Memphis is really, really good. We knew this, but their defense is really a sight to behold. Of course, the Wolves offense has fallen on hard times, and their second game back after a multi-week layoff proved that Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic are still shells of their healthy selves. The team was exhausted after last night’s close victory back in Minneapolis, but it still took into the second half before they succumbed to the fantastic defensive pressure and methodical yet opportunistic Memphis Grizzlies.
The Wolves started the game in good shape, benefiting from a number of missed open shots from the Grizzlies. Per usual, Ricky Rubio started well, knocking down a jumper on the opening possession and dazzling in the open court with his practical no-look passes helping to convert on more than one fast break. After drawing only glass on his first two field goal attempts, Derrick Williams played well offensively, although he did not have a prayer of stopping Zach Randolph on the opposite end of the floor.
The Grizzlies wisely began to feed Randolph regularly in the post and went on a 9-0 run to end the first quarter while taking a 22-20 lead. The second quarter began in sloppy fashion, with neither team scoring until the Wolves tied the game just before the 10:00 mark. The Wolves continued playing solid defense, but struggled enough on the glass that Memphis more than made up for their poor offense by corralling offensive rebounds and converting on put-backs and second chance opportunities.
After missing his first few shots, J.J. Barea hit a three-pointer in transition and gave the Wolves a 32-30 lead with just under six minutes remaining in the half, but from that point on Memphis outplayed the Wolves and took a 45-39 lead into the break.
The third quarter is where things finally started to go downhill rapidly for the Timberwolves, as Memphis started the half with easy buckets by Tayshaun Prince, Mike Conley, Randolph, and Conley again. The help defense that was passable early in the game suddenly became non-existent, and the Grizzlies began to pull away from the inferior visiting squad.
Memphis began the second half on a 13-2 run and refused to let up, finally showing their league-best defensive proficiency in pressuring the Wolves’ into numerous turnovers and creating a multitude of easy opportunities for themselves. The Grizzlies expanded their lead by the minute and pushed the only score to 74-53 by the start of the fourth quarter.
Over the last couple of minutes of the third quarter and the start of the final frame, the Wolves went on a 16-7 run and got within 79-63 and eventually to within 14 points at 85-71 with about four minutes remaining. The Grizzlies pressed their collective foot back on the accelerator, and the home team prevailed by the score of 92-77.
A few thoughts….
– Rubio pulled up to attempt a jump-shot on a third quarter fast break and came up hobbling, coming out of the game immediately. It appeared to be some sort of a knee injury, and until the Timberwolves’ Public Relations staff tweeted that it was an injured groin that Rubio was busy testing out by the locker room, well….I did not breathe much. I absolutely have still not recovered, and I’m positive that I can’t handle another Rubio knee injury.
– Along with the rest of the team, Rubio played horribly on Monday night, scoring just 2 points on 1 of 6 shooting and only adding 2 assists, 2 rebounds and 1 steal, along with zero turnovers. He also only played 21 minutes, including none of the fourth quarter after tweaking his groin.
– The Wolves’ leading scorer on Monday evening was Alexey Shved with 12 points on 5 of 9 shooting, and Barea (3 of 13, 2 of 9 on three-pointers) and Gelabale managed to score 11 points apiece. Ouch.
– Marc Gasol is fantastic, and was too much for a rusty Nikola Pekovic to handle in his second game back from injury, and especially on the second night of a back-to-back. Gasol’s defense is probably the best in the league, and his offense is more than respectable and keys the Grizzlies half-court attack.
– Yes, Memphis owns the league’s best defense, but the Wolves only managed to shoot a season-low 33.7% from the field and tallied just 14 assists, which is also a season-low.
– Luke Ridnour appeared to be favoring his back quite a bit against Memphis, and the intense pressure defense of Conley certainly did Luke no favors. Wolves fans need to understand just how much Ridnour has done for the organization over the past three seasons, regularly playing out of position.
According to 82games.com, Ridnour has played 27% of the team’s minutes at shooting guard this season, compared to 35% of the minutes at point guard. Of course, Rubio missed the first ¼ of the season, which contributed to Ridnours minutes at the ‘1’ spot. Look at last year: Ridnour played 38% of the Wolves’ available minutes at shooting guard, and just 28% at his natural point guard spot. Keep in mind, Luke is barely over 6’ 1” and very slight physically. All of this with a bad back. Last year will likely be Luke’s last in Minnesota (unless, of course, he is traded over the summer), so let’s take some time to appreciate what he has brought to the team.
– The Wolves finally get two consecutive days off, which should give Chase Budinger a chance to practice with the team and hopefully play on the upcoming road trip. The team will be in Sacramento to take on the Kings on Thursday night at 9:00 CST.