s how R.R. is going to learn how to succeed in those situations. Not only does he need to learn them now, Rubio must know how to execute or this club won’t sniff the playoffs.
In Adelman’s defense, Mike Conley was went down with a leg-injury in the waning moments of the game and the Grizzlies had a lengthy lineup on the floor in his absence. Part of Adelman’s thought process, and I can only speculate, may have been that Barea could penetrate and create better at that point in the game. Love, Turiaf, and the rest of the Wolves were tanked (out of energy) and having someone that can create off-the-dribble and collapse the defense wasn’t all that bad of an idea — in theory.
Yes, Rubio should be playing at the end of games. Yes, I think we can all agree — live and die by your future leader. We’ll see what happens going foward. The Wolves are in Atlanta to face the Hawks and tip-off is only a few minutes away.