Mar 18, 2013; Memphis, TN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedEx Forum. Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 92-77. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Wolves Surprise and Survive in Thunderous, Grizzly Back-to-Back

The solid, consistent offense the Wolves ran to victory against the Thunder and the massive lull that took them out of the game against Memphis is well noted in Zach Harper’s recap of the Thunder-Grizlies back-to-back.

If you can stay even keeled throughout the course of a game, you’re almost always going to be in great shape to win that game. It’s hard for even the toughest teams to do because the peaks and valleys that occur in the NBA are so commonplace.

Against the Thunder, it didn’t happen to be a problem. Against the Memphis Grizzlies Saturday night, that was the Wolves’ undoing. The final score makes the game look like a typical Grizzlies’ blowout of their lesser opponents, but really this was a highly competitive game. Without Nikola Pekovic and without Kevin Love, the Wolves had the daunting task of trying to handle the tandem of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph inside. And I was actually quite impressed with what we saw from the undersized Wolves.

Not really rocket science; the Grizzlies are a punishing team to play against. Without your own bruising front line, you’d better pack a lunch.

Zach Randolph is one of the best low post scorers in the NBA and he was being guarded by Derrick Williams. Marc Gasol is one of the best overall big men in the NBA and he was being defended by Greg Stiemsma. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? Impressively, it wasn’t a disaster at all. Z-Bo finished with 14 points on 11 shots and just seven rebounds. He didn’t have a single offensive rebound, despite leading the NBA in total offensive rebounds and being 14th in the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage. Williams was physical with him, bodied him up whenever he needed to, and took advantage of his quickness to make up for his lack of strength.

Credit for Williams is tough for me to hand out. I feel begrudgingly admitting D-Will did a good job would mean I wasn’t doing mine (which has been complaining about Derrick Williams). But there it is, soo….

Gasol had a much better game than Z-Bo. He finished with 21 points on 12 shots, eight rebounds, six assists, and three blocked shots. And yet, I thought Stiemer played him incredibly well. He played a career-high 40 minutes, scored efficiently, had a nice effort battling on the boards, protected the rim pretty well, and was disruptive most of the time. The Wolves’ frontcourt was able to hold their own individually with the Grizzlies’ bigs, and for much of the game the Wolves led.

And where was Derrick’s help defense on Gasol, hmmmmm?  There it is.

But the two moments that were the major deciding factors in this game happened at the start of the third quarter and the start of the fourth quarter.

For the first 5:17 of the third quarter, the Wolves held the Grizz to just six points on six shots and forced four turnovers. That’s an incredible start to a quarter against a team that is fighting for the 3-seed in the West and also boasts the best third quarter net differential in the NBA. The problem is the Wolves didn’t score during that first 5:17. Didn’t score at all. And that’s what Memphis does to you. They clamp down defensively, grit and grind (sometimes simultaneously), and they capitalize on your concentration lapses.

The second moment was the first 5:19 of the fourth quarter, when the Grizzlies went on a 16-2 run. This was fueled entirely by Memphis’ bench unit of Jerryd Bayless, Austin Daye, Quincy Pondexter, Ed Davis, and Darrell Arthur. It didn’t matter what the Wolves threw at them; they just managed the game perfectly and took down what was in front of them. Granted, there were moments in which the Wolves got good shots and just flat-out missed them. However, the bench unit for the Grizzlies took advantage of whatever favors they did for themselves or had done for them by the Wolves.

Couldn’t help but notice the repeated Dante bricks from midrange. There’s been a beauty to his drifting to that open spot around the top of the key and drilling such a nice percentage of his wide open attempts from there, but when they miss it’s hard not to pine for a 3-point attempt just a few steps back, or a more aggressive look near the rim. Such is Dante. Such was the Wolves bench.
Surprising and inspiring performances this late in the season isn’t something Wolves fans have grown accustomed to seeing, but with the (relative) return to health they’ve seen in the last month, it’s something to root for.

Tags: Dante Cunningham Derrick Williams Marc Gasol Zach Randolph

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