That’s a continuing theme for the Timberwolves, one stressed again after Monday’s loss in Memphis. Both coach Tom Thibodeau and guard Jimmy Butler harped on the need for defensive focus.
Butler harped on a mentality that he said causes the Wolves to try to outscore teams rather than defend them.
“You don’t guard, you try to outscore the opponent, a lot of times it’s not going to work,” he said. “Sometimes it does. But a lot of times it doesn’t.”
There is no question that in the first half of a 95-92 loss, the Wolves — playing the second of back-to-back games — struggled to stop the Grizzlies. In the first quarter, Memphis shot 60 percent, outscoring the Wolves 10-4 over the final 2:40. In the second quarter, the Grizzlies shot 9-for-20 (45 percent), again ending the quarter strong, outscoring the Wolves 7-3 over the final 2:31.
In the second half, things got better. The Wolves held the Grizzlies to 39 points on 40.6 percent shooting. In the fourth quarter, when the Grizzlies scored only 19 points, they shot 5-for-14.
Said Thibodeau: “Our defense in the first half hurt us, badly. I thought it was a little better in the second half. But we didn’t come up with loose balls at the end.”
The problem down the stretch Monday was offense. With the Grizzlies shooting only 35.7 percent and scoring 19 points in the fourth quarter — plus turning the ball over four times — the Wolves couldn’t take advantage.
One reason might be the ball slowing down.
The Wolves shot 44.3 percent in the game, hitting 35 of 79 shots. But the team got just 17 assists on those 35 makes.
Down the stretch the ball appeared to stick, though Thibodeau said after the game he thought the ball movement was OK.
The Wolves attempted 20 fourth-quarter shots, making seven. Butler took half of those shots. And while he was hot early — scoring five points in a 7-0 run that gave the Wolves a two-point lead with 6:47 left in the game — he cooled off late.
Butler had the ball in his hands at the end of many late possessions. He missed a driving layup with 1:18 left and the Wolves down one. After the Grizzlies missed, Karl-Anthony Towns missed a 17-footer. Butler got the rebound, but the possession ended when he dribbled into the lane, then turned the ball over. Down three on the final possession, Butler dribbled the ball until taking an off-balance 27-footer with 1.3 seconds left.
“I don’t think that’s our strength, at all,’’ guard Jeff Teague said of a one-on-one approach. “I think we’re a better team when the ball is moving and we get a lot of assists.”
• Butler sprained the pinkie finger of his left (non-shooting) hand during the game. It was wrapped immediately after the game and he was treating the hand gingerly. But he indicated he’d be OK for Wednesday’s game against the Clippers in Los Angeles.
• Towns attempted a season-low six shots and scored seven points Monday. Thibodeau said the Grizzlies double-teamed him much of the game. Towns did finish with a game-high 11 rebounds and had three assists — as many as point guards Teague and Tyus Jones had combined. But Towns had only three shots in the second half.