March 27, 2018, 12:18 am
The Memphis Grizzlies haven’t won a road game in 2018. The Grizzlies have lost 23 of their last 24 games. The Grizzlies lost by 61 points in their last matchup.
The Grizzlies just rumbled into Minneapolis and won 101-93.
Any way you slice it up, this is an absolutely brutal loss for the Minnesota Timberwolves, a team fighting for their playoff lives in a tight Western Conference. Heading into this game, the Wolves were tied with the Utah Jazz for seventh place and just 1.5 games ahead of the ninth-place Denver Nuggets.
Every game down the stretch is important, but these are the type of games that playoff teams are expected to take. The Grizzlies just seemingly wanted it more.
It was a tight contest throughout the evening. Neither team led by more than six points through three quarters and the lead changed hands 12 times in that span. Marc Gasol looked like his vintage self and was keeping the team in the game. A late spurt by the Wolves to close out the third quarter made it look like they were about to take control, though.
That lead evaporated within the first couple of minutes as the Grizzlies opened the fourth on an 8-0 run. Once the Grizzlies took the lead, they never relinquished it. They morphed into “Grit-and-Grind” mode and shut down the Wolves to close out the game, holding the Wolves to 11 points on just 3-of-17 shooting and six turnovers.
It was a ghastly affair, to put it modestly. Borderline unwatchable. The Wolves just looked like they were running on empty, unable to get any sort of offensive sets rolling and shooting brick after brick.
Jeff Teague was the lone bright spot with 25 points, seven assists, two rebounds, two steals and a 3-pointer on 7-of-13 shooting and 10-of-10 at the line. Karl-Anthony Towns finished with just 15 points and 12 rebounds on 5-of-13 shooting. He did add six assists, including a great pass out of a double-team.
He was thoroughly out-played for the second straight game, this time by Marc Gasol, who had 20 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, two steals, three blocks and four 3-pointers on 7-of-16 shooting and excellent defense.
Taking a look at the minutes explains the lazy play. The Wolves played eight guys, as usual, but the rotation was basically six players. Jamal Crawford played 30 minutes off the bench, while Gorgui Dieng played just 14 minutes and Tyus Jones played a paltry six total minutes.
Compare this to the Grizzlies who sent 11 players into the game and had a solid distribution of minutes.
It’s fair to wonder if the grind of the season-long drilling of Tom Thibodeau is catching up to the Wolves as the see the finish line. The Wolves have three players in the top 11 in total minutes this season, Wiggins, Gibson and Towns and three players in the top 18 in total miles covered, the same trio. The Wolves have, by far, the fewest total minutes coming from the bench.
None of this is surprising. With Thibs it’s a known factor going in that he plays tight rotations and rides his horses. But the surprising part is that the Wolves’ bench has an offensive rating that ranks sixth in the NBA. There are talented players that can contribute there, but are constantly lost in the shuffle.
The starting players see this. Both Taj Gibson and Jeff Teague have spoken out about this to the public. In fact just this morning Teague brought it up to the media.
Teague on the bench: "Guys get tired. I think they need opportunities. … Hopefully Thibs sees that they can really help."
— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) March 26, 2018
Talk about timing. This was eight hours before the game started. Naturally Thibs rides four players over 40 minutes and essentially plays one bench player.
The players are exhausted, and not just from lack of rest, but from the constant drill-sergeant mentality. It was evident watching them tonight. Before this post takes a turn to something it’s not meant to be, it’s worth noting that Thibs likely needs to be examined more closely, and not by members of the media but from within.
The Wolves’ playoff hopes didn’t die tonight. They still have the path of least resistance when comparing to the contenders around them, but this loss is not a good place to start. The biggest worry is that after a loss of this magnitude, with their injured star watching on the sidelines, encourages Jimmy Butler to return sooner than he should.
Butler has already been quoted saying he knows his body better than doctors, which is a troubling sign. The last thing Butler and the Wolves need is him coming back on a bad knee and destroying his future playing career for a playoff run that seems destined to fail anyway.
The Wolves should be seeking to make the playoffs, but their time is still ahead. They need to take a realistic approach there instead of damaging any hope of what could be on the horizon. With the mentality that Thibs has jammed into his players’ head that seems unlikely, but at this time it seems like Butler is the only one buying. And that’s the scariest part.
The faces of a team in the playoff hunt about to lose to a team that's lost 23-of-24 games pic.twitter.com/AyAZ08g9Qh
— Kevin Brand (@KBranded) March 27, 2018