Memphis is hot. Minnesota is not.
Last night’s road game proved brutal for the Timberwolves as they found themselves unable to keep up with Mike Conley and his crew. Although the Wolves are ranked No. 4 in the league for scoring and are averaging 106.5 points per game, Memphis held them to just 92 points while taking the win with 109. Kevin Love led the team with lower-than-usual numbers of 16 points and seven rebounds. Rookie Gorgui Dieng delivered another strong performance with 11 points and 17 boards.
According to NBA.com, the Grizzlies are 8-0 since Dec. 25 when playing against teams who played the previous day. “We caught a good team on the second night of a back-to-back,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said.
After playing several games in which they scored over 30 points in the first quarter, the Timberwolves tallied just 15 against Memphis. Both teams struggled a bit out of the gates—Memphis made just four of its first 15 shots—but the Grizzlies soon found their groove. The first basket didn’t come until the 9:55 mark, but it came at the hands of the Grizzlies, and they never looked back. Conley had 23 points and six assists, and Marc Gasol added 14 points and 12 rebounds.
“We didn’t want to give them too much leeway,” Conley said. “We’ve been in the same shoes. You’re coming in off a tough game, and you kind of walk through the first part of the game. We just wanted to jump out there as early as we could, set the tempo and try to get ahead of them.”
Minnesota seemed disoriented across the board, no one player having a fantastic game. Love shot just 6-of-18 from the field, and the team as a whole shot 38 percent. The Grizzlies had complete control of the game, driving the pace and offense. At halftime, they led the Wolves 57-39.
The Timberwolves found a bit of a spark in the third, going on a 15-4 run to close the quarter and lessen the deficit. They just couldn’t keep up with their shooting, though, and Memphis drove the win home.
“They played physical,” Love said. “When you play a team like that on a back-to-back, especially this late in the season, especially without Pek and Ronny and some depth, it’s tough.”
Monday night’s loss pushes the Wolves seven games behind Dallas and Phoenix. At this point, it seems safe to say that finding the postseason is like a needle in a haystack for the Wolves… it’s not mathematically impossible, but losing these last two games seemed to seal Minnesota’s fate. Finishing the regular season strong is now the team’s main focus. “We just have to be competitive. That’s the biggest key right now — get through the end of the season and play each game competitively,” forward Chase Budinger said. “That’s how you have to look at it.”
Up next for the Wolves is a home game Wednesday, when they welcome Atlanta. The Hawks are clinging to a No. 8 playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and the contest promises to be a close one. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.