The new-look Timberwolves hosted the old-school Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday at Target Center, their three-game post-Jimmy Butler winning streak on the line.
And it was the same old story.
The clutch-and-grab, bump-and-grind Grizzles made the Wolves play at their pace, shut down the fast break and forced the Wolves to play half-court offense. The result: Memphis won 100-87.
“There was a physicality to the game that we didn’t respond to as well as we could have,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Or should have.’’
This is no surprise, really. Actually, a rather old story. The Grizzlies have been doing this to the Wolves, in different incarnations, for years. Pushing, punishing, controlling the tempo. Memphis (10-5) has won 26 of 34 games with Minnesota since the 2009-10 season.
The Wolves missed too many shots (39.2 percent shooting), turned the ball over way too much (20 times, for 19 Memphis points) and showed some clear frustration with the way the game was being called. Or, in some cases, not called.
“Some of those calls, guys felt like they got fouled on a lot of plays,’’ Robert Covington said. “We have to play through it.’’
Said Thibodeau: “There was probably more contact in that game than there’s been in most. … At the start of the season you couldn’t touch anyone. And now … Yeah, it was physical.’’
Down four at the half, the Wolves were outscored 28-19 in the third quarter. Being down 13 to a team that plays defense and controls the tempo the way Memphis can? A difficult position.
Karl-Anthony Towns scored 15 points with 20 rebounds. Derrick Rose scored 18 off the bench. Covington scored 15.
Memphis center Marc Gasol scored 26 points, 11 in the fourth quarter. Point guard Mike Conley had 18 points and eight assists.
For all that, the Wolves did make a mini-run. Down 15 early in the fourth quarter, they used a lineup of Towns, Dario Saric, Covington, Tyus Jones and Rose to cut that deficit to eight on Saric’s three-pointer with 7:45 left.
But, after a timeout, Gasol got open and hit two three-pointers to keep the lead at arm’s length. After the game Covington said Gasol got open in large part because of the way he and Towns played the pick-and-roll. It was a case of two new teammates learning how to handle such situations.
“I think the chemistry is still a tad bit off,’’ Covington said. “But the more we get used to playing with each other and being in those situations, I think we’ll be able to make the right adjustments.’’
“I feel they just played harder,’’ Andrew Wiggins said. “I feel we missed some easy shots, too, around the rim. It happens. But I feel we have to match their intensity. Match how hard they play.’’
For Minnesota (7-10), the loss — only the second this season at Target Center — ended a three-game winning streak. The team’s five-game homestand ends Wednesday against Denver.
The Wolves will have a day off Monday before resuming practice Tuesday to prepare for the Nuggets. It is much needed, Towns said, after a week that began with the trade of Butler to Philadelphia for Covington and Saric.
“We had a long week, a rough week in general,’’ Towns said. “You could tell. We were short on some shots, didn’t play with the same pace.’’