Coming into Sunday night’s game the Timberwolves had dropped 11-straight to the Memphis Grizzlies. To make matters worse, they hadn’t won at Fed Ex Forum since January 2009– one full year before I began covering this team. Each time the Grizzlies were just a terrible matchup for the Timberwolves, especially with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in the frontcourt. Yet, there would be no Gasol for the Grizzlies, giving the opportunity for the Timberwolves to break the streak.
Much in the same way the Grizzlies terrorized the Timberwolves with their frontcourt duo over the years, Minnesota used theirs to do the same to them in the first quarter. Kevin Love assisted Nikola Pekovic on his first basket and later on Love added a three to give them an early 7-6 lead. From there the Timberwolves used a 14-4 run to put them up 21-10 en route to a 28-17 lead after the first quarter.
The second quarter provided the Timberwolves’ bench to restore some faith in them as some of the starters took same rest. JJ Barea in particular needed to put together a strong performance. We all know Barea can give us either a fun performance or a frustrating one, and so far we’ve seen more of the latter, but Barea left his mark on the second quarter. Barea drained a few threes, but also made his impact felt as a distributor, notching a couple of assists.
Between Love’s strong performance on both ends, including some stingy interior defense on Zach Randolph, and Barea’s off-of-the-bench spark the Timberwolves carried a 10 point lead at the half.
The Grizzlies were able to cut the lead to single digits at the start of the third behind a pair of Mike Conley threes and a Randolph basket. Still, the Timberwolves were able to keep their heads above what became a quarter long run that featured Conley, but valuable contributions from players like Jon Leuer. For a team that had not beaten Memphis on their court in four years, a four-point lead could not have been comfortable to take into the fourth quarter. As an added disadvantage, the Timberwolves were going to have to do this without Kevin Martin, whose knee that had been bothering him for several games began to give him trouble again and had been sitting out since the second quarter.
Facing the tough task of closing out the Grizzlies out at home, the Timberwolves were going to need added support from their bench. So Dante Cunningham and Alexey Shved answered the call, as well as Pekovic in the paint and the Timberwolves were able to pad their lead. Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley had to leave the game early because of injury, leaving both teams a bit more short-handed than they would like nearing the end of the game.
Alas, the Grizzlies were unable to overcome the absences of Gasol and Conley and the Timberwolves exploited their advantage as they rolled to a 101-93 victory. Love and Barea helped down the stretch, but Pekovic’s ability to get to the line helped seal the game for the Timberwolves.
Love had 19 points at the half and finished with 30 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Pekovic gave 19 points of his own, but his 7-8 mark from the line was crucial to the victory. Barea’s 15 points and five assists provided a much-needed spark off of the bench and the Timberwolves’ bench outscored the Grizzlies’ 31-30. Although he missed most of the fourth quarter, Conley finished with 28 points, five rebounds and three assists. Leuer and Bayless added 15 and 14 points off of the bench as well.
The lack of turnovers in this game was remarkable. The Timberwolves force a high amount of turnovers per game and the Grizzlies had forced a high amount in recent years, but each had five and two, respectively, at the half and finished with nine and 10. This was the fewest amount of turnovers committed since the November 22nd game against Brooklyn, but also limited the team’s chances for transition opportunities that they thrive off of. On the other hand, every time they did get out the Grizzlies also seemed more than comfortable with a track meet, so this wasn’t entirely a bad thing.
Such a lack of extra possessions placed an even greater importance on rebounding and both teams finished nearly even in total rebounds. Both teams instead found their second chance opportunities in the form of offensive rebounds. The Grizzlies also claimed a 50-38 advantage in the paint without Gasol and both teams excelled at drawing fouls, finishing with over 20 free throw attempts at once. An added bonus, even with 45 free throw attempts, was the fact that it didn’t hurt the flow of the game like it tends to happen with higher amounts of whistles.
The Timberwolves will run it back tomorrow evening in Boston. No word yet on the availability of Martin.